Considered one of the most influential thrash metal albums, Anthrax’s Among The Living reshaped the entire approach to heavy metal’s newest subgenre with a fearless approach to composition and subject matter. Breaking boundaries with their influential take on speed metal, the New York five-piece melded elements of punk, hip-hop, hardcore and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal into a sensational mix of neck-breaking anthems that remain at the very forefront of thrash, sitting alongside seminal releases such as Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?
Since their formation in New York City in 1981, Anthrax had graduated from their local club circuit to become a rising international act – a result of their blistering tempos, hyper-speed riffs and brain-hacking melodic choruses. Previous albums Fistful Of Metal (1984) and their defining sophomore classic, Spreading The Disease (1985), caught the attention of a global audience, but it was their third album’s shift in sound, lyrical content and production that catapulted Anthrax into the big league.
Among The Living was released on 22 March 1987 under the now “classic” Anthrax line-up of Scott Ian (rhythm guitar), Charlie Benante (drums), Joey Belladonna (vocals), Frank Bello (bass) and Danny Spitz (lead guitar). The album’s nine tracks set the bar at an unprecedented level; during a time when recording artists still longed for Def Leppard’s highly polished Pyromania sound, Anthrax sought out famed producer Eddie Kramer (KISS, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix) to helm their most important album to date. Six weeks of intense (and at times difficult) recording sessions took place at Quad Radial Studios in Miami, before the band relocated to Compass Point Studios, in The Bahamas, to begin the mixing process.
Kramer’s vision of a raw, live-sounding album comes to life instantly during the opening moments of the title track: guitars swell with confidence, the slow-burning riffs creating tension and excitement before a chugging hardcore pace sets in. Suddenly, like a shotgun blast in the dead of night, ‘Among The Living’ explodes, before Belladonna’s abrupt vocal intro bursts through the speakers, taking the listener on a rollercoaster ride of relentless riffing and aggressive gang vocals. Follow-up track ‘Caught In A Mosh’ continues to pummel the listener into submission, before ‘I Am The Law’ (the album’s first single and an ode to cult 2000 AD comic hero Judge Dredd), loaded with infectious chunky guitars and rumbling low-end bass, maintains the stomping momentum
Though a much more mature-sounding album when compared to the band’s previous outings, from a lyrical perspective Anthrax largely continued to live in a world of skateboarding, horror movies and comic books. When it came to more serious subject matter, their quirky approach can be heard in the charging ‘Efilnikufesin (NFL)’, which tackles the social implications of drug abuse, and ‘A Skeleton in The Closet’, which was inspired by Stephen King’s acclaimed novel Apt Pupil.
The album continues with its second single release, ‘Indians’, which reveals the band’s ability to pen thought-provoking lyrics under a cover of truly magnificent earth-shattering riffs. Proving to be one of the stand-out tracks, ‘Indians’ offers a truly spine-tingling moment in thrash metal history when rhythm guitarist and founding member Scott Ian bellows “Wardance!” (In a live setting, it never fails to set off an outburst of organised chaos.) Solidifying Among The Living’s importance are the hardcore-influenced ‘One World’ and riff-tastic ‘ADI/Horror Of It All’, which sees Belladonna give an outstanding vocal performance, and the sparkle and snarling aggression of crossover gem, the closing ‘Imitation Of Life’.
During a time when the thrash metal explosion was at an all-time high, Anthrax’s dexterity brought a refreshing confidence to the genre. Skin-tight denims and hi-top trainers would soon be replaced with brightly coloured Bermuda shorts and T-shirts bearing the logos of non-metal acts such as Beastie Boys and Fishbone. Such eclectic tastes led to the group’s revolutionary rap/metal crossover EP I’m The Man. Released shortly after Among The Living, it earned Anthrax an even greater level of success, boosted the sales of their back catalogue and, ultimately, paved the way for the nu-metal explosion of the mid-90s.