Metal Thrashing Mad: Anthrax’s ‘Fistful of Metal’ Turns 30 Years Old
This January marks the 30th anniversary since the release of Anthrax’s debut album, ‘Fistful of Metal,’ which was obviously one of very first bona fide thrash metal LPs, arriving right on the coattails of Metallica’s ‘Kill ‘em All,’ Slayer’s ‘Show no Mercy,’ and other, lesser-known nuggets like Exciter’s ‘Heavy Metal Maniac.’
Needless to say, ‘Fistful of Metal,’ proved to be just the first of many now legendary and beloved Anthrax albums, but it stands alone in the New York quintet’s discography — as much because of its sonic idiosyncrasies, as the unique external conditions affecting its release.
Since as far back as 1981, founding Anthrax members Scott Ian and Danny Lilker had been hustling to make their heavy metal dreams come true, but their crusade only gained serious momentum once the band’s lineup solidified around new recruits Charlie Benante, on drums, vocalist Neil Turbin, and erstwhile Overkill lead guitarist, Dan Spitz.
By late 1983, Anthrax were a fast-improving live act armed with an increasing repertoire of original tunes, and, through their mutual friendship with eventual Megaforce Records founders, Jon and Marsha Zazula, they had made the acquaintance of Metallica, Exodus, and other likeminded young metal bands then emerging out of the San Francisco Bay Area scene.
To varying degrees, all of these bands shared influences ranging from the ‘70s’ metallic godfathers to punk rock and, overwhelmingly, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; and it was this exciting new musical stew that fueled the songs being written for each of their debut efforts, still under the fluid descriptions of “speed,” “power” and, soon enough “thrash metal.”
Anthrax were no exception. In fact, their eventual debut album, ’Fistful of Metal,’ wound up illustrating this wide range of sonic influences more clearly (and, at times, confusingly) than their average proto-thrashing peers, when it was released by Megaforce in January of ’84.
A tale of two halves, ‘Fistful of Metal’’s Side A unquestionably hitched its Harley to the rising thrash juggernaut (notwithstanding a commercially motivated cover of Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m Eighteen’), via powerful moshers like ‘Deathrider,’ ‘Panic’ and the tellingly named ‘Metal Thrashing Mad.’
By comparison, Side B trafficked in mostly “old-school” head-bangers in the likes of ‘Death from Above,’ ‘Howling Furies’ and the self-monikered ‘Anthrax’ — to say nothing of the instrumental ‘Across the River,’ which was literally Iron Maiden-at-double-speed.
All of which incontrovertibly revealed that ‘Fistful of Metal’ captured Anthrax in frank transition between the traditional heavy metal influences that first informed them and the exciting new thrash tendencies that Metallica and their Bay Area brethren had so impressed pun them.
Within months of the album’s release, Ian and Benante had taken steps to consolidate their control of the band’s creative direction: first by firing the unreliable, free-spirited Lilker (who would go on to push musical extremes with Nuclear Assault and Brutal Truth, among others), and then ousting their conversely conservative metal frontman, Turbin.
Had they failed to make these tough decisions, the Anthrax we know and love today could have just as easily gone down the Manowar route or that of the relatively uncommercial band Nuclear Assault — neither of which would likely have led them to joining in the “Big Four” of platinum-selling thrash bands, by decade’s end.
In any case, the reality is that Anthrax did find their way and go on to achieve bigger and better things with each subsequent album featuring replacement vocalist Joey Belladonna and bassist Frank Bello. And their first shot was delivered with a ‘Fistful of Metal’!