Live Reviews - Reviews

Anthrax @ Limelight 1, Belfast


It’s been a good week for speed metal fans in Belfast with not one but two Slayer gigs, followed by tonight’s long awaited show from Noo Yoik’s nonpareils of noise, Anthrax. That’s 50% of the ‘Big Four’ of thrash on the same modestly sized Limelight stage, while Metallica are headlining Glastonbury and Megadeth are off, I don’t know, probably offending a minority group. Yea, verily, it is the season of metal.

If the audience are beginning to feel a little spoilt they certainly don’t show it, piling into the venue as soon as doors open and readily assuming the position for support act, Belfast’s own By Conquest Or Consent.  An extremely polished outfit, they deliver a muscular half hour set of groove-tinged melodic death metal largely driven by vocalist Pete Crenshaw and his Anselmo-esque pipes and appearance. There aren’t any major surprises here but it’s a concise set sharpened and honed to an impressive standard, and that’s enough.

Anthrax have always been a good-time party band, epitomising the zany wildness of the 1980s New York thrash scene. MTV even ran a competition in ’89 where the group visited the winner’s house to ‘trash it’ – who wouldn’t want that?! With this in mind it’s no surprise when Anthrax take to the stage to the strains of AC/DC’s ‘For Those About To Rock’ with guitarist, driving force and nicest-man-in-metal Scott ‘Not’ Ian banging his head and grinning from ear to ear while the crowd go appropriately daft.

The biggest response, however, is held for vocalist Joey Belladonna whose appearance is met with Beatle-mania style screams of approval. Although one of seven singers passing through the Anthrax ranks Belladonna is arguably the golden era ‘Thrax vocalist, appearing on seminal early albums such as Spreading The Disease and Among The Living, as well as the altogether more progressive Persistence Of Time and more recently 2011’s Worship Music.

Like Ozzy/Dio and David Lee Roth/Sammy Hagar before them, opinions vary as to who is the best singer (with many preferring the gruff stylings of John Bush) but make no mistake, this is as close to a ‘classic’ line-up as possible, especially considering the inclusion of long-serving drummer Charlie Benante.

The band knows it too, blistering through every track from 1987’s Among The Living with anachronistically youthful exuberance. Sure, Belladonna’s face is crinklier than many of the vintage metal shirts on show tonight but while he might not look like a young man he certainly acts like one, flinging himself around the stage and constantly motioning at the audience, hi-fiving, grinning, sneering, blowing kisses, air-guitaring the mic stand. He leans down to a front-row reveller and shrieks “How old are you, 50? That’s incredible!” I genuinely think he might be oblivious to the fact he personally passed that milestone a few years back.

Stage-right Ian sports a huge badger-striped beard but still manages to look about twenty-years old, his face permanently held in that rictus grin and bald head jerking back and forth like a nodding dog on methamphetamine.

It’s not just aesthetics either thankfully – every track is supremely tight with Benante’s blast-beats imbuing the backbone with a modern metal sensibility. Jonathan Donnais of melodic death act Shadows Fall shreds on lead and Frank Bello thunders solidly while pulling some of the most ridiculous ‘bass face’ this side of Jason Newsted. Undoubtedly the question at the back of everybody’s mind is whether or not the operatic Belladonna can hit the high notes he is most widely regarded for. Thankfully, for the most part, he nails ‘em.

The whole night is very much geared towards fans of the ‘80s material, but nobody seems to be complaining. Moreover it feels like everyone in the audience knows every single word to every track; a timely reminder that these aren’t just great songs, they’re great tunes, as catchy as they are savage.

When a new(ish) track ‘In The End’ (a tribute to fallen brothers in metal) is finally wheeled out, the faux-spray-painted pentagrams that bookend the stage are draped with paintings of legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio (undoubtedly a huge influence on Belladonna’s falsetto howls) and Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, tragically gunned down on stage by a crazed fan some ten years ago. It’s always difficult to get a feel for how sincere this sort of thing is but Belladonna sounds genuinely moved when he lowers his tone and says, ‘we miss them don’t we?’, the band and audience saluting with metal horns. It’s equal parts touching and silly.

That’s not to do down silliness of course. In fact, it’s the key to Anthrax’s enduring appeal and I mean that as a sincere compliment. When Beastie Boys homage/parody ‘I’m The Man’ is cranked out by way of an encore, it serves as a ridiculous gibbering middle finger up to all that is smug and posturing about metal.

While everyone else was cutting their hair or adopting increasingly preposterous ‘metaller-than-thou’ attitudes, Anthrax have kept on trucking as a constant reminder of just how much fun a genre it is, affording them Holy Grail levels of youthfulness. Silliness and honest-to-God wailing can co-exist, and Anthrax still bring the noise. Peter McCaughan