It feels like 30 years has just slipped by and while some albums suffer for the passage of time, others are unaffected, still stirring the same emotions that they did back in the day. In saying all of that, it feels strange to reflect on time when it comes to the anniversary of a pivotal moment for Anthrax and their 1990 album Persistence Of Time. The fifth album by the thrash titans was – is – an extraordinary release, one worthy of celebration and the same anniversary treatment that has been applied to previous Anthrax albums Fistful Of Metal, Spreading The Disease, Among The Living and State Of Euphoria.
It had been a rollercoaster nine years for the New Yorkers since their formation and front row seat on the US thrash movement back in 1981. Their 1984 debut album Fistful Of Metal was even responsible for the first press mention in UK magazine Kerrang! of the term “thrash metal” which was inspired by a track on the album Metal Thrashing Mad.
There were some line up changes though, losing bassist Dan Lilker (to be replaced by drummer Charlie Benante’s nephew Frank Bello) and vocalist Neil Turbin in same year as the debut seemed disastrous. While there was a brief replacement for Turbin that did not work out, the band even held their ground by playing as a foursome under a different name until a more permanent singer could be found.
Joey Belladonna became that permanent singer in 1985 creating what is considered the “classic” Anthrax line up. Belladonna’s first recording with his new band – which also featured guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz – being the Armed And Dangerous EP and followed by the Spreading The Disease album the same year which spawned the hit Madhouse. Two years later, Anthrax released one of the albums of the thrash golden era, the absolute monster that is Among The Living. Different musical influences within the band were never far away (Scott Ian regularly wore a Public Enemy shirt) and Anthrax flirted with rap (albeit in a comedic way) on I’m The Man, the B-side to first single from Among The Living, I Am The Law. Knocking thrash stereotypes even further, the band tinkered with their image by wearing Bermuda shorts and this created a divisive phase for Anthrax leading into their next record State Of Euphoria in 1988. Despite some of the band’s best known material – the Trust cover Antisocial became a staple on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and Make Me Laugh hit the UK singles chart, State Of Euphoria did well but lived in the shadow of its predecessor. Anthrax was never afraid of diversity though, in comparison to their west coast thrash cousins, there is a quirkiness to the quintet – thrash but not playing to the stereotypes as to what thrash actually was. It was the dawn of a new decade, the winds of change were beginning to whistle and while during the 1980s the so called “Big Four” practically rotated around each other, the 1990s felt like it was a breakaway moment
Anthrax abandoned any notion of comedy for their fifth outing Persistence Of Time which was released in August 1990. Lyrically and thematically, the album was an complete about turn and heading into an unapologetically darker territory, technical and jarringly more progressive. With tracks reflecting society’s dark under belly, this was stark contrast to the almost cartoon-like version of Anthrax that dabbled with pop culture, comic books and Stephen King characters. Anthrax had not ever been serious, neither Indians or A.D.I Horror Of It All (both from Among The Living) were metaphors, thrash metal is as much about fun as it was social commentary or world events but Persistence Of Time was a wholesale change; a steadfast maturity and a sound that had less of the bombast of previous releases, no less heavy but more nuanced and required a lot more time to soak in and adjust to the gloomy atmosphere. In retrospect, the whole of the project was under a cloud. Work on the new album began in 1989 but in January 1990, a fire broke out in the rehearsal room which wrecked $100,000 of gear. At the end of the Persistence Of Time cycle, Anthrax would be without that ‘classic’ line up singer, as much as it would seem that the line up would endure and especially with an album of this quality under its collective belt, Belladonna was fired from the band. Persistence Of Time is a game of two halves though, full on dark for its first half and a “lighter” side for the remainder; not short of hulking slo-grow grooves of Keep It In The Family or the quick fire intensity that the cover (and MTV hit) of Joe Jackson’s Got The Time could bring, that new found progressive flavour allowed the songs to breathe. This was a new Anthrax and it was going to take some time to get used to.
Persistence Of Time was a considerable success and beyond the album itself, the band went headlong into their musical diversity by teaming up with hip-hop superstars Public Enemy for a cover of their song Bring The Noise, even touring with the band as a double bill. Persistence Of Time as an album has endured though and even today, it is a collection of music that has not been dulled by the passage of time. Lyrically hard hitting and sadly all too relevant today in its reflections of racism and discrimination, – it was a tough listen then and remains so now. Musically, it digs into detail and still demands attention be paid unearthing its groove and intensity while working through a lyrical mist of anti-hatred, prejudice and social anxiety – it is an album that sears the heart and the head. That progressive element was such a change that when compared to the other huge thrash albums of that year – Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss and Megadeth’s technical masterpiece Rust In Peace, Persistence Of Time was and is something else entirely.
Remasters and reissues provoke a varying degree of response. To some, it is a cash cow that demands milking with the sole purpose to get fans to re-buy their collection all over again. To others, there is a real value in revisiting these albums and the anniversaries that they cover. The “Big Four” have all had differing approaches to their catalogues. Metallica have released superb reissues of their first four albums from a standard to deluxe to super deluxe kitchen sink releases. Megadeth’s have been somewhat patchy on the sound quality and Slayer being Slayer has left their catalogue be, it speaks for itself. Anthrax has taken a very detailed approach that really adds to the listener experience, whether you were there at the time or not and offers plenty of bang for the buck. What is an important element of the Anthrax reissues is the execution of each project and the fact that they have been created as fleshed out releases. Remastering of albums is not always popular and some would prefer the original as opposed to a brickwalled sound in favour of increased volume but this has never been the case with the Anthrax reissues; the remastered albums have always improved on the original sound – which can go against some sensibilities and that it tinkers with memories, – imperfections and all. There has always been a variety of bonus material, whether it be the single b-sides and their first time on CD or alternate guitar leads, Charlie Benante has constantly raided his archives to bring out demos or works in progress to give the listener a chance to enjoy the evolution of the songs and take in the whole creative process. While this may not have major re-listen value, it is a curiosity and provides a more full overall picture of the creativity behind the finished product. There has also been video components on past re-issues (although the excitement of having the long form video Oedivnikcufecin recorded at London’s iconic Hammersmith Odeon included with the Among The Living re-issue was short lived as there was no re-mastering and it was like a VHS copy had been put to DVD) and that is the case with Persistence Of Time, a bonus 40 minute DVD filmed “guerrilla” style and during Anthrax’s tour with Iron Maiden. The three disc package also features the original planned artwork a Salvador Dali-style melted clock as opposed to the one that adorned the 1990 version.
Whether anyone is a fan of reissues or not, the Anthrax releases have been pure quality, ram packed with material to indulge and take in the era that they were created. Maybe it is Anthrax’s enduring appeal or whether it is the trigger of the time period of the albums themselves but up to press, these New Yorkers have never failed to deliver on these projects – and Persistence Of Time is no different. This is an album that was essential then and remains so now, a record that stands tall as one of Anthrax’s most ambitious and beguiling and whether the original graces your shelf or not – this reissue is a more than worthy investment.