You are at a movie premiere and you spy an aging star sauntering down the red carpet. Watching, you can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right and, as they draw closer, you realise that it’s that they look really good for their age. Immediately you start to wonder “have they had work done?” You look, can’t see any obvious signs of augmentation, and consider that maybe they’ve just looked after themselves over the years, but you remain constantly unsure. That is how For All Kings sounds.
35 years into their career, thrash metal icons Anthrax have released their eleventh studio album, which sounds as fresh and energetic as one released by a band just starting out. Not bad for a bunch of guys in their 50’s (alright, four guys in there 50’s and a 30-something). On his first album with Anthrax, lead guitarist Jonathan Donais, previously of Shadows Fall, proves to be a worthy addition to the otherwise “classic” lineup of Scott Ian (rhythm guitar), Charlie Benante (drums), Frank Bello (bass), and Joey Belladonna (vocals), and every member fulfils their role to perfection. Producer Jay Ruston ensures that no one member upstages any other and, as such, each song is tonally well balanced and executed with precision.
Following the extended intro of Impaled, For All Kings kicks off with the anthemic You Gotta Believe, a song that will clearly be used to rev up the crowd at concerts for the foreseeable future, with its solid, head-bang inducing, rhythms. The titular For All Kings is the bands statement of intent for the album, with its themes of existentialism and rejection of political and religious violence. Ian has said that “[t]he meaning, to me, for this title is that everybody can be a king. Everybody can have control over their own lives, control over their destiny, just by growing up and becoming a responsible human being. … A king of yourself is what I mean. Taking responsibility and ownership for your own shit is basically what it means to me.”
Belladonna stretches his legs on Breathing Lightning, with his vocal delivery set wonderfully against the songs bounding rhythm, and Suzerain which, with its brutal pounding, will be eagerly anticipated by moshpits the world over. Lead single Evil Twin, inspired by events such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, stands as the album’s standard bearer with music and lyrics combining to display the band’s disgust at the rampant violence of “ideology used as a weapon”. Terrorist and government alike are taken to task with lyrics like “fighting a war with both feet in”, “you represent your discontent/slaughtering the innocent”, and the repeated refrain of “you’re no martyrs”. Album closer, Zero Tolerance, underscores Anthrax’s position, rattling off a list of undesirable –isms that the band has no time for.
Anthrax have delivered an album that will generate new fans as well as immensely pleasing existing ones. One need look no further than the sneakily epic, Blood Eagle Wings, which opens in a more groove/modern metal vein, but threatens to blow the speakers out with its full thrash middle section. With all of the above, and more besides, if For All Kings doesn’t earn Anthrax a slew of accolades for best metal release of 2016 it will mean that 2016 has been a very good year for heavy metal music.