Review by Mike Bax
In a few weeks (November 20th, to be exact) Anthrax will release a special 30th anniversary edition of Spreading the Disease, the band’s second album though their first album on a major label (Universal).
At the time of its release, thrash metal was still very much in its inception phase. The Big Four were all merely one or two albums into their illustrious careers, and the sub-genre of thrash was still a very new thing. Metal fans of that era for the most part were turning their noses up at this aggressive sound, with most albums featuring howling screams and guttural growling for vocals.
Anthrax’s Fistful of Metal vocalist, Neil Turbin, and bassist Danny Lilker were no longer with the band, and these new recordings for Spreading the Disease featured bassist Frank Bello (only 18 years old at the time) and vocalist Joey Belladonna. Unbeknownst to the band, this album would harken an era considered by many to be the core years of greatness for the band, establishing Belladonna as the vocalist attributed as integral to the Anthrax sound to this very day.
I remember buying Spreading the Disease 30 years ago. In the fall of 1985, I was attending my first year of college. On the weekends I’d get together with some of the folks in my course, drink copious amounts of beer, and take turns with people playing new records as we got loaded. This was the best way to hear new music (for me) at the time. Someone at one of these parties showed up the week Spreading the Disease was released, and played the album in entirety. I can remember being immediately impressed with it. I loved that the material was so aggressive, but the Belladonna vocals lifted so heavily from metal sounds I was already familiar with (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Dio). I bought the album the very next day.
The nine original songs on Spreading the Disease are all amazing for various reasons, but ‘A.I.R.’, ‘Madhouse’ and ‘Gung-Ho’ spoke to me on a level I’d not yet encountered as a music aficionado, and Spreading the Disease became something of a portal into the world of thrash for me, as I’m sure it was for so many other listeners at the time. I still consider ‘A.I.R.’ and ‘Gung-Ho’ quintessential songs in the category of opening and closing songs on an album. I think these two tracks bookend Spreading the Disease perfectly, sandwiching the other 7 songs that make up the album in such an effective fashion as to embellish them all. If the sequencing on this album was different, I honestly don’t know if the album would have the same effect on the listener.
Included with the remastered 9 original songs on the album, fans get to hear an original demo of ‘Medusa’ with Joey Belladonna vocals, 8 live tracks from Anthrax’s first concert in Japan (6 from Spreading The Disease and 2 from Fistful of Metal), and 9 “rhythm tracks” from Anthrax 1984 recordings. These 9 tracks are just drums, some guitar, and a bit of bass with no overdubs or studio polish. Anthrax demos in their truest form, these versions show off the musical prowess of Anthrax in a completely new light.
The band members in Anthrax have been working closely with Universal on this re-issue. Charlie Benante, the band’s unofficial curator of the Anthrax archives over the years, has unearthed some real treats for Anthrax fans here. While the 9 demo rhythm tracks may be things you visit less than the rest of the tracks on this reissue, the live tracks and the ‘Medusa’ demo are all amazing, and totally worth the price of admission.