“When you think of Valentine’s Day and love, you think of Anthrax.”  Those were the words of Anthrax’s Frank Bello who appeared with Scott Ian on Mark Radcliffe’s show (which was dubbed the “St Valentine’s Day Thrashicre”) on BBC 6Music, ahead of their headlining gig at Manchester Academy. Now, while the topic of love and romance might not rank particularly highly in the world of thrash metal, the two members were quick to point out how much they love being in Anthrax and howmetal shows are very much a bonding experience between men and women.” For when they laid waste to Manchester Academy that night, there was plenty of love and romance in the air for the New York quintet.

This was their first European headlining tour in over 10 years and it’s a special one because they have been playing their best album Among the Living in full, which celebrates its 30th birthday this year. Their show took a rather unique setting. Billed as “An Evening with Anthrax”, the band bundled onstage and played a mixture of classic hits and new material from 2016’s For All Kings. The great thing about the new material is how it sits in so well with the older stuff. Often, when a band tours to promote their new album, they play tracks off it to get people to buy it, while the audience waits for the hits. But the crowd responded as well to the new stuff as they did to the likes of A.I.R. and Madhouse, which opened the show.

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Keeping with the An Evening With billing, the band took a 10 minute interval after Breathing Lightning to allow the roadies to swap the stage props around, ready for ATL. Intervals are so rare in rock concerts, where energy and momentum are crucial but this was welcomed by the crowd and geed everyone up enough for the rest of the set. Anthrax effectively were playing support act to themselves, so when the tape intro of the title track came on, it was like settling back in your seat after half time.

What made this gig unique is that the energy gradually built up and wasn’t spent in the first few numbers, which can happen for a lot of headlining bands. By having an interval and pacing out the set, the band and audience were allowed a breather, before sinking its collective teeth into the most meaty part of the show. That’s not to say it was meant for chin-stroking introspection. Caught In a Mosh, believe it or not, staged the biggest mosh pits of the show, and I am The Law was given the fist pumping, shout-along treatment.

Joey Belladonna, the band’s lead singer is a barrel of laughs. He generally loves to toy with the crowd while making them feel part of the show. When he stares out at the crowd and makes little gestures for them to make more noise, he feels like he’s staring right at you and you better give him what he wants. Add his impressive vocal range into the mix and you’ve got a singer who can really shrink a room.

Anthrax are a very cartoonish looking band and play up to that with their arena sized production. A mini ramp next to the drumkit, smoke bombs and colourful backdrops all served the band’s distinctive look well and there was a realisation in the air of how legendary and talented they are. Scott Ian in particular looked the part, with facial grimaces while playing the rhythm guitar along with his bald head and goatee. Anthrax’s head honcho was even able to laugh at himself when he sang out of time on One World. 

When final track Antisocial kicked in, the running time had clocked in at almost 2 and a half hours but the show or band had not wilted. On this Valentine’s Night when people are asking the question, “Why can’t Anthrax be romantic?”, Well, why not?

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