Anthrax - Among The Living - Review
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critics' view

There are four albums I think of when I think of great thrash metal. Metallica's Ride the Lightning, Slayer's Reign in Blood, Megadeth's Rust in Peace, and Anthrax's Among the Living. These albums make up what I call the Thrash Starter Kit. You want to get into metal's most rewarding subgenre, you better do your homework. This album takes what makes those other three great and amalgamates them into a perfect example of how the fastest, heaviest, and finest thrash metal is created, but without being inaccessible to a non-thrasher. So, just how good IS Among the Living, and what's so good about it? Where do I even begin?

Instrumentation is incredibly tight here. This is one of those albums where every single note played feels important, and not a single one out of place, which is an impressive feat for an album that moves at such breakneck speed. Scott Ian's riffs are complex but still memorable, Charlie Benante's drums are so tight and fast, you'd think he would have gotten advanced Carpal Tunnel after just a few takes, and Frank Bello's bass is not only layered and proficient but actually audible, something that you almost never hear in thrash metal. I have always believed and will always believe that Anthrax with Joey Belladonna is the only Anthrax there is, and his presence is invaluable on this album. His voice is both melodic and aggressive, something that can only be accredited to such legends as Rob Halford or Dio.

The writing is downright fantastic. There's a perfect balance between dark humor and unrelenting social and political commentary, sometimes both at once. Two tracks stand out to me lyrically; Efilnukefesin and Indians. The former I should mention because it is handled strangely. The song is famously about Jon Belushi, but it's hard to tell if it's a tribute, a scold, or if they're cracking jokes about his death. In any case, despite the poor taste in which it's handled, the track rocks and is still very well written at its core (with another of the album's always-memorable chant choruses). The latter track, Indians, merits mention again, not for its subject matter, but the way it's handled. Countless artists have written about the plight of the Native Americans, and the "Evil white man comes and takes our land" narrative. While I understand the gravity of the atrocities committed during that tragic period in American history, Anthrax is the only artist who's ever handled that much-hackneyed material in in effective way (at least for me). You will indeed cry for the Indians.

The production is a bit fuzzy in spots, but still just as sharp as it needs to be. I'd like it to be just a bit better, especially considering that the brilliantly-produced Peace Sells…But Who's Buying? had been released the previous year (on a shoestring budget, no less), but I can't complain. If I needed an exact comparison point, I'd say this sounds about as good as Ride the Lightning. It's still pretty stellar when you consider the circumstances, and the contrast is very even, something Reign In Blood didn't handle nearly as well.

Among the Living, and Anthrax in general, manage something that few thrash bands (especially in the Big Four) have ever done-they actually have a little fun, and deal with some less serious subject matter. They balance the deadly seriousness of tracks like Indians or Skeletons in the Closet with tracks like I Am the Law, a tribute to the classic comic book Judge Dredd. The acoustic intro to Horror of It All, cryptically titled A.D.I., actually stands for "Arabian Douchebag Intro", poking fun at the Bay Area thrash cliche of acoustic intros to "epic" tracks (someone really should have told that to Testament…but that's another story.)

I would say Among the Living's strongest link is also its greatest downfall-it hits its peak way too early, with the incredible, breathtaking title track. Everything that is great about this album, about Anthrax, and about thrash in general is put on showcase perfectly here. The band works tightly and perfectly as a unit rather than just the sum of its parts, no one steals the spotlight, and best of all, it blends both the hardcore influence of East Coast thrash with the unrelenting technicality of Bay Area thrash. Among the Living by Anthrax is one of the greatest anthems in all of thrash, and one of my favorite metal songs of all time. Every track on this album is great, but none quite live up to the opener.

So, that's Among the Living. If you haven't heard it, you shouldn't even be on the Archives right now. When an album's biggest flaws are some ever-so-slightly fuzzy production and having a track that is literally TOO GOOD, it has to be worth your money. I recommend it to absolutely any metal fan.

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