Anthrax – Sound of White Noise

Written by on January 31, 2019

Even in the grand scheme of things, Anthrax was always the odd man out when it came to the Big Four of Thrash Metal. Despite been in such a highly-regarded group and having a body of work that can compete against almost any other group, Anthrax doesn’t have the kind of exposition that the likes of Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer have enjoyed beyond Metal’s terrain. Which is a shame because Anthrax is one of the classic bands from the 80s that have grown to have one of the most fascinating careers, often trying different styles and succeeding at that–Sound of White Noise is a prove of that.

If we go back in time to the early 90s, after Anthrax’s widely successful Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth and Slayer, we can realize in hindsight how in danger most conventional Metal bands were at the time due to the rise of the Grunge movement from Seattle and the fact that there was a saturation in the market of Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal and Hard Rock, so the usual happened: some bands folded, others tried to change their sound and failed at it, while others went through radical shifts to survive and maintain their relevance in the music business (or in the case of Metallica’s Black Album, to become even more relevant).

Scott Ian, Charlie Benante and the rest of the Anthrax guys were not oblivious to this reality and their first album in the 90s, Persistence of Time, was already a clear paradigm shift from what they were doing in the past decade: more intricate instrumentation, a darker musical approach, more serious lyrics and, interesting enough considering what was going to happen later on, Joey Belladonna going for a slightly more gruff and low-key vocal style–all of these elements made Persistence of Time one of their most celebrated and singular albums of their entire careers, boosted by the tragedy that was the burning of their studio in New York City, but they were not going to stop there.

Focusing on Belladonna, it has to be said (and this was corroborated by Charlie Benante in a Headbangers’ Ball interview in 1993) that Anthrax were heading towards darker and denser musical venues, thus making his voice less appropriate and fitting to the style they were trying to stablish. Considering how Sound of White Noise ended up sounding like, it was pretty difficult to picture Belladonna singing in it, so the need for a vocalist with a fiercer vocal tone was understandable. So when Scott Ian or Charlie himself says that his departure was solely musical, I’m inclined to believe them.

Enter John Bush.

The thing that I always find fascinating about Bush joining them is the fact that you wouldn’t think they would make an album of this nature: Anthrax was a clear-cut Thrash Metal band with a very melodic focus while Bush was the vocalist of Armored Saint, an underrated and classic Heavy Metal. And while both bands changed their sounds to a somewhat darker and complex nature in their first albums of the 90s–Persistence of Time and Symbol of Salvation, respectively-, the end result that was Sound of White Noise was still surprising.

I often look back at the early 90s as Anthrax’s most ambitious and meticulous musical period; I think it’s an era that is often overlooked by fans because they steered away from the lighthearted approach from their excellent 80s productions, but here you can find another fantastic testament of how talented these five musicians are. And considering that this is Dan Spitz’s final album with the band before going to Switzerland to become a watch master (no, I’m not kidding), then this makes this album even more special.

Introducing a new vocalist is always a complicated task, but Potters Field let us know from the beginning that there is no need to be afraid: Anthrax is back and with a vengeance. Once Charlie’s drums and Scott and Dan’s riffs jump in we know that this is a different musical adventure, but not of lesser quality. For those familiar with Bush’s Armored Saint work, we can hear him aiming for a more melodic and intense vocal approach, with actually works quite well and elevates the song. I for one love this song: I think the sheer intensity of it, the power of the riffs and the ease in which they go from mid-tempo to a faster pace is something that makes for a phenomenal opener. Great way to introduce the new Anthrax with one of the finest tracks of the Bush era.

Charlie’s opening drum patterns sets us up for what is Anthrax’s biggest hit single with Bush and the most known track from this era: Only. I’m sure that I’m being biased as hell here, but I have to say that this song and its simple yet fantastic music video still hold up tremendously well; it feels like a band renewed and loving the music that they make. I have to say that Charlie’s drumming is fantastic throughout the song while Bush steals the show with a passionate display–if the great commandment for a vocalist is to transmit feeling through his singing, then this man has accomplished that goal with ease throughout his all career and Only is a true testament to that. Dan Spitz’s solo, which goes in a steady buildup until the next chorus, is exquisite and it’s a shame that he left the band because Anthrax has never been able to fully fill his vacant role ever since.

