Released: 2013, Megaforce Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Anybody who’s followed Anthrax over the years likely recognizes their penchant for recording unusual covers. Be it ‘89s import only PENIKUFESIN, which featured gems from Kiss and the Sex Pistols, or their regular habit of B-sides during the John Bush years, regaling groups as varied as Beastie Boys, the Smiths, Husker Du, the Police, and Celtic Frost. Not to mention that two of their biggest hits are in actuality cover songs themselves. That being what it is, the idea of an entire EP of Anthrax covers isn’t all that shocking. Even less shocking should be the selection of tunes chosen for the cover treatment, which true to form, are just as broad and unpredictable as you’d expect from the band. Now some may consider choosing to follow up the wildly successful WORSHIP MUSIC with a collection of covers a safe move, contrived to keep the good will towards the band flowing without any real consequence. Others are kidding themselves if they think that ANTHEMS is anything but that.
And that’s okay, because ANTHEMS is a lot of fun. It’s not spectacular, it’s not riveting, but it’s an entertaining diversion while Anthrax contemplates their next move. Some of it works really well, and some of it doesn’t. Choosing to cover a band like Rush is no easy feat, and Anthrax proves that with their take on the somewhat title track “Anthem”. Whereas the complexity of the original flows fluidly through Alex Lifeson’s guitar strings, Geddy Lee’s unique vocal warble, and Neil Peart’s octopus like percussive reach, Anthrax’s take is…not so much. The riffs are comparatively stilted, and Joey Belladonna tries to imitate Lee’s nasaly highs way, waaaaay too hard, almost humorously so on the chorus.
But their take of AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” is right f@#kin on. Scott Ian has long professed his love for the brothers Young and it shows; the track just rips. Just as impressive is their rendition of Boston’s “Smokin’”, which may just be the perfect culmination of Anthrax’s sense of rhythm, melody, and vocal harmony. “Keep On Runnin’” is all about Joey Belladonna showing some love for Steve Perry. As Journey’s brand of A.O.R. has long been a place of musical comfort for the vocalist, you can really hear him pour all of himself into the tune. I could take or leave Cheap Trick’s “Big Eyes”, which is a bit anticlimactic after hearing the band’s take on “Auf Weidersehen”, and Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” is a bit predictable. Same story as Cheap Trick, their take on “Cowboy Song” years ago came across more honest and interesting, and with a catalog as diverse as Lizzy’s, I would have much preferred a deeper cut to challenge the fans.
Closing out ANTHEMS are two versions of “Crawl” from WORSHIP MUSIC, the first being the original album mix, and the second being a much more interesting orchestral remix (think “Black Lodge Strings Mix”). Having two versions of the same track back to back is an odd choice. We've all heard the original by this point; I think giving the remix its opportunity to shine alone would've been a much preferable balance, particularly given the dynamics of the album on which it appears.
But at the end of the day, it’s still just a collection of cover tunes - meant to be taken seriously, but just not “too” seriously (wink wink, nod nod). It’s Anthrax having some fun and blowing off some steam after surviving the enormous pressures that accompany a long overdue comeback album. If you accept ANTHEMS as being that and that alone, it’s a good time that’ll get you grinnin’. If you’re hoping for anything more than that, be forewarned and tread carefully. ANTHEMS is available now through Megaforce Records.