Anthrax

support The Raven Age
author AP date 06/03/17 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

The Spring gig train powers on and brings me to the Amager Bio venue for the second time in as many days. Unlike the previous night’s exploits however, the proceedings tonight require far less computational power from the brain, with NYC-thrashers Anthrax set to take us on a nostalgic journey through their seminal 1987 LP, “Among the Living”. That the band is part of the so-called the Big Four has often been the focus of debate — after all, if Anthrax has trouble maxing out this 1,000-capacity venue when performing their most revered classic, what justification is there to include them in a club, whose other members could sell out an arena several days in a row for even the most ordinary of sets? Hopefully, the band would dismiss such skepticism in the simplest way tonight: by playing a phenomenal concert.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

The Raven Age

Before that however, there is the matter of the supporting act, The Raven Age, whose credentials look to be in order — on paper at least. The London, United Kingdom-born act famously supported Iron Maiden on a world tour last year, which seemed odd considering the quintet had nothing else than a self-titled EP from 2014 to their name. But when you peruse the band’s personnel, one name explains everything: the band’s lead guitarist is George Harris, one of ‘Maiden bassist Steven Harris’ two sons and so it is impossible not to attribute The Raven Age’s rise from nobodies to these esteemed support slots to plain ol’ nepotism. With that in mind, the group has a lot to prove here.

Although The Raven Age is marketed as a metalcore band, the discerning person would be more inclined to drop them into the elusive genre known as ‘melodic metal’ — kind of like Defecto, but without the grandiose singing and progressive touches. Regrettably, the songs played are as nondescript as they come: technically sound but in dire need of some hooks to create lasting value. The primary culprit is vocalist Michael Burrough and his employment of an unchanging melancholy tone throughout; his singing has neither highs nor lows and shows nothing to rise above the unremarkable. Exchange this man for someone with more vocal breadth and perhaps a taste for a growl or two, and the thrashy “Angel in Disguise”, for instance, could be so much better, with Harris and his compatriot, Dan Wright, laying down some serious shreds to go with Jai Patel’s speedy and inventive drum-work for the piece.

But while the musicianship unquestionably remains tight and skilled throughout, the only thing that sticks out from a collective performance that is visually just as nondescript as the songwriting, is in fact Patel. Surrounded by at least ten(!) cymbals, his textured percussion, stick-spinning and impassioned face expressions constitute the only real action amidst a line of statuesque poses, and you have to wonder whether his talent should not be realised in some more inspiring outfit? Certainly, the words ‘forgettable’ and ‘boring’ seem to be talk of the town amongst the audience once The Raven Age say their thanks and depart.

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Anthrax

Contrary to the majority of stops on this tour, Anthrax choose to do a switcharoo and begin by playing “Among the Living”, leaving the fan-voted set to serve as a kind of encore. In that sense, there is no build-up to the climax and when Frank Bello lets rip the timeless bass riff from the second track, “Caught in a Mosh”, the audience is already is already in a state of euphoria. And visibly moved by the warm welcome, the musicians themselves look more enthusiastic than ever before (and mind you, Anthrax has always stuck out from the Big Four by way of their positive message and fun-loving attitude on stage), wearing honest grins on their faces and exuding energy. Indeed, the band — completed by guitarists Jonathan Donais & Scott Ian, drummer Charlie Benante and of course the man, the legend, vocalist Joey Belladonna — manages to fuse the steady hand of experience with a youthful exuberance that, honestly, belies the fact that four fifths of these guys are in their 50s now. The performance is intense, riveting and affable all at once, with not a single still moment to slow down the group’s plough.

Given that “Among the Living” was released exactly six months prior to my birth, it would be a stretch to claim that it was an integral part of my childhood or youth — or even the process of getting into heavy metal. But that lack of context does not mean that I cannot hear the wings of history flapping as Belladonna introduces “A Skeleton in the Closet” as the song that still defines the sound of Anthrax 30 years later and then presides over a monumentally heavy rendition of it, sending the moshpit into an alarming frenzy. And the way Bello, Donais & Ian cluster into a single entity at the centre of the stage as Belladonna leaping from left-to-right, right-to-left in front of them during my personal favourite, “Indians”, certainly seems to suggest that for Anthrax, this is it — this is what they live and breathe for. As a result, the experience of watching the band live here is so uplifting, not to mention invigorating; all five musicians are in a jesting, mischievous mood, with instruments and mic stands swung and brandished during the endless darts from one position to another on the two-tiered stage. Certain other Big Four bands could perhaps learn a thing or two from Anthrax’s impassioned approach to doing things.

But as phenomenal as the concert has been up to and including the final “Among the Living”-track, “Imitation of Life”, the wisdom of deciding to play the record first is immediately called into question when “Fight ‘Em ’Til You Can’t” slams the proverbial brakes to unveil a second set much too focused on the more grandiose and ‘balladic’ selections from Anthrax’s repertoire. The omission of “Medusa” and “Evil Twin” — both of which have been making regular appearances on this tour hitherto — further exacerbates the problem, as not even the beloved cover of Trust’s “Antisocial” at the very end suffices to regain the intensity with which “Among the Living” has just been dished out. Thankfully, this section of the concert is limited to just five songs so the damage done is limited, but would it not have been better to use these supposedly fan-elected choices as a kind of warm-up before taking our breath away with the album performance? That hick-up aside, however, one should be sorry to have missed what is sure to go down as the most essential thrash show, but also one of the best concerts of 2017 in general.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Among the Living
  • 02. Caught in a Mosh
  • 03. One World
  • 04. I am the Law
  • 05. A Skeleton in the Closet
  • 06. Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)
  • 07. A.D.I. / Horror of It All
  • 08. Indians
  • 09. Imitation of Life
  • 10. Fight ‘Em ’Til You Can’t
  • 11. Madhouse
  • 12. Blood Eagle Wings
  • 13. Breathing Lightning
  • 14. Antisocial (Trust cover)

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