Judge Bill Gibron says it's probably best not to mail-order this disc.
Turn it up! Bring the noise!
At the end of the 1980s, it looked like heavy metal had finally regained its confidence. After nearly a decade of hair-based mania, with bands riding on a "pure pop for now people" chart-topping mentality, it seemed as though lovers of hard rock were destined to see the saccharine, smiling faces of Jon Bon Jovi or Poison's Brett Michaels whenever headbanging was mentioned. True fans of the Devil's music knew that there was an alternative to the squeaky-clean image, spandex, and sing-alongs—a darker, more urgent form of guitar noise that spoke to rock and roll's deepest, darkest domains.
Bands with names like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax rode the outskirts of mainstream acceptance, endlessly touring and releasing their own brand of speed/thrash metal, noise that really stirred up the MTV friendly unskinny bop scene. By decade's end, Dave Mustaine's mug was a music video constant and the super-serious gang over in Ride the Lightning land were making their first mini-movie (using footage from the obscure cult film Johnny Got His Gun, "One" became a breakthrough for Napster's favorite neighbors). Only Anthrax seemed uninvited to the whiskey-and-leather ball. While staying true to their hyperfast, frenzied style of playing, the Bowery Boy antics of their promotional ads seemed to shut them out of the limelight. Even as they helped expand the parameters of heavy metal, working with rap pioneers Public Enemy on a sizzling remake of the hip-hop classic "Bring da Noise," the guys from NYC maintained their loyal cult fanbase, as Metallica went on to superstardom and Megadeth dropped back off the face of chart success.
In retrospect, it's nearly impossible to explain why Anthrax aren't right up there with Lars, James, and the rest of the riotous crew of modern heavy metal monuments. True, their overall album output has been spotty at best, but if Music of Mass Destruction, their recent DVD/CD live album recorded in 2003 at the Metro in Chicago, is any indication, Anthrax is still an amazingly tight, incredibly powerful rock and roll band. Sure, this mock-up of the group is an amalgamation of old and new members (it's the lineup that produced the 2003 "comeback" album for new label Sanctuary, We've Come for You All), but even on the older material (and they do reach back into their nearly 20-year-old canon), this fist-pumping posse is nothing but pure power. The song list features a wide variety of material, culled from albums recorded throughout the band's entire career. Over the course of 90 minutes, we witness:
• "What Doesn't Die"—from We've Come for You
There are also a couple of bonus cuts, recorded at a Flint, Michigan show after the Chicago concert mentioned above. These songs are used in conjunction with the multi-angle feature on the DVD:
• "Fueled"—from Stomp 442 (1994).
Whenever a band—no matter the genre of music they play—can completely captivate an audience for over 90 minutes, you know they have to be doing something right. Anthrax's approach to concert crowd control is simple. Glean the most majesty-filled material from your arsenal of anarchy, and blast the bejesus out of the throng. Like a never-ending machine gun pummeling the patrons with non-stop aural bliss, this tight-as-a-Brazilian-babe's-butt band manages to create growling greatness out of a two-guitar, bass, drum, and vocalist set-up.
It's interesting to note how, in 2004, the thrash-bash crashing of Anthrax's style seems quite tame compared to the sonic sturm and distorted drang of many nu-metal acts. Yet nobody sells a sonic onslaught better. Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano trade glorious guitar authority, chopping and chiming their axes to connote a beautiful bedlam rising above drummer Charlie Benante and bass player Frank Bello's jackhammer rhythm section. Layer John Bush's brittle baritone over the top—a voice filled with age and authority—and the call-and-response nature of their song styling leads to anthemic choruses of creative chaos. Not every track here is a certified thrash classic ("Indians" is an odd encore choice, and without Chuck D. and Flava Flav along for the ride, "Bring the Noise" is only half as good), but when compared to the cowardice of other live acts, Anthrax makes brave, bold pandemonium that still somehow manages to maintain its artistic integrity. A lot of their fellow metal acts have sold out, hoping to tantalize the teenybopper crowd with ready-for-graduation or prom-theme tepidness. But Anthrax has remained true to their cacophonic roots, and Music of Mass Destruction is an excellent example of their trademarked mania. It's well worth checking out.
Music of Mass Destruction also takes a unique approach to DVD production, with its reliance on a comic book-style menu design. Inspired by artist Alex Ross, who created the CD/DVD cover for this release, the selections are broken down into little animated panels, each representing an aspect of the disc. You can go to the song list, choose an individual tune, or wander over to the bonus screen to pick a backstage segment featuring your favorite band member. The behind-the-scenes material is partly serious, mostly comic "caught with your pants down" moments of spending time on the road, from dealing with insane fans to overindulgence in…liquid refreshments. The aforementioned multi-angle sequences are interesting, as you can move the camera around a performance to catch different nuances, or merely focus on how a single band member sees the show.
On the side of sound and vision, Music of Mass Destruction is amazing, an Anthrax lover's paradise of pure visual veneer accented with sheer sonic power. Though there is a rather heavy reliance on the quick-cut MTV style of editing, the overall use of multiple cameras of varying quality (producing images ranging from grainy film stock to high definition delights) really adds to the ambiance of the concert. Offered in a non-anamorphic (boo!) 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, you get the distinct impression of being onstage with the band. On the aural angle—perhaps the most important part of any music DVD—the band sounds superb. While the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 reverberates with sweetness, it's the 5.1 Surround that engulfs your gonads and bangs your head with a ferocious frenzy. The spacing and separation are amazing and you often feel "caught in a mosh" along with the rest of the rebel-rousing audience. The accompanying CD contains 12 of the 18 tracks presented on the DVD, and the audio mix is equally evocative and absolutely excellent.
Unlike artists or scholars, most rock bands are appreciated in their lifetime, and then, once the fad or the fun is over, are left out to wither and die on the oldies circuit. Or worse yet, a VH-1 retrospective of Where Are They Now. Anthrax proves that, even if they failed to become the mania to Metallica's mainstream menace, or the legacy to Limp Bizkit's faux fusion, they are still a seminal metal band that needs to be reckoned with. And Music of Mass Destruction will help provide fuel for further consideration. It's a magnificent, pure rock and roll experience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BMG Music
• Accompanying 12-song CD
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