Justify Your Shitty Taste: Anthrax’s “Sound of White Noise”

By: shane.mehling Posted in: featured, justify your shitty taste On: Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

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Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. Today’s submission: Shane Mehling sounds off about Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise.

First off, I’m in no way contending that Sound of White Noise is the only Anthrax record that can be considered a blot on their legacy. But since I don’t personally know a single person willing to defend Stomp 442 (and let’s hope no one comes forward), this is less an attempt to excuse one misstep and more to point out that the band was able to successfully staunch of the flow of suck until 1995.

Now before we start discussing the merits of Anthrax’s Belladonna-free sound, we need to solidify the admittedly dubious but noteworthy distinction this album has over any others: it was packed with hits. While your glinting thrash badge may signal that you can name every State of Euphoria track alphabetically, you and millions of others have at least four SOWN tracks forever imprinted onto your ganglia. (We will get back to these, which you’re remembering right now, and likely humming.)

Released in 1993, three years after Persistence of Time, and roughly a year after going permless by firing Joey, SOWN came out after both Metallica and Megadeth had fully sloughed off their thrash labels and pursued the catchy metal sounds of the “Black Album” and Countdown to Extinction. After Persistence’s more serious, experimental turn, the band could have potentially gone against good business sense and tried to evolve their thrash into something more dense and dynamic. But after their contemporaries became household names, we cant fault them for trying their hand at something more commercial-friendly. And they happened to do a great fucking job.

Opener “Potter’s Field” pretty much lays out the band’s strategy. The first seconds of the song are a gatling drum roll that evolves into a semi-thrash groove, and then come the rock riffs with John Bush’s sneering croon. Even critics of the album have to admit that the majority of songs start out like they’re going to plunder every orifice before the hooks kick in. But while the band focused heavily on verse-chorus-verse, they were able to use the two-guitar attack brilliantly, creating plenty of counter-rhythms, intricate movements and harmonies, while Frank Bello continued to play his bass like a boulder-handed monster. All of this adds to the fullness and cohesive sound of Anthrax, the only band of the Big Four that can sound like a legitimate group of musicians instead of the vision of one or two members.

Now, the record is not without a couple duds. “Packaged Rebellion” and “Invisible” are dreary six-minute cockrockers, and some riffs have not aged well. But the album is surprisingly consistent. The penultimate “Burst” is the most traditional ‘Thrax track, and shows that Bush can easily deliver over speed metal, while “This Is Not an Exit” is an epic conclusion that starts off swampy, like a hulking Down song, and almost falls apart before thrashing off into noise. And this is even without mentioning the four goddamned hit songs, comprising over a third of the album. “Only,” “Room for One More,” “Black Lodge” and “Hy Pro Glo” remain metal classics that outshine the likes of “Sweating Bullets” and “Sad but True.” No less than James Alan Hetfield called “Only” a perfect song, while the opening riff from “Hy Pro Glo” is the aural equivalent of tongue-kissing an IED. “Black Lodge” may be reminiscent of Alice in Chains, but it’s still an off-kilter spaghetti western dirge inspired by Twin Peaks and co-written with Mr. Angelo Badalamenti himself. Maybe for all of these songs you can point to there simply being a sacrifice of shredding for groove, but these are the motherfuckers who brought the noise, and SOWN was still a full year before the advent of nu-metal.

Of course, back then the real criticism of the album wasn’t that it aped rap-rock, but that it ignored its roots and attempted to ride the still-thriving grunge movement. In retrospect, this is much harder to attack because, unlike nu-metal, grunge was a catch-all for a wide range of music that shared few characteristics. And time’s dulled much of this initial anger. Unlike roughly 99 percent of all pimp rockers, it’s not easy to dismiss the young flannels like Soundgarden or Nirvana. Quality of music aside, Anthrax’s use of grunge elements in 1993 made them sellouts, but the blatant worship by Mastodon in 2009 made them “progressive.”

