Unlike many of its peers in heavy-metal world, Anthrax is a band that has never fallen into the trap of taking itself too seriously.
In the past, the New York thrash-metal outfit has filled some of the gaps between major releases with EPs and compilation albums that are usually a mixed bag of cover songs, live tracks/alternate album versions and some tongue-in-cheek humor, most notably 1987’s “I’m the Man” and 1991’s “Attack of the Killer B’s.” Given that history, at first glance the band’s latest offering – an EP of classic rock covers titled “Anthems” – wouldn’t seem to be much of a surprise. In this case, however, Anthrax does manage to provide a few surprises for fans – not only with some songs that may seem a bit unexpected, but also with incredible talent from each of the band members that it took to perform these songs so well.
The album leads off, somewhat fittingly, with a cover of Rush’s “Anthem” – the opening track from the Canadian trio’s second album (1975’s “Fly By Night”). This gets the album off to a hard-punching and thunderous start, and is an excellent rendition of a song from a band that is often cited as a stylistic influence but is not often covered – never mind covered well. Anthrax singer Joey Belladonna does have some occasional (and predictable) trouble in trying to match Geddy Lee’s vocal style, but aside from that, this is a faithfully accurate version of an occasionally overlooked track, as well as a great reminder of a time when Rush’s music was a little more raw and heavy.
While “Anthem” does a great job of getting the album off to a start, the next track – AC/DC’s classic “T.N.T.” – is where Anthrax settles in and finds a groove. Yet again, Anthrax picks a track and a band that is not easy to cover, pulls out the essence of that song/style and gives it just enough of the Anthrax treatment to make it seem like it’s not just a copy but otherwise packs the right combination of energy, rhythm – and, in this case, sneer – that the original recording has.
The next three tracks serve as a bit of a departure from what most fans would expect from the band. In the past, Anthrax has made cover versions of Black Sabbath and Sex Pistols songs, which seem perfectly appropriate. Hearing a thrash metal band cover “Smokin” by Boston, Journey’s “Keep on Runnin’” and Cheap Trick’s somewhat obscure “Big Eyes” is certainly not typical, but in this case it is a lot of fun, and allows each of the band members to stretch their wings and show off just a bit.
Perhaps the highlight of the album comes next, an absolutely fiery rendition of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.” Perhaps more than any other, this track serves as a summary as to exactly what Anthrax does so well throughout the length of “Anthems” – take a classic piece of hard rock history and perform it in a way that isn’t an imitation, but instead a tribute. Instrumentally, Anthrax pulls this off absolutely flawlessly, and Belladonna’s take on Phil Lynott’s vocals and attitude is impeccable.
Just when energy at its highest, “Anthems” takes a somewhat puzzling turn and offers the listener two versions of the song “Crawl,” from the band’s last studio release (2011’s “Worship Music”). While certainly interesting, these two tracks really don’t seem to fit the mood of the rest of the album and come of feeling like filler material rather than an important piece of the puzzle.
While “Anthems” only showcases a handful of Anthrax’s musical influences, and definitely pales in comparison to other cover compilations (such as thrash-metal brethren Metallica’s “Garage Days” collection), the band does a great job in showcasing both the expected as well as the unexpected music from its members’ formative years. The album is also a great way for Anthrax to showcase the talents of its members and perhaps break a few unwritten rules of the genre.
The Rush, AC/DC, and Thin Lizzy covers alone make “Anthems” a great addition to the collections of Anthrax fans, and the tracks from Journey, Cheap Trick, and Boston serve to round out a diverse – albeit brief – trip back in time with some of the reigning kings of modern metal music. “Anthems” will also more than likely serve to turn a few of Anthrax’s fans on to some of the band’s favorite artists (if they aren’t fans already).