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A headbanger’s ball
Anthrax, E.Town Concrete, and Sworn Enemy

Metalheads have just one more month to wait for the release of one of the year’s most eagerly awaited albums: Metallica’s St. Anger (Elektra), their first new disc of original music since ’97. The virtual tailgate party gets underway this Saturday night, when the Bay Area brawlers take over MTV2 to host the return of the beloved Headbangers Ball after a nine-year absence from the airwaves. Next weekend, the fun continues on our home turf as a nation of scenesters descends on the Palladium in Worcester for the fifth annual New England Metal & Hardcore Festival, a 60-band blowout headlined by Superjoint Ritual and Opeth.

As if that weren’t enough, some of the biggest names from the original heyday of Headbangers Ball are also on the road this month. At the top of the list are Motörhead and Anthrax, who perform together this Friday at the Palladium. Seminal Brazilian thrashers Sepultura are out with Voivod on a tour that hits the new Lido in Revere next Thursday. And Soulfly, led by original Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera, play Avalon this Saturday with major-label hardcore hopefuls E.Town Concrete and Sworn Enemy opening. None of those old-timers has ever posed a serious threat to Metallica on the charts, but they’ve all been delivering high-impact thrills to the goat-throwing faithful for years.

Of the aforementioned, Anthrax have the closest ties to Metallica: the two of them, along with Megadeth and Slayer, defined thrash during the genre’s late-’80s peak. Hailing from the outer boroughs of New York City, Anthrax felt the same influences as their California brethren, but their music had a more streetwise edge. With the early hits " I’m the Man " and " Bring the Noise, " they instigated the rap-metal fusion that Limp Bizkit took to the top of the charts a decade later. When Metallica softened up and became superstars in the early ’90s, Anthrax followed their lead and got some commercial airplay of their own with Sound of White Noise, their first album for Elektra and sixth overall.

The new Anthrax disc, We’ve Come for You All (Sanctuary), is their first in five years, and it finds them emerging triumphant from a long stretch of label trouble that goes back even farther than that. Following the success of White Noise, things went sour between the band and Elektra, and that amounted to a death sentence for the ’95 follow-up Stomp 442. Since then, they’ve released a studio album on Ignition and a greatest-hits collection on Beyond, two specialty imprints with decent distribution but little in the way of financial stability: each folded while it had the band under contract.

Over the phone from his home in Yonkers, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante says that though the group are pleased with the situation at their new label, they remain on guard. " To be quite honest with you, I don’t really like talking about labels and all that stuff. You can have the greatest relationship with a few people from a label, and the next week they’re not there anymore. This has happened to us in the past, and it could happen again. I’m sure everybody at Sanctuary is going to read this and be like, ‘Holy shit, what does he know?’  "

The band’s enthusiasm for the album itself is less restrained. New guitarist Rob Caggiano joins long-time members Benante, Scott Ian, Frank Bello, and John Bush, and the result is their best effort since White Noise. " What Doesn’t Die " and " Black Dahlia " recall the bludgeoning intensity of their early days; the anthemic first single " Safe Home " embraces melody without abandoning the beat. The frisky " Cadillac Rock Box, " which features a smokin’ guest appearance by Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, is both the most explicit Kiss homage these hard-rock scholars have written and the biggest departure on the disc. " Although ‘Cadillac Rock Box’ doesn’t sound like anything else on the record, it totally fits in, " Benante says. " It’s just about evolving. I don’t wear the same socks or the same shirt everyday — well, on the road sometimes I do. But I’m always pushing. Sometimes I’ll be playing guitar, and something just happens where I learn a whole different way of riffing. "

Dimebag isn’t the only high-profile guest on We’ve Come for You All. The supercharged music-industry lament " Taking the Music Back " has background vocals by none other than Roger Daltrey, who trades lines with frontman Bush on the chorus and unleashes his trademark " Won’t Get Fooled Again " howl halfway through. " Scott’s girlfriend’s mom is friends with Roger, " Benante explains of the unlikely pairing. " One night she invited him out to dinner with Scott and his girlfriend. She said to Roger, ‘Hey, it would be great if you collaborated with Scott’s band Anthrax on their new record.’  " To Ian’s surprise, Daltrey loved the idea. " I remember Scott called me up like, ‘Dude, you won’t believe this.’  "