So then we’re left with John Bush, a man who in no way can be mistaken for Anthrax’s previous singer. But while the vocals are definitely the mark of a new band, to nail him as some sort of radio-friendly pariah is obviously completely misplaced. The guy was almost in Metallica, and Armored Saint may not be brutal (or good at all), but they’re still trendless old-school heavy metal. If anything, Bush’s vocals are the only thing on the album that didn’t alter with the times and, yes, he is arguably a much stronger singer than his predecessor.

I have no qualms if you prefer Belladonna’s high-pitched frontman cries, but there are more than a few parts on Persistence of Time that show the band simply outpacing him. The opening molten riffage of “Keep It in the Family” is only hindered by the flavorless vocal melodies he floats on top, glamming up the music when he should be getting ugly. After Anthrax decided to get serious and adapt, they were stuck with a relic. But even if you consider that statement high heresy, the video below shows that a SOWN with Belladonna would have been a featherweight version of the original.

Much of this, of course, comes down to a generational gap. There are many of us who became curious about heavy music at a time when the bassline from “Peace Sells” was more familiar as the intro for MTV News. “Enter Sandman” was played at our junior high proms. As much as it may pain those who actually remember the literal mosh this band was caught in, their previous material sounded under-produced and drab to our virgin ears when placed next to the blunt force of these tracks. While we grew to understand, appreciate and finally fucking love the band’s earlier work, it has not changed the fact that there’s room for one more album on the list of Anthrax’s finest.

Tracklist:
1. Potter’s Field
2. Only
3. Room for One More
4. Packaged Rebellion
5. Hy Pro Glo
6. Invisible
7. Thousand Points of Hate
8. Black Lodge
9. C11 H17 N2 O2 S Na
10. Burst
11. This Is Not an Exit

  • tiagón

    I’m not an Anthrax fanatic. Neither a Belladonna fan. That said, Sound of White Noise is, IMHO, the best Anthrax album. (shoot me)

    • Ossqx

      I’m totally in agreement with you on this one. You cannot compare the powerful voice of John Bush with the annoying wails of Belladona. Plus this album was really different sounding, something about it just stuck with me. Their best so far indeed!

  • http://adriansol2.blogspot.com Adrian Sol

    Holy crap. Who is Shane Mehling and how did he know I was headbanging to “Enter Sandman” at my junior high prom?

    It’s interesting to me that SOWN with its alt-rock tones has aged worse than any of Anthrax’s blatantly 80′s material. Though I suppose grunge is due for a revival any minute now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=573375310 Mark Sugar

    This album hardly falls under “shitty taste.” There’s a lot of filler on it (like most albums from the ’90s) but most of it’s really good, and I don’t see why it needs to be ‘defended.’

  • Doc

    Shit, man…this album needs to be defended? I will be THAT guy that extols the virtues of Stomp 442 as well…for the groovy metal-shuffling jack-boot to the head that it is. You wanna pick on an Anthrax album, try to find some glory in Volume 8…or maybe that can’t be done. I find it hard to believe the SOWN was denigrated in any way, but maybe my memory is a bit fuzzy…ha!

  • Douche

    To me, the only way “Sound of White Noise” fits the theme of this column is if someone justifies their shitty taste of NOT liking it. Great album. And Armored Saint not good at all? Someone needs to strap this dude to a chair and force him to listen to “Raising Fear,” “Delirious Nomad” and “Symbol of Salvation” Clockwork Orange-style.

    As for Stomp, Anthrax was one of the few bands brave enough to fly the metal flag in 1995 with songs like “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” and guest guitar solos by Dimebag. “Fueled” is as good as the SOWN quartet of “hits” praised above, and “Nothing” was as infectious as an STD.

    Doc’s on the money about Volume 8 being a better column candidate, although “Inside Out” and “Crush” are respectable enough.

  • http://apintfordionysus.wordpress.com/ Gentleman Villain

    I really liked this album but it required people to do something: pretend this was an entirely new band. Taken from that perspective, SOWN is fantastic; it’s only when burdened by legacy (a legacy of spotty 80s metal if we’re going to be honest) that people people let nostalgia get in the way of appreciating a really good record.

