It’s March of 1987. Anthrax has been around long enough to have released two other full-lengths that cemented the band as a fixture in the emerging thrash metal scene. The band had been in the studio recording after lengthy touring in support of Spreading the Disease. What was recorded and released would become one of their most iconic works. One which 30 years later they would be touring on once again to packed houses. That album would become a canonical work of, not just thrash, but all of heavy metal. Among the Living would go on to achieve Gold sales status in 1990 catapulting the band into the upper echelon of metal’s hierarchy and continues to find itself added to the collections of music fans today.
The opening strains of the album and title track announced a more anthemic touch than had been heard on anything the band had offered to date. While based in Stephen King’s the Stand mythos it does something that would become the band’s lyrical M.O. by using these stories as a frame for addressing societal issues. In this case, the evils of charismatic leaders convincing their followers to commit horrors. By steaming out of the chute with Charlie Benante’s masterclass in metal drumming the listener is treated to the tightest version of Anthrax yet. Eddie Kramer’s production also provides a great frame with each instrument well-balanced in each channel. The distinct ‘pop’ of the bass, the highlights of the low end on the drums, the density of the guitar tones while retaining the brightness on the leads, and the ability to use effects on the vocals without going overboard. This is where you know you’re listening to something huge.
“Caught in a Mosh.” Those opening chords. The signature bassline joined by the guitars. The drum “solo.” Then the whirlwind of Anthrax in simultaneous full swing would become a blueprint for many heavy bands who arrived on the scene in the wake of this album’s release. This song would end up being one of the most iconic in all of metal and for good reason. It synthesized everything the band was at this point in their careers and mapped out their entire future trajectory. The lawnmower sputter of the drums after the gorgeous guitar solo would become one of the sonic signatures for an entire style, let alone this song or this band.
“I Am the Law,” based on English comic book anti-hero, Judge Dredd, could be imagined to have been a response to the band’s own New York environs and the perception of having been awash in crime. The more remarkable element of the song is that it stands out in the thrash genre by sticking with a hugely memorable riff at half the pace that most had come to expect from the style. It’s also worth noting the way it broadened the method of heavy metal riffs by maintaining the stomp of its opening riff before the band races ahead with the kind of speed most had come to expect from the band.
“Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)” takes on the life and early death of John Belushi as a way of addressing the pitfalls of drug use. While not quite as essential or recognized as other tracks on the album it is an integral part of this album for its sinewy guitar lead driven riffing. The accents by Scott Ian and Danny Spitz are masterful particularly the solos over Frankie Bello’s trademark chugging basslines that make him one of the more respected players, if slightly underrated, in the metal scene. This and subsequent efforts put him, arguably, on the level of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris and this track is a good example of why.
“A Skeleton in the Closet” sees the band basing more lyrics on Stephen King’s canon and turning into an object lesson about the evils of racism and, more importantly, what happens to a person when they stand by in the face of such. This track is more of the typical thrash fury one might have expected out of the gates from the band but placed here in the sequence it serves as a reminder of their abundant skills in the genre.
“Indians” was something else when it arrived on the scene. Thrash goes Maiden intro that devolves into a riff reminiscent of earlier track “Metal Thrashing Mad” that then settles into the main groove of the song. This is one of the songs where the band directly address a societal issue. While the band definitely had their less serious moments one of the things that would make Anthrax stand out in the pile of great metal that was happening would be this element… and the epic nature of the “War dance!” mosh part being one of the most often imitated but never duplicated pieces in all of metal didn’t hurt them at all. In light of recent events with the DAPL protests and the re-raising of questions over Native sovereignty it seems apropos that this track approaches the problem in a way that aged fairly well.
Having “One World” follow in the running order locks in the fact that the band weren’t afraid to have an opinion on what was happening around them. The later lyrics could either be seen as quaintly dated with references to the fear of U.S.-Russia nuclear war or shamefully relevant after three decades to do better. Musically the track nails down the territory that would go on to inform and inspire the work of bands from Nuclear Assault to Biohazard. It’s a underrated piece of quintessential thrash.
“A.D.I./Horror of It All” is bold in its use of a lavish acoustic guitar intro. Once that is dispensed with the band treat the listener to some extended riffing before Joey Belladonna comes in with a rumination on the question of faith. This band, like few others of the time, could make their audiences think while churning out monster riff after monster riff. The ability of this band to create the perfect soundtrack to any mosh pit is unparalleled and this track is yet another example of Anthrax at the apex of their powers.
But we’re not done yet. We get one last blast of thrash done well. “Imitation of Life” would be the high water mark for many, many bands. On this epic album, it’s the weakest of the bunch because there had to be one. This commentary on fame (and agents) might also have been a bit of a warning to their future selves. In the end, it’s an ideal cap to an amazing album.
So, for one of metal’s most iconic slabs of riffage, we at Heavy Blog wish Anthrax’s Among the Living a happy (and heavy) 30th birthday!