Full-length studio album number 11 from thrash metal pioneers Anthrax proves that the resurgency displayed on their last full-length album, 2011’s Worship Music (which I reviewed here), definitely wasn’t a fluke. For All Kings packs its hour-long running time with one monster song after another, picking up right where its predecessor left off in terms of top drawer material from beginning to end. Critics (and there were plenty when the album got leaked a couple of months early) might opine that this latest collection of songs is merely just “more of the same” from Anthrax, an argument I actually can’t disagree with on one level. True, the band barely deviate from the sound of their last album, but why mess with a winning formula? Especially when the results in both cases are this superb.
Pulling double duty as Anthrax’s new lead guitarist, while also retaining membership in his longtime band Shadows Fall, is Joe Donais. He comfortably slides into his role alongside Anthrax founder Scott Ian (guitar), longtime members Frank Bello (bass) and Charlie Benante (drums), and their “classic era” vocalist, Joey Belladonna. The musicianship on For All Kings, as expected, is tight and formidable, particularly on the epic “Blood Eagle Wings”, mood-swinging opener “You Gotta Believe”, the pummeling “Suzerain”, and punk-fuelled album closer “Zero Tolerance”. It’s not all breakneck speed thrashers, however, as the band modulates things nicely with less frenetically-paced songs like “Monster At The End”, “Defend/Avenge”, and the surprisingly accessible “Breathing Lightning”. Pissed off lyrics that focus on Anthrax topical staples like social injustice run throughout the album. The evocative You’re just a bag of blood and I’m holding the nail (from “You Gotta Believe”) and the religious extremism-condemning lyrics from “Evil Twin” (inspired by 2015’s Charlie Hebdo attack) stand out amongst the album’s overall strong lyrics.
The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the album by metal fans on a couple of the online forums that I perused shortly after the album leaked completely baffles me. A common refrain was that “Breathing Lightning” was too commercial. While that track may be more melodic than most of Anthrax’s material, it’s still plenty heavy, leading me to believe that the folks spouting that criticism are the same close-minded people who think “Enter Sandman” is lightweight.
With Worship Music and now For All Kings, Anthrax have completely defied the music industry standard by releasing the two best albums in their discography three-and-a-half decades into their career. If ever an album was befitting of the well-worn “all killer, no filler” label, then For All Kings is it. Belladonna, who returned to Anthrax in 2010, and the rest of the group are clearly firing on all cylinders creatively at this point in their lengthy career, despite a surprising story from 2014 that places their future together in question. Belladonna said in the interview that he’d never really found his place in the band and that he’s “only allowed so much friendship” from the other members. My options for buying new music from metal bands are painfully slim these days (very few newer bands resonate with me), so here’s hoping the long-time acts like Anthrax keep rolling on.