    And I’ll be the guy who says that Vol. 8 is a really good album; it’s their most diverse, interesting record that showcases all the songwriting skills they posses as well as the band’s sense of humor. It expanded what the band did-and what people thought they could do-and did it in fine style. Sure, not everything worked, and I understand that country influences on songs like ‘Toast to the Extras’ and ‘Harms Way’ are not for everyone but how many bands are brave enough to try something that radical 20 years into their careers?

    Stomp 442 suffers from not being distinctive. It’s not bad but nothing stands out, either. For my money though, Anthrax had the most interesting output of the big 4 and for the most part, wrote better songs than anyone else.

  • ew666

    Agreed. Their only one I own. It was a post grunge (attempted) cash in, but it had a matureness to it. Maybe it served to bridge metal & grunge some what? Im not completely sold on that, but I know we all love AIC now but not everyone did then. They were separate scenes to a certain degree. Although Anthrax was a little bigger than most other metal bands, and also less extreme so maybe it was not that far of a stretch. Still a great album.

  • Liquidcruelty

    Listen to the vocals on the otherwise-great song Among The Living and dare to tell me they are even acceptable

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.burtch Jeremy Burtch

    This is the one album I own out of the big three that came out at the time… Black Album, Countdown to Extinction and SOWN. I sought this out after ruining my cassette from years prior. Still love it despite a few misses. You’re spot on with saying Anthrax sound like a band vs a star or two and their mates. And ONLY still kills it. When hard rock and metal someday find themselves in the spotlight of the mainstream again, this will be one of those albums that’s looked back upon quite fondly I think. I remember them performing on Arsenio Hall… 2 songs… Only, then after the break playing Got The Time (I think) and the crowd rushed the stage floor. I’d never seen anything like that on television and Anthrax’s performance that night gets the credit of getting me so excited to be enjoying my new love… heavy metal. That was 18 years ago.

  • http://www.HeavyMetalMerchant.com Heavy Metal Merchant

    Yes a good album for a different sounding Anthrax. John bush has always sounded pretty good, hailing back from his Armored Saint Days which he is still releasing albums for (try ‘Raza’ released last year). SOWN is a decent record I dont really think it has been considered a dud album really, it seemed to be pretty well accepted when it came out.

  • The Ramiro

    Not only are “Invisible” and “Packaged Rebellion” NOT cockrock songs The Sound of White Noise is not Anthrax’s attempt at “going grunge.” If anything, Anthrax (like Prong before them) were influenced by the Post-Hardcore movement that spawned bands such as: Fugazi, Helmet, Quicksand, Jesus Lizard, Big Black and post My War Black Flag among others. Think about it: a few years ago, when Frank Bello (briefly) quit Anthrax he spent close to a year touring with HELMET. You could argue that White Noise was influenced by the Post Hardcore sound in a similar fashion that Among the Living was influenced by the 80′s New York Hardcore Scene.

    Of the “Big Four” thrash bands Anthrax were always the biggest risktakers. They were one of the first bands to mix rap with Metal back when the avreage Metalhead wouldn’t touch a rap song with a ten foot pole. They also did that one song/tour with Public Enemy and fired their lead singer just as their career was peaking. You could argue that the guys in Anthrax are either pretty or pretty fucking stupid.

    At a time when Thrash bands like Metallica, Megadeth and even Testament and Sacred Reich where attempting to reach a mainstream audience by simplifying its sound Anthrax decided to out on a limb. Sound of White Noise is not a full on thrash album per se, but it’s just as heavy and aggressive as anything Anthrax did in the 80′s. The album also happens to expand on the darker/mature sound that Anthrax was going for on Persistance of Time. Sound of White Noise is also not as blatantly commercial as The Black Album but as Mr. Mehling pointed out it did contain some really strong, catchy singles. T

    o me sound of white Noise does not represent a veteran band trying to go mainstream/fit in but rather a band reinventing their sound. When you consider how the late 80′s early 90′s post Hardcore Scene went on to influence countless Nu Metal, Screamo and Emo bands in the later half of the 90′s and beyond you could arguee that Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise was actually ahead of the curve.

