[Review] Anthrax: Spreading The Disease (1985)

The album that vaunted Anthrax into the front ranks of the new metal revolution.

Kronomyth 2.0: A desperate remedy.

This is their Fly By Night, a reference that probably made you cringe, didn’t it? Eh, too bad. The past sins of their Priestly worship had been sweated out since Fistful of MetalSpreading the Disease is the confident step forward into speed metal, their sound crystallized for the ages.

The big difference is the band’s taut, menacing stance and the presence of Joe Belladonna. Belladonna is a much better singer than Neil Turbin. A much, much, much better singer. The drumming from Charlie Benante is relentless, the guitar trio of Frank Bello, Scott Ian and Dan Spitz feels like a battering ram with a chainsaw strapped to the end of it and the lyrics trade in the dungeons & dragons imagery for dystopian nightmares and alienated heroes.

A.I.R. (which stands for “adolescence in red” according to Scott Ian) is a punch to the gut that even Armed and Dangerous didn’t prepare you for. It perfectly positions the band as heroes in a new wasteland of authoritarian control and systemic evil. Lone Justice continues to battle the world’s injustice with its five-fisted attack, this time borrowing the image of Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name. Madhouse is more rightly controlled chaos poured like molten metal into your ears, this time using the popular heavy metal motif of a sane hero branded insane by an insane world. S.S.C./Stand or Fall shows off a rare melodic side of the band, proving that they could do a lot more than just pound you with pummeling riffs for forty minutes. I would tell you it’s my favorite song on the album, but I’m also a melody-loving weenie who thinks 10cc’s “The Things We Do For Love” is the greatest song ever written. The first side closes with The Enemy, a unifying song about Hitler’s new world order, because we can all agree that Hitler sucked it hard.

The second side kicks off with Aftershock, and this is probably as appropriate a place as any to talk about how cool the band’s backing vocals are (they sound like a cross between a football cheer and threatening someone). It’s a device the band seems to have borrowed from punk rock, remembering that Anthrax covered The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” on their previous EP. Speaking of which, Armed and Dangerous is a darker vision of the original, with a less acoustic-y intro, since Tony Iommi is the only heavy metal guitarist who could really get away with that. Medusa, with lyrics by Jon Zazula, returns to the D&D imagery for one song. The album closes with a glimpse into the band’s sense of humor, Gung-Ho. Oh, and it also totally kicks ass. Not too many bands could shift from sonic assault to silly without sounding, well, silly.

Spreading the Disease is the beginning of the awesomeness. Honestly, you weren’t going to build a mythology out of Fistful of Metal any more than Rush! or Yes! or Trespass! (Okay, so Trespass didn’t actually have an exclamation point, but I didn’t want it to feel left out.) But the band that gave you “A.I.R.” and “Madhouse” and wacky illustrations and Dan Spitz? You’d follow them anywhere. Many did, and found their promised land in the follow-up, Among the Living.

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Original elpee version

A1. A.I.R. (5:44)
A2. Lone Justice (4:37)
A3. Madhouse (4:17)
A4. S.S.C./Stand or Fall (4:09)
A5. The Enemy (5:23)
B1. Aftershock (4:29)
B2. Armed and Dangerous (lyrics by Neil Turbin, music by Anthrax/Dan Lilker) (5:43)
B3. Medusa (lyrics by Jon Zazula, music by Anthrax) (4:43)
B4. Gung-Ho (lyrics by Neil Turbin, music by Anthrax/Dan Lilker) (4:35)

All songs written and arranged by Anthrax unless noted.

The Players

Joe Belladonna (vocals), Frank Bello (bass), Charlie Benante (drums), Scott Ian (guitar), Dan Spitz (lead guitar). Produced by Carl Canedy and Anthrax; engineered by Alex Parialas; executive producer: Jon Zazula.

The Pictures

Album cover concept by Charlie Benante. Art direction by Peter Corriston. Illustration by David Heffernan. Logo by Kent Joshpe. Photography by Neil Stopol, Frank White, Gary Gershoff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, picture elpee and cassette in October 1985 in the US (Island/Megaforce, 90480-1/4), the UK (Music for Nations, MFN-62/P), Germany (Island, 207 476) and Japan (Island, R28D-2025) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #113 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on May 24, 1987 in Japan (Island, P35D-20014).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Island, 826 668-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (Island, IMCD-136).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on June 6, 1992 in Japan (Island/Megaforce, PHCR-18702).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on July 4, 2007 in Japan (Island, UICY-6897).
  6. Re-released on super high material compact disc on May 26, 2010 in Japan (Island, UICY-94510).
  7. Re-issued on SHMCD on December 21, 2011 in Japan (Island, UICY-25101).

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