This Anthrax article was written by Adam Hawker, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Nick Roseblade
In Thrash Metal, there are essentially four names that matter. The “Big Four” of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. Their breakneck guitar riffs, mosh-pit ready beats and bleak, often apocalyptic lyrics were at odds with the Hair Metal and stadium rock bands that had dominated the first half of the 80s. This year is the 30th Anniversary of Anthrax’s relentless second album Spreading the Disease. With record label Universal releasing a special anniversary edition.
The album sees the line-up of the band change drastically from their debut album Fistful of Metal, with Joey Belladonna replacing Neil Turbin on vocals and Frank Bello replacing Dan Lilker on bass. These new additions would go on to be considered the classic Anthrax line-up.
Setting out its stall with the fast paced riff and soaring vocal of opening track A.I.R, the album is the formation of what would become Anthrax’s signature sound: a potent mix of metal, punk and hardcore. The band saw Spreading the Disease as a rejection of the style over substance nature of Hair Metal and a return to the roots of Heavy Metal established by the likes of Black Sabbath.
Joey Belladonna, coming from a more traditional heavy metal background, would become Anthrax’s unique selling point on the record. His higher register voice and his excellent delivery setting them apart from their peers, who favoured deeper vocals with more aggression than technical prowess. On tracks such as “Medusa”, his demo vocal for which appears on the special edition, Belladonna’s vocal dominates despite the crushing drums and what guitarist and lyricist Scott Ian describes as “fascist guitar playing”, his incredibly fast, catchy, hook based playing style.
Themes of dislocation, paranoia and life as an unceasing race or battle permeate the album. On “Gung-Ho”, manic guitar mixes with a brutal lyric descending into guttural howls. The sense of a world on the brink of collapse and in need of change seems to haunt the band.
“Armed and Dangerous”, the closest the album comes to a ballad, seems to be a positive assessment of the band’s future. The idea of a being freed from bondage and determined to fulfil their destiny drives the song. The imagery shifts from being on chained and trapped to the verge of explosion and a now untamed lion ready to attack.
Spreading the Disease, despite the dark subject matter, ultimately feels like a moment of triumph. Here is the point at which the band found the sound and confidence that would cement their place in metal history. Marking out the bands territory as perhaps the most accessible and fun loving of the Big Four. Though their next album Among the Living would garner greater critical and commercial (thanks in large part to “I’m the Man”, arguably the first rap metal song) success, Spreading the Disease is a crucial part of the Anthrax story and therefore the story of metal itself.