In a previous review of Anthrax's 2014 concert DVD Chile on Hell I wrote, "let’s hope this cherry on the cake […] represents the final victory lap before the quintet head back into the studio". Almost a year and a half later the fruits of that labor have finally arrived in the form of For All Kings, nearly a half-decade removed from previous studio effort Worship Music.
That album had a lot of goodwill riding on it, with high expectations largely tempered by the sheer enthusiasm of classic era singer Joey Belladonna back on the mic and a promised return to a vintage thrash sound. By contrast, For All Kings arrives a good 4.5 years later, enough time for fans to build up expectations for a follow up but without the novelty of welcoming Belladonna back into the band.
"You Gotta Believe" starts the album off in safety-first mode; similar in pace and shout-along intent to Worship Music single "Fight 'Em Til You Can't", "You Gotta Believe" should prove a durable setlist fave, although it may be one of the first studio tracks that you wear out due to its straightforward simplicity (ditto fellow single, "Evil Twin"). That said, it does boast an interesting bass-driven interlude in the middle that takes the track to a more thoughtful place, adding nuance to a song that otherwise relies on brute moshpit thrash to make its bones.
Running about an even hour in length, For All Kings also resembles its predecessor in terms of favoring longer tracks in the five-to-seven minute range, with multiple parts and breakdowns offering plenty of breathing room but also requiring a bit of investment on the listener's part… this is a formula that doesn't hold up well under the burden of weak material, and it's an even greater risk when the band in question has opted to stick with a tried-and-true, crowd-pleasing formula.
Fortunately, in spite of the relative lack of freshness For All Kings manages to squeeze several low key classics into the canon: "This Battle Chose Us" and "Breathing Lightning" are melodic, anthemic sing-alongs that should go over like gangbusters live while the title track and "Zero Tolerance" feature jagged shards of galloping triplets ; "Suzerain" actually has you covered on both. Anthrax demonstrate here an enhanced chemistry over Worship Music, itself no slouch in terms of quickly shaking off the rust, and you'd never know from Joey Belladonna's frequent lamentations to the effect that he doesn't have much of a personal relationship with the rest of the band anymore that there was any animosity or jockeying for position within the group. One minute "All of Them Thieves" seems like the best, catchiest song on the album, then a few more runthroughs later you've changed your mind and settled upon "Suzerain" instead; that's exactly how I remember familiarizing myself with the band's classic albums panning out.
Consistency is the order of the day here, which is what makes For All Kings at least a marginal improvement over Worship Music. This feels more like an actual album in the old school sense rather than a collection of singles, which may thwart the use of superlatives in describing much of its material, but given sufficient spins to absorb the full breadth of tracks For All Kings at least seems to swing for the fences in the same manner as 'Thrax classics Among the Living and Persistence of Time, even if it ends up settling for an in-the-park triple whereas the latter went for walk-off home runs.