Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anthrax - Fistful of Metal (1984)

Fistful of Metal is the debut L.P. from Anthrax. Released in February 1984, on Megaforce Records, this album is possessed by the same spirit that is present on such albums as Kill 'Em All, Show No Mercy and Killing Is My Business. The main difference is that this record is, primarily, Speed Metal with only bits of Thrash tossed in. Along with this, it is the only album to feature the vocals of Neil Turbin (and the bass-work of Dan Lilker), which gives it a unique feeling among the band's discography.

Growing up in the 80s, Anthrax was one of the many bands that I was exposed to, in a passive manner. However, the first time I really paid attention to them was due to an appearance on "Married With Children", in February 1992. Unfortunately, the first album I purchased by them was Sound of White Noise, which was not what I was looking for. I soon ran across Fistful of Metal, on cassette, and nearly wore the thing out after so many repeated listens. For many, the Belladonna years are what defines the band's character, but I find this L.P. to be just as important and it is always the first one that I go for, when in the mood for Anthrax.

Musically, the album is quite varied. It is not high-speed all the way through, but offers a decent amount of mid-tempo tracks as well. The tone of the songwriting seems more serious than many of the other Anthrax releases, which may have a little to do with the lyrics, too. As a result, the music is a little darker, by comparison. Turbin's vocals suit the music quite well, with a lot of high-pitched screams thrown in. He actually has a good range, able to do the high stuff and to add a bit of a snarl when needed. On occasion, his voice is reminiscent of the old KISS material, which probably helped him land the job in the first place. The lead solos are also worth mentioning, as this album is full of killer solos and they really help the album along. Benante's drumming is excellent, also, showcasing his skill while keeping within the boundaries of what each song needs. The flow of the album is pretty decent, with the faster songs spaced out and arranged so that they hit right when they need to, but the vibe never becomes repetitive. They even manage to make an Alice Cooper song sound natural, among the rest of the tracks. Overall, there is still a good measure of NWOBHM influence, mixed with Speed and Thrash.

The sound of the album is not the best. The production is not quite as strong as that found on the debut albums of Metallica and Slayer, and the master tapes possessed flaws that have been retained throughout the years, never removed from cassette or CD re-releases. Fistful of Metal has that old school early 80s sound that truly fits the music. If the production was any clearer or more polished, the album would lose a lot of its charm. This is one of those cases where the fact that something sounds dated actually works to the benefit of the atmosphere. Everything is clear enough and the mix is quite good, with the guitars driving the album forward yet taking nothing away from the vocals and drums.

Fistful of Metal is a classic Speed Metal album, one that should be in the collection of any old school Metalhead. It offers a different perspective on a band that many people consider to be somewhat 'fun' or 'comical'. One has to wonder just how the band would have sounded had they not abandoned this approach. Either way, this is essential for Speed / Thrash fans.