It is quite remarkable that four decades in and thrash still remains such an force within the ever expanding boundaries of metal. The hey day of the 1980s may be a distant memory and thrash did fall out of favour in the 1990s but it came back stronger than ever a decade later and not only new bands carrying the torch but originators of the scene continued to make music and tour. And what a 40 years for New Yorkers Anthrax. 11 albums, Gold and Platinum records, no less than 6 Grammy nominations and one of the famed ‘Big Four’. The four decades may have had its trials and tribulations for the band but they remain one of thrash metal’s forerunners.
Officially, Anthrax’s 40th birthday was in 2021 but with a world in the midst of a pandemic, travelling the world and performing live music to actual audiences had become impossible. Bands adapted to the times with live streaming events becoming an ubiquitous alternative and while it was not the 40th birthday that Anthrax planned, these metal veterans were not going down without some form of celebration.
XL is indeed a celebration and stands as one that Anthrax has thrown a great deal at in terms of their performance. The streaming event is still a curious one because of the lack of a crowd, those baying voices and arms in the air, the scream at a familiar song, the applause at the end – it still feels eerily strange to see a band playing with no audience in front of them. This does not deter Anthrax in the slightest and the performance is as nailed on as would be expected from the veteran band, vocalist Joey Belladonna is in fine voice, drummer Charlie Benante brings the thunder from the back, John Donais and Scott Ian compliment each other on guitar and Frank Bello still remains one of the most fluid and exciting bass players out there.
The set list is one to die for – although it is worth noting that the set does not contain any John Bush era songs – but is totally faultless none the less and gleefully jumping around the decades. Opening with Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t, Anthrax turn classic after classic from Madhouse to Caught In A Mosh, that still awesome bass intro on the cover of Joe Jackson’s Got The Time and the mournful cello intro on Be All End All. As well as the well oiled classics, it is refreshing to hear something of a deep dive and especially on material from the 1988 album State Of Euphoria such as Now It’s Dark and the not often played Keep It In The Family from 1990’s Persistence Of Time as well as the Discharge cover Protest And Survive. One of the highlights (of many) has to be the appearance of Public Enemy’s Chuck D for Bring The Noise with this version layering an extra dose of aggression and a perfect blend of thrash and hip-hop.
XL is an audio/visual package and as much as the audio is great fun on its own, the visual really makes the package and with no audience, the camera work is tight and there are no wide shots, the band gets the whole focus. Rather than being just another live album, there is an air of XL being special, a major anniversary and under the covid-19 situation and Anthrax still wanting to give the fans a party.
Anthrax really have very little to prove, even their post reunion with Joey Belladonna albums have been classic Anthrax and with another album touted for 2023, it is a band that does not appear to be stopping any time soon. With a European tour for 2022 there is the chance to join the birthday bash for real but if anyone cannot make it then XL does make for an impressive and invigorating alternative.