I went to go see Anthrax (With Municipal Waste & Sworn Enemy) live last night in Bristol at the O2 Academy on Thursday 06/10/2022. I am always a bit dodgy about going to concerts in Bristol. I utterly hate driving there, the roads are very illogical, poorly laid out, change suddenly with little warning and generally difficult to drive on, but the drivers are incredibly competitive and aggressive, a toxic combination. It is nowhere near as pleasant to drive as Cardiff by comparison. The 02 Academy as a venue is also not as nice as the Student’s Union Great Hall / Y Plas in Cardiff, it’s a kind of weird shape and layout, the sound isn’t as good, it gets too hot and generally isn’t as good.
However, Anthrax have been one of (and sometimes even the number one) my absolute life-long favourite bands since I was old enough to shave, and yet I had never managed to catch them on a headline show yet for various financial or scheduling or logistical conflicts over the years (although did finally get to see them supporting Slayer a few years ago).
Now, I am quite reticent about going to concerts nowadays, and have skipped a great many due to the pandemic, even ones I had tickets for. However, after going to see Rammstein and not getting sick or making my family or anyone else sick, I have softened my stance a little bit. I still don’t feel comfortable going to as many as before (eg. I love Saxon live, but have recently skipped two really close and easy to get to Saxon concerts just in case, I’m not going to see Napalm Death, I’ve given BFMV a pass etc) but if it is something I feel will be special (eg. Parkway Drive) my new attitude is I will sometimes risk it. For me, a headline Anthrax show, celebrating the band’s 40th Anniversary, that has been getting rave reviews and the setlist for which is nothing but the absolute best songs, more than qualifies as something special.
After navigating through the stressful streets of Bristol, panic-stricken and on the verge of pissing myself, I finally made it to the venue. Hmm… strange. I arrived late after doors were open and it sounded like the first band were already on, and there was still a 20 minute queue to get in. At Parkway I arrived earlier, at a bigger venue, I still waltzed right in in one fluid motion without queuing. This time it was busy. Well, it turns out the show completely sold out. I thought shows don’t sell out anymore, ever since the pandemic, but apparently things are getting more back to normal now.
I found a relatively nice spot to stand where I could see well enough and wasn’t in too many people’s way and settled in for the night. I caught a few songs from Sworn Enemy. They were quite enjoyable, it was quite aggressive beatdown-heavy metalcore. They were like a heavier, more blunt Hatebreed. The final song was a bit too repetitive for my tastes, but they made up for that by splicing in parts of Pantera’s Domination (or at least I think they spliced in parts, maybe they just wrote a similar part and ripped them off?). A nice little warm up.
The next band up were Richmond Virgina’s Crossover Thrash revivalists, Municipal Waste. I am a fan of Muni-Waste. I own about three quarters of their albums and do enjoy them quite a bit, but I am not a diehard fan where I know every word to every song. Before tonight, I’d probably say “I wouldn’t go to see them on their own, but I like them” but it was an absolutely great set and I might revise that idea now. They played a lot from their The Art Of Partying album which is probably their most famous and definitely the one I know the best, so I could sing along with quite a few choruses etc and join in with the chanting sections without feeling disingenuous. They were really energetic and attention grabbing, they commanded a lot of crowd-surfing and circle pits (although old man at heart that I am, I was glad to be standing out of range of any of it – nice to see, but please don’t touch me!). The singer was quite humorous on stage, but without being gimmicky. The real star of the show however was their drummer. I never realised on record just how incredibly tight and precise he is, nor how complex some of the songs are. I mean, Municipal Waste largely have a set style, and stick to it relatively closely most of the time, and I am not trying to make it sound like they are Dream Theater or something, but for a band who make their name on party-Thrash anthems or Crossover blasts of 1-2 minute rage, there is a surprising amount of depth and nuance to the drumming and song structures, and the speed he can play at whilst maintaining control of every stick-hit is very impressive when you see it with your own eyes from just a few meters’ distance.
The highlight of their set was the closer, arguably their most popular song, and the track I would recommend to any newcomer: “Born To Party” – it’s the one that has that super-catchy “Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up! Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up! Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up!” hook in it. (Alright, that might sound dumb out of context, but on the album its so much fun). When that hook came in live, it seemed to me as though everyone in the building was smiling like it was their birthday. Joyous. For such a stupid sentence, it is such a killer hook. On the record it comes in alongside the sound of a beer can opening and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how it is meant to make you feel, nothing will.
