When a band’s been around as long as Anthrax has, there are points in their career that fans typically tend to gravitate toward. Maybe it was the early Joey Belladonna years because your older sibling showed you the “Madhouse” music video on Headbanger’s Ball. Or maybe you’re new to the band and Worship Music blew the doors wide open for you.
But I never, ever hear anyone talk about Volume 8: The Threat Is Real the same way they do about Sound of White Noise, We’ve Come For Your All, or Stomp 442. And even when I do, it’s rarely in a positive light — and that’s just not okay.
Released 25 years ago on July 21, 1998, it’s seen by fans of the band’s John Bush era as the one misstep in a line of killer records. “It’s just so weird,” they cry. “It’s not heavy or thrash metal enough,” they’ll wail. Babies, the whole lot of ’em.
Volume 8 was a creative pit stop at a time when metal was trying to figure out its place. Alternative rock and nü-metal began dominating the airwaves at that time and as a result, the Big Four and other major bands from the 80s and early 90s were no longer at the top of the heap. This led to bands trying to either conform to the new normal or find a new lane. And while Volume 8 could be seen as Anthrax trying to straddle the line and do both those things, I’d say the final product is much more than that.
Right off the bat, the album’s first four tracks, “Crush,” “Catharsis,” “Inside Out,” and “Piss N Vinegar,” are groovy and heavy as hell. Each of those songs make sense if you’d listened to the album’s direct predecessor Stomp 442. This is Anthrax powered by Scott Ian‘s right hand along with the thumping rhythm section of drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello.
For me, the particular stand outs in this initial line of songs are “Inside Out” and “Catharsis.” Both tracks highlight not just that huge sound that sways like a wrecking ball in motion, but they also showcase the band’s energy at the time. “Catharsis” in particular just goes. It’s fast and it feels like it’s in constant motion, even when the guitars are pulled back and Bush goes on about his balance “between light and dark” while Benante pounds out a super cool drum solo.
That’s not to say the record’s energy levels fall off a cliff after those four songs. Quite the contrary, as “Killing Box,” “Born Again Idiot,” and “Hog Tied” share a similar drive.
And let’s not forget that the album featured lead guitar work by Paul Crook, who’d been the band’s lead guitarist after Dan Spitz left. It’s also the second Anthrax release to feature some killer solos from the late, great Dimebag Darrell, this time on “Inside Out” and “Born Again Idiot.”
But what really needs to be talked about — and what likely pissed off many fans — were the oddball tracks.
You see, this album… goes places. While I particularly enjoy the deviation found in the almost country sounding “Toast to the Extras” and the track “Harms Way,” which starts with a really slick acoustic section, I get why some fans were thrown off. And when you couple those songs with oddball interludes like “604” and “Cupajoe,” you can see where the animus might have begun building.
Still, I stand by the idea that it’s insane to think a band would stick to a formula for 20, 30, 40 years. It’s why I love Metallica’s Load and ReLoad so much, or why I really like Megadeth’s Cryptic Writings all these years later. These guys are human beings and the need to express yourself in new and exciting ways is only natural.
And despite the fact that it came out right as their record label folded, leading to some major sales issues at the time, I think Volume 8: The Threat Is Real is a killer album that deserves more respect. So take some time this weekend and hit play on the playlist below. Love it or hate it, Volume 8 is a damn good Anthrax record and worth remembering on its 25th birthday.