    By the way, I would have NO PROBLEM defending Stomp 442 or even VOLUME 8 for that matter.

  • Ben Wrangle

    I too will defend S442. It’s the only Bush-era album I can stomach, and very easily at that.

  • Alan

    I like this series of columns but this was an odd choice for it. How would anyone have to justify their taste in liking this album? Hell, Sound of White Noise was the album recommended to me to start with Anthrax. Potter’s Field, Only, and Hy Pro Glo are all awesome songs and no matter who you think is the better singer for Anthrax, John Bush is just an awesome vocalist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/theblackening George Silano III

    I didn’t know there were actually people who don’t like this album… different, less thrashy, sure but it’s got a lot of awesome hard-rocking songs. “Only” and “Room for One More” are among the band’s best material, and I know plenty of metalheads who will profess Sound of White Noise to be Anthrax’s finest hour. Truth be told, I feel that not only is John Bush the best Anthrax vocalist (by a considerable margin), the band wrote better songs when he was in the band too (and that includes the albums that follow this one).

  • Madethesame

    I feel Black Lodge is the best anthrax song they ever wrote and it isn’t even thrash. John Bush greatly improved the band as it felt they started to move in a more serious direction. The Anthrax albums I like are his “Era”

    I also liked Volume 8, not sure what people have against that one.

  • Osotattoo

    i cant believe that someone would call this a bad album. to me this is a really good album, with a different sound but it’s still a solid well produced album.
    sorry shane.mehling i think you are very wrong on this one.

  • Kyler

     Hmmm. I didn’t know this was supposed to be a bad album. As a matter of fact, it’s their best album!!! I’d call it their high water mark. And I’ve been listing and loving Anthrax since the 80′s.

  • liopapa

    I think that this is the album where Anthrax came of age, and they really should have ran with it, a la Rush and Moving Pictures. Persistance of Time was the album that almost did this (and was their own Permanent Waves), and SoWN was the logical progression from that album. Afterwards, I think they went in a completely wrong direction and blew it, but SoWN will always be the album I go back to, and think about what Anthrax could have been. Bummer.

  • mroc71

    SOWN is not only my favorite Anthrax LP, it’s in my to 20 of all time, this record rips, nothing ” shitty” about this taste “1000 pints of hate” is as brutal of a song as their is, and Bush blows Belladonna to smithereens , he’s in my top 5 vocalists ever, I grew up on those first 3 Saint records, and I’m marry, ” Stomp 442″ rips as well, some of Ian’s nastiest riffs in fact, every Anthrax LP with Bush crushes, period, I’d Ike to imagine what their new one would sound like if he was still seeing instead of the human helium tank

  • http://twitter.com/MagicalDustMan Eric B

    I defended the firing of Belladonna many times. It was time to move on and remain relevant, something I am surprised they have continued to do after taking the albums before this one into consideration. Not many other metal bands have lasted this long, and I wish some did not. This album received more play by me than any other in my life. I also don’t think Stomp 442 was total shit, but after rushing to buy it on its release, I was a bit more than disappointed. Musically, Stomp 442 is a great album, but when I think “Antrhax,” it was not what should come to mind. Subsequently, it doesn’t. I can’t even think of a song on it at this point. Everyone other album from the Bush era out-shinned it greatly.

  • Damn-Deal-Done

    One of my favourite albums of all time. I was getting into metal and
    knew I should look into Anthrax. Went into HMV and picked their newest
    album at the time, unheard and with very little to go on. I listened to
    the album to death and still put it on to this day. The follow ups with
    John Bush are weaker and I never liked the Belladona era so this album is
    Anthrax to me, their absolute peak.

  • Joel

    I will defend every Anthrax album, although I will struggle a bit with We’ve Come For You All.