1986 was without a doubt thrash metal’s golden year. That year saw the release of many amazing records and singles that will always live on in thrash metal glory. Speed demon metalheads bowed down to Slayer’s 28-and-a-half minute long masterpiece “Reign in Blood.” Megadeth became more than just an offshoot of Metallica when they released “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying” to the public. Most importantly, the rising Metallica came out with “Master of Puppets,” an album that most metalheads hold on par with some of the best recordings spanning all subgenre of heavy metal. All of the Big Four of Thrash had something to boast for in 1986.
All except for New York’s own Anthrax. Always seemingly the underdog of the Big Four, it wouldn’t be until a few months after 86’s end for them to come out with their great album “Among The Living.” The album was met with great reviews (Kerrang! gave it a 5 out of 5) and is often considered the band’s foremost achievement. While I say that Anthrax is the underdog when compared to the other thrash bands at the time, I still must declare that they know how to lay down some masterful musicianship. Joey Belladonna remains my favorite vocalist of the Big Four bands and Charlie Benante, in my humble opinion, is tied with Dave Lombardo for my favorite drummer in that movement.
The album begins with an absolute keeper. The title track “Among The Living” begins at a moderate tempo, but by the first verse, the track will already have chewed you up and spit you back out. Very aggressive in rhythm, the track constantly alternates between moderate and hastily fast, which works very well. Musically, there are great performances all around and excellent vocals. Next is the much more popular “Caught In A Mosh,” which is another track that has extremely energetic verses and more-tangible choruses. The prominent bass line is catchy and addictive and the drumming has almost never been better on any other track. While overrated in its popularity, it still endures as a great metal tune and a perfect song to (ahem!) mosh to.
“I Am The Law” contains lyrics about the British comic character Judge Dredd. Dredd acts as judge, jury and executioner all in one and is, in fact, the law. Most of the song remains at a mildly quick speed, that is until a short section past the middle in which the song by that time has become an impetus impossible to tame (I know, I’ll try to stop being so cheesy). A more-than-decent track with one of the better Anthrax guitar solos. Next is the dark take on excess titled “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.),” which is also one of the better tracks on the entire album. The whole song plays a bit like the main riff of “Caught In A Mosh.” Both riffs have an infectious groove (dang, me being cheesy once again) and chug smoothly right along. The songwriting overall is close to perfect and is one of the most developed songs by the band.
“A Skeleton In The Closet” has a great main riff attached to it and some berserk double bass kicking by Charlie Benante. While the drumming is the most prominent instrument being showcased on the track, the rest of the band holds up just as well in their performances. Overall, “Skeleton” is a memorable track, but it ranks somewhere in the middle compared to the other tracks. However, “Indians” officially takes the award for most memorable and best track on the album. Beginning like an Iron Maiden track (duel harmonies and everything), “Indians” remains at the same tempo for most of the song, but is incessantly double-timing and half-timing before you have time to breath. Best vocals, guitar tracks and drumming on the album (the bass is superior as well). Also the lyrics are very well executed, discussing the serious issues of racial discrimination.
The final track, while the shortest in length, probably reaches the highest BPM on the album (and that is saying a hell of a lot, by the way). “Imitation of Life” starts unusually slow for Anthrax, though still remains as aggressive as any other song. The slowness lasts for about a minute, then the song begins to show its true intentions. The lyrics speak out against “posers” who merely fake their way of life and people who are in the music business strictly for the money and other such people. While not mind-blowing in its complexity, “Imitation of Life” will, if anything, impress people with its blinding speed.
“Among The Living,” while not nearly as timeless as “Peace Sells” and not as progressive in songwriting as “Master of Puppets,” is easily my favorite Anthrax album. Musicianship is great, song structure is could use work but is still better than most bands, and there are numerous standout tracks. If it had been released in 1986 as all the other thrash masterpieces were, it wouldn’t be at all out of place.