For their third full-length, New York thrashers Anthrax upped their game, big time, using the combined talents of their classic lineup to craft nine songs that showed the band coming into their own as far as musicianship and songwriting skills goes. It was 1987 and the thrash stakes were high; heavy metal in general was on top of the world, and Anthrax were at the height of their powers.
Think of it this way: fully six of these nine songs are certified Anthrax classics. Among the Living is an incredible album; let’s take a look at it song by song, going from worst to best.
Our man J. Bennett inducted the album into our Hall of Fame way, way back in our July 2005 issue, which you can still grab a copy of right here (come for the Hall of Fame, stay for the As I Lay Dying cover story, make fun of us any time now).
9. Imitation of Life
Among the Living’s closer is its worst song, mainly due to a seriously over-the-top vocal approach by Joey Belladonna, who clearly saved his most hysterical work on this album for last. Musically, there are tons of great Anthraxian riffs thrown around, but nothing really sticks. Still, and I say this a lot: lesser thrash bands would kill to write songs as good as Anthrax’s worst moments from 1987.
8. A.D.I./Horror of it All
Good acoustic intro in “A.D.I.” here, the band, smartly, giving the listener a bit of a break at the start of song eight of nine, given that it’s been a frantic thrash metal barrage up until now. “Horror of it All” is a fairly rote ‘thrax mosher, arguably the album’s most forgettable moment (and with a fairly annoying vocal line), but it does the mid-pace stomp just fine regardless.
7. One World
The last three songs on Among the Living are nowhere near as strong as the first six, and while “One World”’s chorus is awesome—really, hinting at Persistence of Time’s manic punked-out thrash sound—the pre-chorus counting/“Not!” stuff can use the door. Still, love the chorus, and it’s not a bad song by any means, the band’s energy and drive coming through loud and clear with every battered and bruised note that they squeeze out of their instruments.
6. A Skeleton in the Closet
The first three songs on this album are so good they almost make the listener forget about what comes next, such as side one closer “A Skeleton in the Closet,” a great Anthrax song if ever there was one, with tons of fun solos thrown in between a great vocal performance from Belladonna and another superb chorus (and pre-chorus; how many parts do these songs have?). Down at number six here, but almost any other thrash band would kill to write a song this good.
5. Caught In a Mosh
No matter how stupid that phrase is, we all love it, and we all have to admit it’s also kinda awesome. Also awesome is Charlie Benante’s crazed drum breakdown at the start of the song, and Belladonna blurting out “Now get the hell out of my house.” What is this song even about? Who knows, who cares, just enjoy Scott Ian’s rad backup vocals and the sound of a band thrashing almost faster than they can even handle. ’87 thrash doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. On some days, it takes out “Indians” for the fourth spot.
The ham-fisted lyrical approach, and Scott Ian yelling out “war dance!” before the breakdown part is a bit embarrassing, but, hey, at least they were taking on an important and not-discussed topic in metal at the time, so good on them for that, and good on them for writing a song with riffs as triumphant as this, and with a chorus as superbly catchy and moving as this one is. The main riff is pure Anthrax gold, and this song in general is another classic on an album full of them.
3. Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)
How much fun did we all have as younger longhairs trying to figure out how to say the name of this song, and then utilizing it for our own nefarious purposes? And how cool is it that it’s a song about John Belushi? I mean, Anthrax rule and this song is a great example of why they rule, and how hard they were ruling in 1987, a killer chorus for the ages, a frantic thrash song that will go down in history.
2. Among the Living
I always loved how the album starts off, after a lengthy instrumental buildup, with Joey Belladonna barking out “Disease! Disease! Spreading the disease!”, but it’s almost like what he should be saying is “This! Album! Is way better! Than Spreading the Disease!” because what a jump ahead Among is from Spreading, the band showing that much off with this blistering opener, combining Belladonna’s hysterical vocal lines with a blinders-on thrash assault that added just enough songwriting skills (this song has tons of memorable parts) to the fast/faster thrash attack. Among was the first time the band fully, 100 percent kicked ass, and this opener proves that they knew it.
1. I Am the Law
Not just the album’s finest moment, it’s easily one of the band’s finest, and one of the best metal songs ever (yup), “I Am the Law” utilizing a comic character for lyrical inspiration and applying it to a mid-tempo thrash mosher that features some excellent vocal acrobatics from Belladonna and the band’s best chorus ever. When the band drop things into a double-time (triple-time, even) thrash polka, it’s pure ’87 glory, Anthrax showing that every member is incredibly capable of playing in the big leagues here. An absolute, untouchable thrash classic. Respect the badge. He earned it with his gun.