You can read a lot into the title of Anthrax’s 1998 album Volume 8: The Threat is Real.
What could it have meant?
Were they talking about the monster depicted destroying a city on the front of the album?
Were they talking about some sort of generic threat of society on the individual?
Could they have been talking about their own existence as a band?
What I do know is that despite its sometimes off-putting mishmash of musical styles and odd album arrangement, I do love this album.
I love it because it feels like Anthrax is putting their all into it. It sounds like they’re throwing things in there they want to do just in case they have a very short future ahead. It sounds like they’re putting it all out there, throwing in more emotion and more diversity just to say “if this is it, we’re doing it our way.”
Vocalist John Bush really rules this album. His range is wide this time around and his voice is what drives the album, ranging from bluesy rasps to metal roars, making the songs swell with power.
Officially, the rest of Anthrax on this album are guitarist Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Joey Benante.
Benante also handles guitar solos along with Anthrax member-in-all-but-name Paul Crook. Crook also handled many of the guitar duties on the prior album, Stomp 442.
Anyway, the band is probably at their most diverse and creative on Volume 8, throwing in elements from multiple genres, even a country twang here and there.
Of course, old school fans hated it.
But for the rest of us, the album is worth talking about.
Volume 8 kicks off with “Crush,” which seems to be misplaced on the album. It’s a good song, but being mid-paced, it just doesn’t seem to give the listener the punch in the face they need, which I feel is necessary for a metal album. It feels like something that should have been three or four songs in to give a breather to the listener after a couple of adrenaline-raising tracks.
To me, the album doesn’t really feel like it starts until the third track, “Inside Out.” This track is pretty awesome, its slow verses and ripping chorus will give you chills. It’s catchy and Bush puts on a hell of a performance, going from screaming to singing at the drop of the hat. The song pounds the listener and sucks them in, which is what you want in the first track.
“Inside Out” and “Born Again Idiot” feature Dimebag Darrell of Pantera handling guitar duties for the band. His presence is felt, particularly during the solos. They’re also two of the heaviest tracks on the album with all the band putting that extra “umph” in to match Darrell’s playing. Bush’s roar during these songs just add another layer of heaviness to both songs, making them two of the best Anthrax tracks from the 1990s.
“Hog Tied,” while not featuring any Darrell, feels almost like a Pantera song thanks to its groove. It’s one of those tracks that sneaks up on you and you’ll be bobbing your head before you realize. It also helps that it has a pretty catchy chorus.
Darrell isn’t the only Pantera member to make an appearance on the album. Pantera’s vocalist Phil Anselmo contributes vocals to “Killing Box,” another one of the heavier tracks on the album. The vocal pairing of Bush and Anselmo make this song, giving it a large feel, like it’s almost too big for the album. It’s also got that groove to it, which I realize that Anthrax was much criticized for by earlier fans, but I think it fit the band’s direction well at that time.
Anthrax also tries their hand at old-school punk-flavored metal with “604” and “Cupajoe.” Each of these tracks is under a minute long and really lack a chorus of any sort. Instead, the band tries to play as fast and as furiously as possible. Pretty enjoyable despite the short time span.
“Harms Way” and “Toast to the Extras” are the two songs that will probably throw a lot of people off. They’re slower in pace and have some electro-acoustic/country vibe stuff going. Bush’s vocals and the band’s use of tone that really make these songs stick out. Of course, heavy metal fans being how they are will hate them both.
“Pieces” is a particularly powerful song, wrote and sang by Bello in memory of his brother, who was murdered. It’s a song you feel, hitting you in the heart instead of the gut. It makes those of us who are lucky enough to have our siblings truly appreciate them via how well Bello channels his loss, making us feel it as well.
At the time, many of us thought that this could be the final album that Anthrax ever recorded. Had that been the last of them, then “Pieces” would have been a satisfying way to go out. But, to the relief of many, they persevered and release successful albums to this day.
Volume 8 is an album that’s all over the place with Anthrax seeming to try as many new and different things as they could fit on a single album. Individually, there’s not really a bad song on the album, as a whole, it can be kind of confusing. Many of the songs clash with each other, creating a rather uneven experience.
Still, I’d recommend giving the album a listen, even if you have to jump around or shuffle the songs. Bush in particularly gives a strong performance, adding something to these songs that I just couldn’t picture his predecessor doing. And speaking of vocals, I can’t emphasize enough how great Bello’s performance on “Pieces” is.
While I won’t say “go out and buy it right away,” I will say “find it on YouTube and give it a spin.” If you like it, buy it. If you don’t, then keep coming back to the tracks you do like.