Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Music From Anthrax and Dream Theater

Last week had the release of two new albums that I was curious about, Anthrax's long-gestating Worship Music, marking the return of vocalist Joey Belladonna, and Dream Theater's A Dramatic Turn of Events, the first album without drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy, which has even, apparently, sparked a lawsuit. Or maybe it didn't. Who knows anymore?

I am an Anthrax fan, but, if the truth be known, I'm far more drawn to the albums they did with former Armored Saint vocalist John Bush. While I appreciate the albums of what's widely considered the classic line-up, with Joey Belladonna fronting the band, I always found his delivery somewhat grating. Belladonna can obviously sing, that's not the issue, he's likely a better technical singer than 99% of thrash metal vocalists, but there were certain "look how high I can sing!" moments on every album that just knocked me out of the song. Bush was earthy, guttural, without entering "Cookie Monster zone," and his voice, to me, fit the music the band was making.

Worship Music is Anthrax's first in...6 years, I think? They had recorded it once with yet another vocalist by the name of Dan Nelson. That pairing, for whatever reason (and the internet is filled with gross suppositions), didn't fly, and the band, after trying to recruit Bush (which is a long story, in itself), brought Belladonna back to the fold. I had little hope, after all the strife, that the album would feel like a coherent whole, let alone be much good. To my surprise, Anthrax has managed to put out an album that I quite like.

Perhaps it's that Belladonna is older, his voice more "seasoned," and less flexible. There's very little vocal histrionics here. He's not all over the place with high notes for their own sake. Joey falls into the pocket and sings, and this merges with the music in a very similar way to how I felt Bush did. The riffs are catchy, as are the chorus hooks. Some of the lyrics are dumb, I mean, I could do without any media, of any sort, playing out a zombie apocalypse ever again, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

Best Tracks: "The Devil You Know," "I'm Alive"

Dream Theater has always been a tough nut for me. As a bit of a musician myself, I admire the skill and talent on display, but many of their songs tend to go on too long, and get bogged down in overbaked noodling. Their reputation as a band for musicians is not unearned.

In my opinion, their best album was 1997's Falling Into Infinity, where the band embraced shorter, less musically sprawling tracks. The result was an album with much more drive and power. As well as outright listenability.

A Dramatic Turn of Events is very much not in that vein.

Which should not be construed as my saying it's bad. It's Prog Rock, and Dream Theater are monster players. However, they do not bring the warmth and quirky humor to the genre that Rush always does. Music is serious business for this band, and it shows in the results. However, it's not something you can just put on and tap your foot to, it requires attention. There are times when I'm into that, and times when I am not. Your mileage may vary.

This is a good Dream Theater album. It's got everything the band's fans will want, the band is playing superbly, as always, and the song construction is complex and adventurous. Frankly, Portnoy's absence is a non-issue, replacement Mike Mangini is a monster player in his own right, and I'd wager that, if I didn't know there had been a change behind the drum kit, I'd never have noticed. Drummers and hard-core fans are likely scoffing at me for that, but it's my honest opinion.

I'm glad I own it, but if you're not a fan, and looking for a hard rock/metal album, I'd probably steer you to the Anthrax release.

Best Tracks:  "Build Me Up, Break Me Down," "This Is the Life"

Looking forward to Mastodon's The Hunter and Chickenfoot III next week. It's a busy Fall for hard rock...

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