It is a weird time for rebellious music. Only a handful of years ago EDM was integrated into Billboard’s pop music charts. At first there didn’t seem to be much of a fluctuation. Now it seems inescapable, especially in the way electronic dance music has bonded with standard pop music fare. The variant of such pop is the sort that recalls the music of the late-’60s and early-’70s. (“All About That Bass” and “Uptown Funk” slide neatly into those slots.) None of these strike me as being particularly rebellious.
For fifteen years that crown was worn by rap and hip hop, but as the most celebrated artists in those genres gravitated from the streets to the board rooms, the resulting tracks have frequently become shadowplays enacted by tattooed multi-millionaires. These aren’t statements of “anti” anything — anti-authority, anti-cultural, anti-traditional? Not so much. But fans of the music still hold to it and can glean the good from the not-so-good.
Fans of metal have been there. There was that time when youth wore their t-shirts, their patches, and played their music as a symbol and a statement. “I’m dangerous. You don’t mess with me.” Few bands exemplified this more than “The Big 4 of Thrash Metal” — Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. By all rights, Exodus should be included but isn’t. We can speculate on reasons why, but it isn’t for lack of authenticity. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt replaced Jeff Hanneman in Slayer after Hanneman died. Metallica hasn’t made a new album since the dawn of the Great Recession, 2008, with Death Magnetic. Megadeth keeps making records and the output has been spotty at best, unworthy at worst.
And that leaves Anthrax. Of the four bands, Anthrax had the most inroads to geek culture, believe it or not. From featuring Stephen King characters on their covers, to creating a theme song for U.K. sci-fi badass Judge Dredd, to having renowned artist Alex Ross provide cover art for the previous Worship Music and the latest For All Kings, Anthrax somehow tied two very disparate strands together. (They even covered Joe Jackson’s “Got The Time” if you recall.)
And all that is fine for the sake of background. But what about For All Kings as an album? The answer is that it holds together very well. Even with the extended interludes and postludes “Impaled” preceding “You Gotta Believe” and “Breathing Out” following “Breathing Lightning”, this is the Anthrax one remembers most readily. They haven’t gone prog metal. They still want to toss you head-first into the mosh pit. They can still belt a “live on your knees or die on your feet” anthem like “This Battle Chose Us”, and they sound so much more convincing at it than Megadeth did with the recent Dystopia, though Dave Mustaine and company put honorable effort into that attempt.
What kept me from fully embracing the album? As you can no doubt interpret from my stance, I found it difficult to be 100% on board with For All Kings, and it has less to do with the music than it does with the baggage metal is lugging around right now. The music still shouts chants of “fight to the end” but it runs counter to the fact that most of these groups are institutions by now, some going well past the 30 year mark. This should not alter the effect of the music on the listener but, strangely, it does.
As one of the few remaining old school practitioners of the sound, Anthrax should rightly be proud of For All Kings. It is a convincing piece of work that doesn’t cede to gimmickry. It is exactly what you think it is, what you hope it will be. But you are likely a longtime fan, meaning you are of a particular — how to put it — vintage? It is inevitable that messages against our elders’ society are going to come off as being slightly out of touch. Or to use the band’s own statement, it’s hard to fight against the man when, at this stage, “I’m The Man”.
In other words, you’re going to like this album. You’re going to like it a lot. And at the same time, it’s going to make you feel old.