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Anthrax "Alive 2"

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, October 17, 2005 @ 3:36 PM

Sanctuary Records

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Belladonna or Bush?

Normally, considering vocalists is an easy task. The trend of course being for various bands to rehire the singers involved with the group during their most successful periods, since that’s the personality the majority of people identify with and want to go and see. Even though a group may earnestly intend to move on after a split with their vocalists, the band sometimes finds itself unable to locate a match that works either commercially or artistically….well, this isn’t one of those cases—at least artistically speaking anyway. To the hard rock fans who never went away and didn’t need VH-1 to remind them that metal existed, John Bush was a name that didn’t require an introduction after first being recruited by Anthrax to fill the vocal duties. After all, John had been the authoritative voice of Armored Saint for many years, and as soon as Bush joined the band, his presence was immediately felt. Sounds of White Noise was quickly rendered a classic, and the following years saw more quality releases coming from the band including the relatively recent offerings of We’ve Come For You All as well and the reworkings of classic Anthrax tunes with Bush instead of Belladonna manning the vocals. Everything at that point in Anthraxland seemed to be pointing towards Bush being the long-term vocalist for the band. That was of course before the purported offering of a slot on Ozzfest to the group contingent upon the band reuniting with its previous singer. No one was admitting to this rumor’s veracity, but it appeared as though when the band reunited with Belladonna that the stories were indeed accurate and that the group might provide some badly needed old school metal on the bill.

Then, it didn’t happen….er, rather the reunion tour happened, but no slot on Ozzfest ever materialized which was supposed to have been the immediate motivation for the move to begin with. In the interim, fans of both vocalists chimed in vociferously and much speculation abounded before the recent announcement by Bush that he was done with the band thus ending speculation that some type of future co-existence between the two was in the offing. Now, what we have here is a live album consisting entirely of old school Belladonna material performed during the band’s recent summer tour. Whether or not that is a good thing depends on the perspective of the metalhead. In any case, these tunes represent a sampling of the music a fan could hear if they caught Anthrax during their recent summer tour.

There are twelve tunes available here which will be instantly identifiable to any Anthrax fan worth his salt who once saw himself moshing around in Vision Street Wear back in the day. The set begins with an interesting version of “Among The Living” that finds the band in crushing form although Belladonna seems at times to be gasping and slightly out of sync with the rest of band while the follow-up, “Caught In A Mosh” simply proceeds to rip it up from beginning to end. On each of the selections, Belladonna’s vocals are as distinctive as ever, but the part that surprised me was how used I had gotten to Bush’s versions of eighties era songs both live and on the 2004 release The Greater of Two Evils. “A.I.R.” comes next as it plods along with some excellent guitar work courtesy of Dan Spitz. “Antisocial” and “N.F.L.” follow with some of the usual live banter interspersed between and still more inspired Spitz-Ian guitar stylings included. The first half dozen tunes concludes with “Deathrider” which may have been the song more than any other on this record in which a Bush fan will miss the previous vocalist in both cadence and tone.

Just when a listener might believe that Belladonna doesn’t have the type of skill his successor/predecessor had, it becomes apparent on “Medusa” that comparing the two really is truly an apples and oranges endeavor. There is simply no way Bush could sing this with the same vocal fluctuations and eccentricities that Joey does. They are just two very different singers. The next selection is also off of the Persistence of Time record entitled “In My World” which is followed by probably the most distinctive Belladonna song “Indians”---a tune here that is done with a predictably unique way as Joey implores the audience to “get a little war dance going.”

This disc really shouldn’t surprise anyone—a band that has been in the game as long as Anthrax and who is recording live versions of their classic material simply isn’t going to release any renditions that…suck. Although it’s true that many of the songs here are available on the previously released Anthrax Live: The Island Years—a record that merely fulfilled the band’s contractual obligations to the label and proceeded to be ignored by virtually everyone else. For the discerning metal fan that doesn’t own any live Belladonna-era Anthrax, purchasing Alive 2 would provide a quality audible record of where the band is now as well as where they have been in the past. If by some chance there are a few people out there who cared enough to buy The Island Years, it probably means they would be enough of a fan to want to get this anyway, so releasing another set of live Belladonna material intended to build on the momentum of the reunion seems to make at least a bit of sense. Really, the mix and quality of the sound is truly better on this one as well. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Scott Ian and company now that it appears as if a studio album with Belladonna would have to be in the offing with some happy and some dismayed at the prospect. Here’s hoping the switch turns out to be a good thing, but…a little skepticism by fans in this case would seem to be warranted.

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