For All Kings marks the 11th release from thrash metal giants, Anthrax. This release is the third from a member of the big thrash 4 in the past 6 months. With Metallica in the studio, this is a great chance for these bands to show everyone their collective relevance. So far, Megadeth‘s Dystopia has been largely successful, and Slayer’s Repentless was only slightly less well-received. Amongst this resurgence of the ‘old guard’ of metal (including Maiden‘s release in September), there was definitely a platform for Anthrax to bring themselves back to the forefront of modern metal with their first release in 5 years. While For All Kings may feature exactly what die-hard fans want to hear, there are aspects which will prevent it from being a true hit, amongst much greater competition.
The anticipation for the album, is epitomised and reflected by the opening track, Impaled. Kicking off with a teasing snare roll, developing into a march style snare pattern which is soon surrounded by the noise of fans cheering. You can almost hear how long they’ve been wanting this album, and the pure excitement; like the wait before the band come on stage. What follows in You Gotta Believe definitely does not disappoint! The material used sounds like a resurgent Anthrax of old, kicking off with that incredible thrash beat, before dropping down to an attitude driven verse; characteristic of previous records. The incredibly catchy chorus is again fast paced, all out thrash, and undoubtedly features material that fans of the band have been longing for.
The whole album follows suit from the set up provided by the initial tracks, having the classic Anthrax combination of aggression (Suzerain), strong melodies (Breathing Lightning) and awesome riffs (Blood Eagle Wings). There is definitely a lot for long-time Anthrax fans to be excited about, although with the same excellent points, comes similar down-points. All Of Them Thieves features a middle section for the solo that, while on its own is pretty decent, it appears completely out of nowhere. This is a common feature of thrash, and usually it’s taken as a given that thrash metal features these random jumps between sections. However, in a music market where modern thrash bands get laughed off stage for using such techniques, why are ‘the old guard’ granted a pass?
The familiar pitfalls don’t end there, as Suzerain sees the wonderfully melodic vocals of Belladonna constantly battling with the staggered, angsty music lying underneath. There is a consistent failing to provide a decent platform to launch soaring powerful melodies from. This particular flaw is prevalent throughout the album; even Breathing Lightning which has a clearly recognisable, powerful lead vocal melody in the chorus, still could be emphasised a lot more to bring the most out of Belladonna‘s voice.
So does this then leave the album to sit simply as ‘another Anthrax album’ on the shelves, offering little of interest that hasn’t been heard before? Thankfully, not at all! There are still some tremendous songs featured on the album, that all fans will love to sink their teeth into. Anthrax have always had a special ability, over their ‘big 4’ rivals to create brilliant combinations and contrasts between hard-hitting thrash sections, and beautifully melodic, catchy sections. This album is not lacking on this front either, and Blood Eagle Wings is at the forefront of utilising these features, making it a standout on the album.
Right from the off, Blood Eagle Wings sets out as being an epic track with the soothing chorus effect on the guitar, accompanied by a long delay. As the section grows and builds more, introducing a counter melody over the top, it only draws you in further. The verse section that follows provides great contrast; coming straight back down with an inventive use of rhythm in the guitar riff to provide a sense of unease; a dramatic difference to the climbing chord progression of the intro. Furthermore, this is one of the only songs that really provides a tremendous platform for Belladonna‘s incredible range to flourish, and he needs no second invitation to create a high soaring melody to accompany the climbing chord progression in the pre-chorus, and offsetting the falling progression for the chorus. The only downside to this chorus is that, after the climbing, optimistic sounding pre-chorus, the continually descending progression featured in the chorus is disappointing. It feels more like a ‘post-chorus’ section, rather than the main focal point for the song that it should be. This detracts little from the overall song only improves as it picks up pace for the middle section. Blood Eagle Wings also breaks the mould from other tracks by being excellently constructed, with well-prepared, smooth transitions throughout. The solo features some excellent technical ability, and ostinatos that suit the backing track really well. It is slightly lacking some melody, unfortunately, and this is another point of disappointment throughout the whole album.
It is difficult to imagine anyone that thinks the task of joining Anthrax on their 11th studio album as the band’s 8th lead guitarist would be an easy task. Yet it is fair to say that Jon Donais had a reasonable debut. As previously mentioned, many of the solos on the album lack melody, with Blood Eagle Wings being probably the most disappointing effort, given the platform provided. However, the task is not made easy on many tracks, as like Defend Avenge, the solo at the end would struggle to be anything more than what was played, and to play what is there takes a great deal of creativity, as it manages to lift the outro section to a really strong level. Donais’ crowning moment, however, comes in the solo for Monster At The End, a song that is otherwise somewhat disappointing, plodding along at mid-tempo, featuring some good vocal melodies, but otherwise lacking originality. Until the solo that is, which makes excellent use of various techniques, including trills, pinch harmonics and other ornamentation, building upon two bits of thematic material in the first half. The second half of the solo is truly excellent though, as it progresses into a much more melodic section to provide interest over a simpler chord progression. This is one of the only melodic solos on the album, and it really stands out as a key point of interest for the song.
Overall, For All Kings will be nothing new to an audience that has heard Anthrax before (I’d like to believe most people have heard Anthrax before). While there is definitely a lot to excite both die hard fans of the band, and general fans of the genre with tracks like This Battle Chose Us, Evil Twin, and You Gotta Believe, there is definitely something lacking from most tracks on the album to contribute to the wider context of metal. There are of course some excellent songs, with Blood Eagle Wings and Breathing Lightning creating a case for the band’s relevance. Unfortunately though, these moments are few and far between, leaving the album lacking originality, and sounding like a homage to the band themselves; purposefully created to appeal to fans of their previous work. While it manages to live up to the band’s own, previously set, high standards, For All Kings‘ failing to contribute anything new to the metal scene, and failings to overcome common pitfalls in the genre, will leave it struggling to compete.
Standout Tracks: Blood Eagle Wings, Breathing Lightning
For All Kings
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: 26.02.2016