One aspect that makes Sound of White Noise such a special album in Anthrax’s catalog is the fact that is very eclectic and that, mixed with Bush’s peculiar vocal tone, plays to their strengths. Let’s take Room for One More, the third track: the song is commanded by the strong riffing, which is one of Anthrax’s biggest virtues, and Frankie Bello’s energetic bass playing (just the whole band, Frankie is a bass player that doesn’t get enough credit in the scene). The chorus is always highlighted and for good reason because is so upfront and direct that fits the song’s style in great fashion.

Packaged Rebellion shows the band straying away once again from their characteristic Thrash sound and I have to say that this one has been a grower for me for years, but nowadays I find it very entertaining and enjoyable, although I admit that it loses the punch from the first three fantastic tracks. Actually, I think this song is a great example of what the band was going to do with Bush in following releases: the vocal lines, the rhythms and the riffing is pretty similar to the likes of, say, Safe Home from We’ve Come for You All.

In the case of Hy Pro Glo we have a song that showcases a perfect combination of Charlie’s drumming and Scott and Dan’s riffing, making a perfect stage for Bush to shine in. It’s hard to talk about these tracks without mentioning the new guy because he fits perfectly with the album and provides the kind of delivery, the kind of feeling and punch, that songs of this nature require to reach the heights they have reached. Actually, when the song reaches a slower pace, some of Bush’s vocal melodies remind me of Axl Rose’s in Use Your Illusion 2, as strange as that may sound.

On the other hand, not everything is gold in this album and that is something shown in the shape of Invisible, which while it has a few interesting elements like the constant rhythm changes and a solid Bush vocal performance, it’s still weaker than what we have heard in the rest of the album. 1000 Points of Hate is very fun because it has a few guitar melodies reminiscent of what the band did in Among the Living, but now with a modern and denser approach, which makes for a fascinating track. This is another proof that every album has a nature of its own and that makes the whole experience of listening them much more entertaining because they offer multiple influences and musical perceptions, which is something that most Thrash bands, in an attempt to stay relevant in the early 90s, were not willing to do.

Of course, the biggest difference between this album and what Anthrax was doing before Bush’s arrival comes in the form of the ballad Black Lodge. Yes, a ballad in an Anthrax album. Yes, that exists.

Even though it had a somewhat successful music video, Black Lodge has been a bit forgotten by Anthrax fans –I guess because it’s not something the band is known for-, which is a shame because it’s actually a very good track. It has a lot of influence from Alice in Chains and I can even imagine Layne Staley singing this tune, and I say that as a compliment because it shows how flexible these musicians are and how capable they are of playing different styles–I would even dare to say that all of them are underrated in their respected instruments. This is a pretty good song, with a lot of atmosphere, and Bush showing that soulful nature of his, which was already proved in a few Armored Saint ballads like Another Day.

C11 H17 N2 O2 S Na (I can’t imagine them mentioning this song’s name live) shows the long-running Punk influence that Anthrax always had and shows Bush like a fish in the water. I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of this song, but I can’t deny that is very enjoyable and shows Charlie Benante at the peak of his powers drumming, which is always a joy to behold.

On the other hand, Burst is a phenomenal track and one of Anthrax’s more underrated songs at that. It’s not only the album’s fastest song and it has a powerful chorus that I think could be borderline iconic, but it also has an emotional charge in the lyrics that Bush delivers with a fantastic interpretation. This Is Not an Exit wraps the whole thing with a lot of Black Sabbath influences, but, to be honest, I always found this track to be a bit lacking in substance, so it feels like a letdown after such a tremendous musical body of work. But of course, this is my personal opinion, so perhaps you’re going to feel different about it.

If there is something that has to be said about Sound of White Noise is the fact that it’s a meticulous yet powerful album, complemented with what has to be one of the band’s finest productions, done by the brilliant Daved Jerden (who worked with Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Rolling Stones, Alice in Chains, Jane’s Addiction and even Bush’s Armored Saint), thus resulting in one of their finest works.

Sure, back then (and even today) not everybody was happy with this new musical direction: most hardcore fans wanted the classic, thrashy Anthrax and felt that they were selling out to stay relevant, like many other bands were doing at the time. I think the main difference was that Anthrax seized this confusing period for Metal bands to try something new and refreshing with complete integrity; Sound of White Noise feels and hears like a band that was having fun and enjoying the final product, which is something that always translates to a much more effective and fruitful body of work.

Overall, Sound of White Noise is an example of what Anthrax is at its core: a band that has always been genuine and has always been focused about the music.

And we couldn’t be happier that they have stayed that way.

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