You can always tell when there is something of a buzz about a band playing a festival: the well worn, aged t-shirts come out of the back of the wardrobe, the Twitter feeds and Facebook communities get all slightly frenzied. So it was for Anthrax and their Friday headlining set at Hammerfest. With last year’s sterling opus, Worship Music, seeing the band not just back in a groove but hitting something of a creative peak, coupled with excellent reviews of two other UK shows earlier in the week, there was something akin to proper, genuine excitement building in anticipation of the arrival of the thrash metal legends.
Anthrax today are full of gusto and dynamism; they are heavy, powerful and unified. Whether it’s the passing of time and the professional honing of their brilliance, or a rediscovery of their musical mojo, or both, the performance is a delight to witness. Among the Living is as powerful as I’ve ever heard it, I am the Law is greeted like the long lost friend and irrefutable classic that it is: even rap metal classic I’m the Man gets a teasing two minute run out but this is no simple nostalgia fest. On the contrary, Fight ’em til you Can’t, Earth on Hell and a fabulous In the End are greeted with equal amounts of gusto from the passionate, knowledgeable and energised audience. There is always going to be a place in the heart of metal fans for Anti-Social which retains its punk attitude and is delivered with aggression and chutzpah. During the “war dance” of Indians, its fair to say that the audience go batshit crazy but, for your scribe, it was the rendition of Medusa in all its mid 80s thrash glory that had me reaching for the extra large thesaurus to find more superlatives and grinning like a cider sodden Cheshire cat. Yeah, that kind of good.
I could be churlish and point out that, as much as early thrash paradigm shifter Deathrider is a welcome addition to the set, it’s not going to supplant Only or Safe Home: tonight is, resolutely, a Bush-era free zone, but it scarcely matters. Belladonna is on top form, strutting the stage, invoking to crowd to scream, sing, mosh, dance: he seems to have come back re-energised, re-focussed and the band appear to have reacted in kind. Scott Ian remains second only to Dave Grohl as The Nicest Man in Rock (TM) but all the band are firing tonight, especially Charlie Benante who simply pounds the life out of his kit.
In just over an hour, its all over and it feels like its far far too short: they could have played all night, quite frankly. If you were going to bet on comebacks, you probably wouldn’t have backed Anthrax as the band most likely to but there is no doubt that they are back, back, back. Brilliant.