...Or how to go from Hero to Zero in two years…
1993’s Sound of White Noise was something of a year zero for NYC thrashers Anthrax; The importation of Armored Saint’s John Bush into the lineup at the expense of the increasingly ludicrous Joey Belladonna, the more or less total shedding of their thrash skin in favour of an altogether more de jeur alt. metal sound and the easing out slowly of lead guitarist Dan Spitz all combined to throw the band into something of a state of flux, a flux which against the odds forced them into a white-hot creative maelstrom that left them in possession of something of an unexpected classic.
Perhaps not that unexpected; previous album Persistence of Time continued the darkening process in the band’s sound that 1988’S State of Euphoria had begun, leaving both Belladonna and Spitz increasingly out on a limb. By 1993 neither were needed, although Spitz is credited as lead guitarist on this album. By the time the SoWN tour rolled through the UK future Meat Loaf musical director Paul Crook was handling all the lead work.
Gone too were the wacky shorts and Ramones-styled idiot boards, although thankfully the band didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater totally – they actually delivered the best set of tunes the band had been associated with since 1986’s Among the Living.
The new, less melodious style suited Bush down to the ground, his leather-lunged bellow fitting right in with soon-to-be-classics like Only and Sodium Pentathol, his more abrasive style naturally more suited to jagged material like Hy Pro Glo than Belladonna’s reedy warble. Indeed Only was so good it was pronounced a ‘perfect song’ by none other than James Hetfield, and when you throw ambitious material like the cinematic Twin Peaks tribute Black Lodge into the mix as well, you’ve actually got an album that’s starting to look like a minor classic. Producer Dave Jerden adds a modern sheen to the dependably groovy Charlie Benante riffage, in the process streamlining the sound so that even slightly bloated fare like This is Not an Exit ends up sounding dynamic and crunchy. A top 10 placing in the Billboard Top 200 album listing was proof that the band had reaped the rewards of their on-the-face-of –it risky career moves.
Fast forward two years and observe a band taking it’s first steps down the slippery slope to oblivion. Stomp 442 is a largely graceless collection of faceless, empty rifferama, all oafish bluster with nothing to back up the grandstanding sturm und drang. The band complained about lack of support from label Elektra, but it’s hard to see what the label could do with such a tiresome set of tracks. Opener Random Acts of Senseless Violence sets the tone, Bush doing a passable Steven Tyler impression over the top of the sort of directionless Pantera-lite guitar work that’s a trademark of the Anthrax wilderness years – Dimebag Darrell himself contributes lead to third track King Size on this album without sprinkling the song with any great amount of stardust – and things don’t really get any better from that inauspicious starting point. Where SoWN’s lesser tracks like Invisible and Burst still packed a roaring punch, and generally added to the overall air of metallic excess, S442 repeatedly fails to reach even those low water marks. Bush is never less than fully committed – he’s undoubtedly the star of this show – and the occasional riff does stick out from the morass (American Pompei, featuring Powerman 500’s Mike Tempesta, might just about crawl onto the end of side two of a ‘best of’ release), but overall Stomp 442, alongside it’s followup album, Volume 8 – The Threat is Real – marks the nadir of Anthrax’s thirty five year career.