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Revisiting Anthrax's "Sound of White Noise"

I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

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Anthrax, "Sound of White Noise"

(Elektra Records, 1993) 11 Tracks, Run Time: 56:56

Anthrax entered the 1990s on a roll. They'd clawed their way out of New York's underground metal scene in the '80s with a street-smart blend of thrash metal grit, punk rock attitude, and hip hop swagger, resulting in a series of gold-selling albums like 1987's Among the Living, 1990's Persistence of Time, and 1991's Attack of the Killer B's. Their participation in 1991's "Clash of the Titans" arena tour, where they shared the stage with fellow Big Four members Slayer and Megadeth, represented thrash metal's commercial peak. The sky seemed to be the limit for the band as they signed a new deal with Elektra Records, which made them label mates with their old buddies in Metallica.

In the midst of all this, however, Anthrax made the controversial decision to cut ties with their long-time fan favorite vocalist Joey Belladonna. Joey was replaced by John Bush, formerly of L.A. cult favorites Armored Saint. Fans were shocked by this sudden shift in the Anthrax camp and held their breath to see how this new collaboration would work out.

When the band's first album with Bush, Sound of White Noise, was released in May of 1993, it represented a leaner, meaner, more serious side of Anthrax. The rise of the grunge and alternative-rock waves had wreaked havoc on the metal scene while Anthrax were sorting out their personnel issues, but on White Noise, they came blasting out of the gate with enough firepower to silence any naysayers. The message was clear: Anthrax wasn't going anywhere!

"Only"

The Songs

Anthrax chose to work with Dave Jerden on Sound of White Noise, who was something of a 'hip' producer at the time, due to his previous gigs with bands like Jane's Addiction and Alice in Chains. It probably helped that Jerden and John Bush were already familiar with one another, since Dave had worked on Armored Saint's stellar Symbol of Salvation. Jerden's production on White Noise gave Anthrax a grittier, earthier sound that fit their new vibe perfectly.

When you press "play" on Sound of White Noise, a prim and proper voice intones, "This is a journey into sound..." before Anthrax commences blasting with "Potter's Field," a slamming opener that admirably showcases Anthrax's new mindset. The song's thudding, machine-precise rhythms recall their New York neighbors in Helmet or Prong, and Bush's emotive wailing over the top leaves no doubt that this new partnership is going to work out just fine.

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The pile-driving "Only" got a fair share of mainstream radio play when the album was current, and it still holds up very well to this day. I might say that "Only" is the finest song of Bush's tenure with Anthrax, but it's followed by the thumping "Room For One More," which is no slouch either, settling into a pounding groove ala Pantera. "Packaged Rebellion" is another dose of high quality aggro, tempered with some quality melodic touches, particularly in Bush's vox during choruses.

The punk-ish "Hy Pro Glo" has a guitar hook that could land a whale, and the abrasive, fuzzed out "Invisible" is quite possibly the angriest track on the album thus far. "1000 Points of Hate" is pure rhythm-driven ear candy; just check out the standout work on it by bassist Frank Bello and his partner in crime, drummer Charlie Benante.

Things briefly get mellow on the moody, cinematic "Black Lodge," which was inspired by the then-current cult TV series Twin Peaks. The band collaborated with the show's composer, Angelo Badalamenti, on this track and the result is a dark, trippy ballad with a fair share of creeping dread. (Fun fact: the music video for this song starred a then-unknown Jenna Elfman, later of Dharma & Greg sitcom fame.)

After that interlude, it's back to business with the breakneck "C11 H17 N2 O2 S Na" (aka "Sodium Pentathol") and the bass-driven speed metal of "Burst," before Sound of White Noise comes to a satisfactorily slammin' close with the pounding "This is Not an Exit."

"Room for One More"

Reaction and Aftermath

Sound of White Noise peaked at #7 on Billboard in the U.S. and earned them another Gold album, but Anthrax didn't get to enjoy its success for very long.

Lead guitarist Dan Spitz left the fold after the White Noise tour and their next album, Stomp 442, landed with a thud in 1995, a victim of shifting musical trends and toxic record-label politics. Released from their Elektra contract, Anthrax spent the rest of the 1990s jumping from one short lived record deal to another as albums like Volume 8: The Threat is Real and 1999's Return of the Killer A's came and went without much impact.

2003's critically acclaimed, well received We've Come For You All album stopped the bleeding for a little while, but the sun was setting on the John Bush era by this time. Joey Belladonna returned in 2005 for a reunion tour that recharged the band's batteries, and they've released two successful studio albums with Joey on the mic since then (Worship Music in 2011 and For All Kings in 2016). A new album is due sometime in 2022.

© 2022 Keith Abt

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