Returning To Form with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Motorhead
Band Photo: Megadeth (?)
We metal fans are a devoted lot. Once we find a favorite band, we tend to stick around through thick and thin. A favorite band tends to stay a favorite band, even when our tastes move on. And, yes, even when that band's sound changes or, even worse, when that band becomes "popular" based on a lighter sound, we often hang around.
Sure, we bitch about it, but I guarantee that more than half of the people who boldly claimed online that they were through with, say, Metallica, had purchased copies of "Load" and "Reload" (you know, just to complete the collection). It couldn't have just been the new fans turned on by the Black Album that did it. And yet, those of us who'd been there in the "Puppets" and "Justice" years held out hope that, just maybe, the band would come back to that style and aggression. We can all argue about whether "Death Magnetic" was the return to form we'd been looking for, but recently, I had the pleasure of listening to an album by another thrash mainstay that definitely is.
I've been asked to hold off on a full review of Anthrax's "Worship Music" until closer to the release date, but suffice it to say that this is the album that fans have been waiting for for a very long time. Tracks like "Fight 'Em Til You Can't" recapture the comic book and horror-film fun of the "Among The Living" era, while the appropriately dirge-like "In The End" recalls the slow stomp of "Keep It In The Family" from "Persistence Of Time." But rather than simply reconstitute the successful formula of their early work — a la "Death Magnetic" — the band has also kept around the best of what worked during the John Bush era, namely an increased push toward melody and groove. I could (and will) go on at length later, but suffice it to say that I think a lot of fans will be pleasantly shocked by just how far this album exceeds expectations.
I've had this experience before. A dyed-in-the-wool Megadeth fan, I thrilled to the early years of "Killing Is My Business ... And Business Is Good!" and "Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying?" Things reached fever pitch with "Rust In Peace" — and then the band entered what I tend to think of as its "pop phase." Dave Mustaine has said that he was in the hunt for a No. 1 album, and the choices that were made on many of the albums that followed in the 1990s ("Countdown To Extinction," "Youthanasia," "Cryptic Writings" and "Risk") bore that out. Gone were the multilayered songs that crammed three time changes and four solos into three minutes. Now, comparative (some would argue radio-ready) simplicity was the order of the day, with Mustaine himself contributing less in the way of guitar solos. Worse yet, with "Risk," Mustaine seemed to be trend-chasing, adding bursts of electronica to the mix to poor effect.
Granted, the comeback for Megadeth started with "The World Needs A Hero," in which the thrash started gaining a bit more prevalence. It continued with "The System Has Failed," which featured Mustaine trading solos with original Megadeth ax-man Chris Poland.
Then came "United Abominations," which absolutely blew the doors off. The fact that the band was arguably the most talented iteration of Megadeth (with ex-Eidolon players Shawn and Glen Drover on drums and guitar and James LoMenzo on bass) didn't hurt. From the opening machine-gun guitar of "Sleepwalker," it was obvious that the fiery aggression of the early years was back, tempered ever-so-slightly with the more melodic sounds of the 1990s.
Of course, when a band has had an even longer career, there are multiple opportunities to fly off the rails and come back again. Take Motorhead, for example. Starting in the mid-'70s, the band built things to fever pitch with 1980's "Ace Of Spades" and the following year's live "No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith" before releasing the lackluster "Iron Fist" and "Another Perfect Day." Lineup changes (out go Fast Eddie and Philthy Animal, in-and-out go Brian Robertson and Pete Gill, in come Wurzel and Phil Campbell and back comes Philthy for another go) sure didn't help and later '80s efforts like "Orgasmatron" and "Rock 'N Roll" offered up a handful of great tracks — and (especially in the case of "Rock 'N Roll") a whole lotta filler.
But, if the 1980s were unkind to Motorhead, the '90s would start out with a return to brilliance with "1916," an album that not only reinvigorated the band in terms of recognition, but also featured some great experimentation (the cello-based title track, the near-ballad "Love Me Forever" and the creepy "Nightmare/The Dreamtime"). The band would then rise and fall, with the lackluster "March Or Die" followed by the superb "Bastards," followed by the so-so "Sacrifice," followed by the much better "Overnight Sensation" ... Still, at least since "Inferno" in the middle of this decade, the band has seemingly plateaued at a high point.
Still, once a band has successfully completed the return to form, the question of whether they can — or will — maintain that quality can linger. Reports from inside the band that Megadeth's "Th1rt3en" will incorporate more of the band's 1990s sounds have me a bit worried.
Then again, as I bow and bang my head in praise to "Worship Music" and let its joyful noise rattle the windows, maybe I'll just be content in the knowledge that it's possible to so thoroughly recapture that early magic.
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