After September 11, Anthrax attracted a small amount of unsolicited notoriety for their name. They refused to change it, a decision Benante says was reinforced when they played a benefit show for the New York City Fire Department at the height of the bioterrorism scare. " The firemen and policemen were so positive. They were telling us, ‘Don’t fuckin’ change your name, man.’ You hear that from these people that were in the firing line and it makes you think, ‘We are so small in the grand scheme of things.’ To even take time and worry about the name change, it’s worthless.’ "

Farther down the list of guest performers on the new Anthrax album is E.Town Concrete frontman Anthony Martini, who contributes the harrowing scream at the beginning of " Refuse To Be Denied. " The connection between the two bands is Anthrax’s Rob Caggiano, who doubles as a producer and worked on E.Town’s new The Renaissance, their first disc for Razor & Tie and third overall. Named after their decidedly unglamorous home town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, the group formed as teenagers in ’95, when their signature blend of hardcore and hip-hop was just starting to take off on the charts.

With stints on the notable East Coast punk labels Triple Crown and Resurrection A.D. under their belts, E.Town seem destined to become heroes to a nationwide cult of underclass kids now that they’ve got major-label distribution. Martini is a funny, poignant lyricist who raps, sings, and screams with agility to spare. On the album’s first single, " Mandibles, " the band outfunk most of the competition while he spews a tongue-twisting rhyme about life in the urban jungle: " I’ll take a bullet ’tween my mandibles/It’s the path I chose, took life and I grabbed the balls. "

Martini’s fatherless youth is the subject of the power ballad " So Many Nights, " a stirring rap-metal anthem for street urchins of both the Mötley Crüe and 2Pac varieties. At their brainiest, the group recall mathcore maniacs Candiria, but they’re also not above writing tough-guy party jams like " Let’s Go. " On " Battle Lines, " Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta and Ill Niño’s Cristian Machado join Martini at the microphone for a vicious territorial pissing match. E.Town trade dissonance for melody on " Doormats, " which might as well be their mantra: " We be tough like the concrete/We get right back on our feet/We get up after we fall. "

When Hatebreed’s major-label debut, Perseverance (Stillborn/Universal), went all the way to #50 on the Billboard album charts last year, frontman Jamey Jasta became the reigning poster boy for hardcore/metal crossover success. This year, he’s lending out his band’s perennial second-stage spot on OzzFest to Sworn Enemy, a like-minded New York City group who began their career with a pair of well-received EPs on his Stillborn label. Jasta recently helped score them a major-label deal, and he co-produced their new As Real As It Gets (Stillborn/Elektra), with Zeuss (Shadows Fall) at Planet Z Recordings in Western Massachusetts.

Like Hatebreed, Sworn Enemy play vehement working-class hardcore in the vein of NYC legends Biohazard and Agnostic Front. Frontman Sal Enemy cuts an intimidating figure, but the spiritual undercurrent in his lyrics keeps the disc from choking on its own hostility. The band’s debut single, " Sworn Enemy, " is a double-pronged September 11 tirade that starts off mourning the victims: " My last breath I would give for you/Just to assure that I’d see your face. " By the time the song reaches its seething mosh breakdown, Sal can no longer hold himself back from lashing out at the terrorists: " The sight of you I despise/I’ll help you meet your maker and I won’t think twice. "

Sworn Enemy’s menacing attack leaves little room for subtlety, but they do show a flair for dynamics on the most ambitious track, " These Tears. " Guitarists Lorenzo Antonucci and Mike Raffinello enter with shards of feedback before settling into a lethal chug, and Sal nearly blows a gasket assuming the role of Jesus during the crucifixion. " You gave me life, life brought me pain/Pain brings sorrow — not all in vain, " he screams over the band’s furious assault. On the propulsive " Days Past, " he temporarily soothes his pain with fond memories of his carefree youth. But there are few rays of light on As Real As It Gets — just some of the most dexterous riffing in the brutal world of blue-collar hardcore.

Anthrax perform with Motörhead this Friday, May 9, at the Palladium in Worcester; call (508) 797-9696. E.Town Concrete and Sworn Enemy perform with Soulfly this Saturday, May 10, at Avalon; call (617) 262-2424.

Issue Date: May 9 - 15, 2003
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