Thursday, 20 February 2014

Anthrax "Aftershock: The Island Years 1985-1990" Box Set Review

A lot of people will know who Anthrax are. Who could you not, considering they're one of the Big 4 of thrash metal? Yet it would be true to say that they're somewhat trapped in the shadows cast by the other members of the Big 4 (Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer), for Anthrax never really tends to win arguments whenever you get people asking "Who is the best member of the Big 4?" If anything, they'll usually get placed at the bottom of the list, often with many remarks about why some other band should have been in the Big 4 instead of them (which I've already ranted about on this blog, but, for the benefit of those who don't want to read it, I'll say only this: it was never intended as a term to indicate that they were the four BEST thrash metal bands, it was intended as a term to indicate that they were the four MOST POPULAR thrash metal bands. Note the difference between the two...). And...well, I'll admit, I never really got why Anthrax got so big. Yeah, they had a more light hearted (pre-Persistance Of Time) take on thrash and strong melodic vocals rather than the more typical yells you get in thrash, but I never felt that they had the strong music to back them up. However, I did enjoy Worship Music when it came out and I still enjoy giving it a spin every now and then, so I figured it would be a good idea to pick this up, especially since I lost my original copy of Among The Living. Was it worth the purchase? For me, yes, as it made me realise that I'd misjudged the band. For someone else, though?'s gonna really depend on whether you're already approaching this box set as an already established fan or not.

In terms of the set itself (so, focusing on the way the set is arranged and whatnot, not focusing on the actual musical contents), I have to admit that I come away from this feeling a bit unimpressed. The artwork on the front is not really that interesting and doesn't really scream "Anthrax!" at you...unless you count the band name on the cover, of course! I'm probably nitpicking, but I would have expected artwork that was more typical of what you'd expect from the band, not the blue background you get with this. The albums are not in slipcases, which will probably please more than a few people, but...well, the best way to describe it would be to say that, if you've seen the inside of Queen's Platinum Collection, you know what to expect on the inside of the box set. If you haven't, you basically have the discs placed in your usual disc holder thing in CD cases, but you have them inside the case. It's a rather neat idea, but, if one of the disc holder things falls apart, you're doing to have no way to safely store the disc. The liner notes have some grammar issues (some spaces missing and a few letters missing from words) and, annoyingly, do not provide the lyrics to the albums! This is definitely nitpicking, but I hate it when lyrics are left out of liner notes, as it makes me feel like no effort was put into the liner notes! Apart from those issues, you've got everything you could ask for from the liner notes and the casing, while arguably a little bit disappointing, is perfectly fine to store the albums.

We next move to the contents on the albums themselves. Well, you do get the albums as they were originally released (including the Japanese bonus track for Persistence Of Time, which is nice), which is definitely a good start! My issue is with the bonus materials on the album. For Spreading The Disease, you get nothing extra on the disc, just the original album. Erm...why? If there wasn't enough space on the other albums for some of the stuff (there's some missing stuff from that time, apparently), why not shuffle some of it onto this disc? And, if there wasn't anything else that could go onto the disc (which is a lie), then why keep this disc completely free of extras? It seems to be a waste of good disc space to me. You also don't get either of Anthrax's rap metal songs, which is really odd when you consider just how well known those songs are! You do get instrumental versions of them, but why not give us the actual songs? Regarding the sound quality of the albums, they haven't been remastered for this set. Which is a bit disappointing on some levels, but is a bit of a blessing in disguise on others, as they don't have the brick-walling problem that ruins a lot of albums today. They stand up fairly well next to modern metal albums (at the very least, I don't notice a particularly huge difference in volume when I go from Persistence Of Time to Worship Music), but I don't find them uncomfortable to listen to.

So, you probably get the idea from this that the box set is not going to appeal to any Anthrax die hards, as it probably won't contain any material you don't already have and doesn't have the potential advantage of a remaster. For the casual fan who just wants to get the albums and doesn't necessarily care about getting everything? This is worth picking up. I've looked quite a few times on amazon to see how cheaply I can get Anthrax's classic line up albums and, well, this is genuinely the cheapest option. It's also a bit of a steal on some levels if you think about it: you can get this for about £12 at the minute on amazon, which works out to about £3 an album, along with some extra stuff that you might want thrown in. It's not a lot cheaper than ordering the albums separately if you look at their cheapest prices (and factor in postage costs, before people say I can't do maths), so it's great if you don't have the albums already! If you do, then there's unfortunately no reason to pick this up, as the bonus tracks aren't really strong enough to justify a repurchase.

So, once again, I'm going to have to split up the ratings for this box set. It's not something I would normally want to do, but it seems like this might become a thing if I'm reviewing something as a fan of something!

Rating (established fans): 5 out of 10
Rating (non-established fans): 8.5 out of 10

For the die hard fan, there is little reason to purchase this. Nothing really new here to justify purchasing it, but it might be worth it if you want to trade old copies up to CD, as it's fairly comfortably mastered compared to modern standards. If you're not familiar with the band (for some bizarre reason...what rock have you been living under to miss these guys, anyway?) and want to pick up their classic line up stuff in one fell swoop, then get this. It doesn't contain everything the band has done with the line up on the label, but it contains their studio albums, which is arguably the point of the set. Would have preferred the inclusion of the rap metal songs (as much as I'm not a fan of rap in general), as the missing stuff does make it less of an essential purchase, but it's not enough to stop me from saying that a person who wants to explore Anthrax in more detail should pick this up.

As for my thoughts on the individual albums (since I figured that there's not a lot of point of talking about the actual albums and scoring them as part of the review of the box set), I would say that Spreading The Disease and Among The Living are the two that you're probably going to be listening to the most (partially because they are both pretty much the two albums that most thrash fans will say are Anthrax's classic albums and partially because they have Anthrax's strongest material), although I do enjoy Persistence Of Time from my listens to it. State Of Euphoria is a bit dull to me, but I know quite a few Anthrax fans find it a very underrated record, so that might just be me being a grumpy git on that one. If you've never listened to Anthrax before (and you don't want to pick this up, for some reason), I'd recommend you go for either Spreading The Disease or Among The Living. Among The Living is the more better known, due to how much of the material is on Anthrax's live setlists, but Spreading The Disease has the more underrated classics, such as "The Enemy". Persistence Of Time would be good to follow up with if you don't like the more light hearted tone (for thrash standards) of ATL and STD, although I do recommend some patience with the first half of it, as it's all made up of songs over the six minute mark (which is something that normally bores me, since it makes the first half of the album a chore to listen to unless it's very well done...). State Of Euphoria is not an album I'd really recommend to be your first Anthrax album, but you could do far worse than start there with them. So yeah...hope this helps people who aren't familiar with Anthrax's stuff to know where to approach the band from!

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