Very few bands can hope to have a career spanning 35 years, especially in a genre as physically demanding as metal. And to be honest, when metal was breaking through in the early 80’s, few would have imagined these bands lasting through their 50’s and 60’s. Thrash metal in particular seemed to channel an aggression and frustration that can be difficult to project unto successful adults closer to retirement age than to their teenage years.
Slayer and Anthrax followed on the footsteps of Metallica and Megadeth, the other two members of what is known as the Big Four of thrash. While Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth hailed from the San Francisco Bay area, Anthrax came out of the streets of New York. Both Slayer and Anthrax never really tasted the mainstream success the other two achieved, but they built a loyal audience that sustained them throughout the years.
Despite being part of the same musical movement, both bands are fundamentally different. Slayer relies on very aggressive riffing, fast beats and dark imagery where war and suffering are omnipresent. Anthrax doesn’t yield to anyone on the aggressive riffing side and beats, but even when they tackle serious topics, their upbeat melodies do not conjure the same menacing mood. While Slayer built its image on black spiked leather, the members of Anthrax often play in skater shorts.
Slayer’s lyrics have tackled controversial topics like the Nazi experiments of Josef Mengele, devil worship or the futility of war, while Anthrax have written about comic books, Stephen King novels or the zombie apocalypse. In a way, both bands are two sides of the same coin, looking at the world through two different lenses.
Slayer’s lineup remained stable throughout their career apart from a revolving door on the drum kit, until the untimely death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013. But the band has soldiered on with Gary Holt of Exodus, another Bay Area thrash band. Anthrax has been less successful in keeping a constant lineup. In fact you’ll need a score card to keep track of everyone who played in the band! I’ve seen Anthrax a dozen times in concert over the years, with three singers, two bass players, three or four lead guitarists and two drummers at least.
Musically, Slayer stayed true to their sound over the years apart from a brief foray into nu metal. Anthrax pioneered the rap-metal fusion that would later spawn bands like Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine, with their collaboration with Public Enemy on a cover of “Bring the Noize”. In the 90’s, the band tried to expand its sound, feeling that thrash metal had run its course. Lack of success led them to a reunion of their classic lineup and a celebrated return to thrash metal.
Both band are currently touring behind very strong albums. The Slayer/Anthrax tour will stop by Montreal on Tuesday at the Metropolis, along with Death Angel, another classic thrash band from the Bay area. What kind of prospects do veteran acts like these have? Well, the show is sold out. Age is just a number after all.
(This article was written for Montreal Rampage)