"Time bomb… ticking away, ticking away".
These lyrics from the bridge of "Earth On Hell" are surely deliberate. Faced with both the personal flame out of the poorly received Dan Nelson as well as snubbed overtures directed toward John Bush, the remaining members of Anthrax went into fight or flight mode: either it was time to take an extended hiatus or, to use sports terminology, go into rebuilding mode.
The band opted for the latter. A hiatus wasn't really a viable option, considering Anthrax haven't released a studio album since 2003's under-publicized We've Come for You All. And when an opportunity arose to tour with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth as part of a Big 4 tour, the solution was ready made… Joey Belladonna had to be wooed back.
Belladonna had already been part of a reunion tour in 2005/2006 but balked at extending the reunion to include either a new studio album or further touring. Word of mouth had it that money was the galvanizing factor, but whatever it was neither party could afford to miss out on the prestige that came with being part of a Big 4 tour. After a decade spent treading perilously close to "has been" status at times – We've Come for You All frankly should have been better appreciated, but Stomp 442 is no misunderstood classic – this was potentially Anthrax's last major stab at recapturing the level of public attention they'd enjoyed in the 80's and early 90's.
With all due respect to John Bush, it's just as well that he opted out of a long term commitment to the band in 2010. With Metallica and Megadeth both having recently returned to their thrash roots on respective albums (Slayer having done the same several years earlier), it would have been incongruous for Anthrax to come out on a Big 4 tour with Bush singing "Room for One More" or "Inside Out". Anyone other than Joey Belladonna would have been a disservice to the fans… although one could make the case that the lack of a full blown Big 4 tour in the US was in itself a disservice, at least to American fans.
First off, Belladonna sounds great throughout Worship Music. He doesn't hit any out-and-out falsettos a la "Armed and Dangerous", but otherwise his voice sounds indomitable and untarnished. If it ain't broke, don't fix it: songs like "Earth On Hell" and "Fight 'Em Til You Can't" make a beeline straight back to 1987, bypassing even the successful experiments of 1990's Persistence of Time to reclaim the most fondly remembered epoch of the band's history, namely that of the Among the Living era.
Worship Music is a rebuttal to the attitude prevalent amongst neo-thrash upstarts and 80's reunion bands alike: modern thrash should be tempered with updated, heavier accoutrements, preferably raspier vocals. Nay! Anthrax didn't hurdle all these obstacles in getting the classic lineup back together just to have the resultant studio album diluted by trend chasing. Actually, it's almost eerie how anachronistic some of these songs sound: "Fight 'Em Til You Can't" isn't the most sophisticated song in the Anthrax playbook, but there is an encyclopedic command of classic riff writing in the AtL vein that betrays no rust; "The Giant" sports the kind of propulsive, playful rhythms that made 80's East Coast thrash so effusive and infectious compared to its more somber Bay Area counterpart (Exodus notably excepted).
About the only track on Worship Music that I could theoretically see having been written around the vocal talents of Bush or Dan Nelson – instead of Belladonna – would be "Crawl", which comes toward the end of the disc. Even there, Joey acquits himself well, and if it were indeed written prior to Belladonna rejoining the band it has been adapted into more of an 80's exercise, both in intent and production.
My frequent references to the 80's era may paint this album as a mere nostalgia exercise, but it shouldn't be thought of that way: instead, the band have retraced their steps to a position of greatest strength, and from here they will forge a new path into the future… hopefully with Joey Belladonna at the helm. In the meantime, Worship Music sounds as fresh and vital as anything Megadeth or Slayer have released recently.
"Who will stand with me in victory?" — track 10: "Judas Priest"
8.5 out of 10