Reconsidering Anthrax’s Place As The Black Sheep In The ‘Big Four’ Of Thrash Metal

02.29.16 8 months ago • 11 Comments

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One of the most important aspects of heavy-metal lore is the Big Four; the four American thrash-metal bands who have more or less come to define their genre. Those bands would be Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Now, right away you can think of what each of those bands’ calling cards would be. Metallica were both the most commercially successfully band out of the group, as well as the band who pioneered the whole thing when they released Kill ‘Em All. Slayer, on the other hand, are probably known as the most intense, dark band of the group, dabbling in the more macabre with tracks like “Angel of Death,” and “Raining Blood” still sending chills down listeners’ spines today. Then, Megadeth would likely be best known for Dave Mustaine’s legendary snarl, his controversial politics, and of course, the band’s immortal two-guitar attack. Finally, that leaves us with Anthrax, an undeniably important metal band that nonetheless lacks an immediate calling card. This might beg the question: Have Anthrax become the most underrated band of the Big Four?

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Anthrax first began truly making their mark on the metal world with their second album, 1985’s Spreading The Disease, which gave us the all-time classic “Madhouse,” perhaps best known for Joey Belladonna’s epic wail of “I’M INSAAAAAAAAAAAANE!” But while that album certainly got people talking about Anthrax, what cemented their reputation as one of the greatest metal acts ever was 1987’s Among The Living. On this album, the band expanded their sound, making some of the more complex music of their career, while also taking on some subversive themes in their lyrics. Most notable of Among’s standouts were “I Am The Law,” an ode to Judge Dredd and subtle acknowledgment of Draconian police forces and “Indians,” a tribute to the plight of Native Americans — lead vocalist Joey Belladonna has Iriqouis heritage in his family. Between that, 1988’s State Of Euphoria and 1990’s Persistence Of Time, Anthrax’s importance the contemporary metal scene was undeniable.

Then, in 1991, the band would release perhaps their best-known song, their cover of Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise.” In addition to being the closest thing the band ever had to a true hit, this song was particularly influential for basically pioneering the rap-metal genre, following in the footsteps of early one-off tracks like Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” and even their own B-side “I’m The Man.” Now, this admittedly might seem like a bit of a mixed blessing, but for every one of Limp Bizkit’s more embarrassing moments, there is also a Rage Against The Machine right around the corner. The track essentially set the stage for an entire sub-genre of music, and that is certainly nothing to scoff at. At this point, Anthrax’s legacy was firmly secured.

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