Sound — 8
Although Anthrax's pioneering contributions to the thrash metal genre are at the top of their curriculum vitae, they've always been one to separate themselves from the pack; both in terms of their humorous aesthetic of their earlier years, or in terms of their branching out from their thrash metal home range (even going so far as to help blaze a trail for rap metal). And though the tail end of the band's initial run brought forth a post-grunge/alt-metal side (especially with then-vocalist John Bush's singing style), Anthrax's classic lineup reformation in 2010 (which brought back the speed metal dulcet tones of vocalist Joey Belladonna and bassist Frank Bello) also warranted a return to their classic thrash style with their returning album, 2013's "Worship Music."
Now back in the swing of things, Anthrax's eleventh album, "For All Kings," continues even stronger in the vein of appealing to a stark thrash sound, and the instrumental skill shows an uptick all across the board. Along with benchmark thrash guitar riffs brandishing more menacing energy - whether the tight gallop strums of "You Gotta Believe," the strumming bursts of "Evil Twin," or the hammer-ons in "Zero Tolerance" - there's also a more nifty usage of tuplets, most notably in the rhythm-modulating verse riff of "Blood Eagle Wings." New lead guitarist Jonathan Donais (who's also the lead guitarist of Shadows Fall) not only meets the match of the band's previous lead guitarist as expected, but arguably one-ups him with his guitar solos, heard especially in "Monster at the End," "All of Them Thieves," and "Blood Eagle Wings," and the rhythm section also gets to show off some more skill, both in Bello's bass activity (heard in "Monster at the End" and "Breathing Lightning"), and in Charlie Benante's drumming (especially in "Defend/Avenge").
"For All Kings" isn't just about superseding instrumental output, however, and it also elaborates upon its thrash metal backbone. Whereas "Worship Music" still concerned itself with incorporating some contemporary hard rock/metal characteristics (much like late '90s Anthrax), the band's songwriting shows some more textural dimension being added to the bolder, darker thrash sound that primarily appears. Though in some cases, it simply doubles down on the darkness (like the black metal tremolo at the bridge of "All of Them Thieves") or literally just adds noise (like the wonky feedback tones peppered in "Defend/Avenge"). Other moments bring forth more emotional soundscapes - the eponymous song has a righteous NWOBHM feel to it (mainly caused by Belladonna's vocals), the borderline progressive metal likes of "Breathing Lightning" wields an uncanny triumphant cadence to it with its chorus of sirening guitar leads, and "Blood Eagle Wings" goes from a gloomy mood and tempo into a faster bridge that perfectly represents the desperate fervor articulated in its lyrical narrative.
Lyrics — 7
In tandem with Anthrax's returning style being a darker and more menacing thrash metal sound, Ian's lyrics in "For All Kings" are decorated with lethal imagery and fatal narrative, heard from the fantastical story of vengeance in "Breathing Lightning," to the crestfallen tale of someone plagued with regret from former destruction in "Blood Eagle Wings." But for the most part, Ian's death-filled lyrics stem from an outrage towards different forms of tyranny. He covers economic tyranny of greedy plutocrats in "All of Them Thieves," militaristic tyranny of war and its perpetually spiraling jingoism in "Defend/Avenge," and with both "You Gotta Believe" and "Evil Twin" regarding religious extremism, the band have explained that the latter was written in response to Al Qaeda's attack at the Charlie Hebdo office last year. All in all, though, Ian's discontent towards each path of destruction dovetails in the final "Zero Tolerance," coming to a complete boil with the simply scathing sentiment towards how manically fickle humanity is in their own undoing: "Humans kill each other and so often for every reason there is; including none / Extreme school, inhuman rule, brutality; nowhere to run."
Overall Impression — 8
With Anthrax having spent years writing music that strayed away from their initial thrash sound, it was no surprise that they came right back to that home range with their returning album years ago. However, with them continuing down this path in "For All Kings," Anthrax don't fall into the ditch of staid familiarity like other tenured bands that choose to stick to what they know best, but instead, make a thrash record that stands to be substantial for both old listeners and new. Given their nature, it would also be no surprise if Anthrax moved in a significantly different direction in a future album, but for now, "For All Kings" makes a great case for Anthrax still being capable of putting out some captivating thrash.