After a very enjoyable set from the modern Thrash band, it was time for one of the true forefathers of the genre. When Anthrax took the stage, in this ludicrously packed sweatbox, a wave of euphoria came over me. There was a short video before they actually came on, where various celebrities praised them on making it to 40 years or explained why they were important / influential / good etc, then they appeared in silhouette backlit against the video screen and it was so fucking cool. Sometimes you don’t need a 20 foot sea-serpent or a metric tonne of pyro – sometimes you just have to look fucking cool, and Anthrax looked like legends.
The setlist was nothing short of giving the people exactly what they wanted. No real surprises so to speak. All the best songs (more or less) off the 80s albums. The only deviation from that was the sing-along generator “Only” from the Bush era and the fallen-rockstar (eg. Dio) tribute song “In The End” from Joey Belladonna’s reunion album Worship Music. A huge part of it was just the most memorable songs from Among The Living and Spreading The Disease… and since they are two of my favourite albums of all time, you’ll hear no complaints from me. They also did the first half of “Bring The Noise” before transitioning into a storming rendition of “Indians” with a massive crowd-participatory “woah, woah, woah-ah-oh” singalong.
Well, I say a massive crowd singalong, but to be honest, apart from maybe “In The End” not much of the evening wasn’t a massive crowd singalong. I have rarely seen a concert where such a high percentage of the crowd sang for such a high percentage of the evening. Not just choruses, but verses, bridges, obscure 2nd/3rd verses, singing along to the guitar parts etc. Nothing you don’t see a bit at every concert, but like… more, more often, and more intensely. It was like being part of a thousand-member Anthrax-themed choir.
The main members Scott, Charlie, Frankie and Joey were so full of charisma it felt like a privilege to be allowed to be there. Dan Spitz or Rob Caggiano aren’t in the band anymore, so filling that spot was ex-Shadow’s Fall guitarist Jon Donais. I always liked Shadow’s Fall, and he can play the songs, but he is not an icon like the other members, and he just stayed in place for most of the evening, quietly getting the job done without taking up much limelight, possibly out of respect for the whole 40-year celebration thing. As an audience member, I spent about 90% of the evening just fixedly staring at drummer Charlie Benante. Anyone who knows me in person has been subjected to me mooning over Charlie Benante with hearts in my eyes, and I am sure anyone reading this blog more than once has probably read it at least 5 times too, but just to reiterate – that man is one of the best drummers in the game. I utterly love the way he plays.
Last time I saw them, I was lower down and further away, so this time I could really see every hit of every single drum or cymbal, and to me that is worth the price of the ticket, worth the stressful commute, worth being absolutely shattered at work all day today, and moreso than “worth it” – it is a memory I’ll take to my grave.
There’s been a lot of shit-talking on the internet and social media in the last 15-years with people poo-pooing Joey Belladonna and his legacy, but to me he is one of Metal’s most memorable vocalists, and I’ve never agreed with the anti-Joey sentiment out there online. However, I had heard on a few podcasts I trust who like him on records, that he wasn’t always good live, especially in the modern era – but I can happily confirm he was utterly excellent live in my opinion. Not all singers can still pull it off live when they reach a certain vintage, but I thought Joey was the absolute business last night!
Scott Ian as always is just spellbinding. I’ve talked at length before about “Scott Ian’s Wrist” and it was out in full force last night.
The sound was pretty good (painfully loud, but I guess that’s a redundant complaint at a Thrash show) and the stage was presented well with various banners etc. The light show was well designed, and various spots or strobes highlighted specific memorable moments (like a key drumfill, for example that weird super quick bit in “Caught In A Mosh” before the “Why don’t you listen when I try to talk to you” verse comes in). Visually, it looks pretty similar to their XL 40 Years livestream.
Luckily, due to the specifics of the one-way-system and the lateness of the hour resulting in much fewer cars on the road, the drive back home was about 40-minutes quicker and immeasurably less complicated, so that was nice too when I was tired, sweaty, hoarse-throated and ready for bed.
I had an absolute whale of a time, the band where on tip-top form (as a comparison point, they were better here in 2022 than they were on either the “Alive 2” DVD or on the “Big Four” DVD) and if you in anyway like the band, I really urge you to check them out on this tour.