Still Antisocial After All These years – A Review of Anthrax at the NorVa

by | Feb 1, 2016 | MUSIC

t’s ten of midnight. Captain America is throwing shade my way out front of the NorVa and I’m pretty sure I’m about to die..


t’s ten of midnight. Captain America is throwing shade my way out front of the NorVa and I’m pretty sure I’m about to die..

If Cap had been kicked out of the Army on charges of insubordination and chronic delirium tremens. Maybe developed a nasty methamphetamine habit. Sporting a few sketchy jailhouse tatt’s picked up somewhere serving time for some truly questionable decision making. Amped to the gills and suffering from ‘roid rage induced after sets from four different Metal bands in the space of a few hours. Assessing the situation, I realize it’s about to be a very bad night. This dude is going to destroy me.

Standing six foot eight inches, weighing in at three hundred pounds of pure rage quivering muscle. Twenty years ago in my heyday I’d have been up for throwing down. He’d still have murdered me, but the happy warrior mentality I carried around back then would’a probably ensured I’d go down with the ship and at least get a few decent licks in. In the here and now, however: All I can think about are the looming hospital bills and how much this is probably going to hurt.

Thirty seconds prior I was basking in the afterglow of watching the boys of Anthrax crush it in front of a packed house. I was minding my own business waiting for a cab when the Incredible Bulk decided he didn’t like the cut of my jib. “Hey.. Hey you! What are you doing?” Not realizing what’s about to go down, I look up in friendship. We had, after all, just experienced the same show. I cheerily explain that I’m waiting for my ride. “Well.. Don’t pull that shit with me. I’ll fuck you up.”

Wait.. Wut?

I try to calm him down, but it’s quickly obvious that the guy is boiling over and totally short circuited. I’m mentally trying to calculate whether my health insurance premiums are up to date when out of nowhere Cap’s girlfriend dives in and starts making out with him. She glances back to throw a wordless communication. “Sorry!” “Get out of here before I lose control of him.”

I decide it’s in my best interest to wait further down the street on my cab, and beat it the fuck out of there.

Before the near death experience, I was having a great time. Anthrax, showing no signs of slowing down after spending thirty plus years caught in a mosh, absolutely killed it. Lead singer Joey Belladonna, firmly ensconced in the line-up after a notable absence, defies his fifty five years on this earth. Stomping around like Eddie the Head from Iron Maiden, he completely owned his audience.

Surprisingly, I have to say that Belladonna’s voice has actually improved with age. Guitar god Scott Ian shreds with a confidence that is awe inspiring, showing a complete and total dedication to his craft. Drummer and chief architect of the band’s sound, Charlie Benante, appears to be completely recovered from his bout with carpal tunnel. He displays a ferocity and precision unmatched by younger imitations. Jonathan Donais and Frank Bello are like Viking warriors up onstage. Live, the band is better than it’s ever been as they tour in support of a new album, For All Kings.

This offering is aptly named, as the group seems hellbent on leaving no doubt in anyone’s minds: Anthrax is Heavy Metal royalty to which few compare.

Sadly though, the show is marred for me at points. I’m reminded that there’s a reason I don’t really get along with Metal these days. Indeed, that I haven’t truly been a hardcore fan for decades. That I gravitated towards Punk and New Wave early on. And the issue isn’t Anthrax themselves: Benante et al rock the house like few bands I’ve seen. No, it’s not the music. It’s the audience. And not even all of the audience – nine out of ten Metal fans recognize and extend a certain flavor of brotherhood at these shows. They’re there to have a good time, not hurt anyone. But the tenth? The tenth is like Captain America up there.

At it’s core, Heavy Metal has always been about providing a sense of belonging to alienated kids of a particular stripe. In the best of circumstances those kids eventually adjust and lead fulfilling lives as adults. But I witnessed some not admirable behavior at this show. A hulking figure berating what I assume was his girlfriend with a ferocity that I found concerning, while other fans stood around them uncomfortable, but silent. Hordes of people sporting t-shirts with Confederate flags on them. A grown ass man loudly complaining outside the show after having been kicked out for bad behavior, that his daddy had money in South Carolina. That when he came back he’d own the place. That all the eight dollar an hour making motherfuckers who dared to lay hands on him would pay. And hey, I have no idea what the venue pays their employees, but the message etched in their faces regarding what they were having to deal with on this night was clear and unmistakable to me: Metal fans can be a pain in the ass.

I travel in circles devoted to social justice. I’m honestly still adjusting some of my own thought patterns to a new era of thinking, but it was difficult to ignore that equality advocates would likely get their heads handed to them in this crowd. Some of these fans are a little short on tolerance, to put it mildly.

Perhaps.. And really this is just me thinking out loud.. But perhaps as progress continues to push the country inch by inexorable inch towards some measure of justice for all, those who preferred (or had their cultural values shaped by) the bad old days have naturally gravitated into the scene. None of this is to say that Heavy Metal is limited to an audience of skinheads – and hey, fan bases of all sorts get infested with assholes (Note the not so long ago noise regarding the casting of John Boyega in Star Wars, as an example) but I was a little disconcerted at the lay of the land when I revisited the music of my youth.

All of this is to note that there’s an awkward truth to be gleaned through a cold, hard examination of music stratification in the internet age. A segregation that’s difficult to ignore. Thousands recently stormed an online petition in a bid to stop Kanye West from recording a rumored Bowie tribute album. As though the mere notion that Kanye might have actually been deeply influenced by the man is somehow offensive. Never mind that a quick fact check reveals the entire story to be fabricated: West apparently never said anything of the sort. Such a petition also blatantly ignores the likelihood that Ziggy Stardust quite probably greatly admired Yeezy’s work.

Would these people be similarly up in arms if it were Kid Rock proposing a comparable project? That’s not to say that Kanye hasn’t said or done some truly stupid shit, but it’s difficult to ignore racial components of the disdain that’s heaped on his brand of commentary.

And while I haven’t really been into Metal since I was a teen and am in no real sense up to speed on the conventions of the form today – I was a little shocked to to discover legions of racists in the ranks of true blue fans after making the mistake of not closely examining friend requests that poured in when I attended my first thrash concert as an actual photographer a few months back. I won’t name the band, but I was dismayed.. And knowing the particular band whose fans I’m talking about here, I’m sure they weren’t thrilled about it either.

It took me a few weeks to weed out a veritable legion of Birthers, Truthers, Trumplovers, etcetera from my feed. Which strikes me as odd, as I don’t remember that being the case when I was younger. Sure, Heavy Metal has by and large always been a mostly white audience – but if there was any overt racism in the mosh pit when I was a kid, I was too uninformed and ignorant to notice.

Let me be absolutely clear here. If there’s any weight to be given to the notion that Metal is a haven for some of the uglier aspects of American unrest over racism and gender discrimination, Anthrax certainly wants no part of that. The group has always been guided by fairly progressive principles. They enjoy close relationships with progenitors of Hip Hop and have at times tried to infuse social messages into their music. Indeed, one of the reasons I was drawn to Anthrax early on is that theirs was an inclusive experience. At the end of the day, they’re a Heavy Metal band and not any sort of cultural leaders, so it’s maybe unfair to argue that they bear any responsibility for their followers.

On the other hand, they are founders of the genre. Standard-bearers for the form. And they’ve certainly shown no hesitation to voice their displeasure when it comes to to the uneasy and some might say illicit fiscal relationship with their public that has resulted in plummeting album sales. Or with the culture of social media wherein every show is an opportunity for Facebook likes on selfies or poorly recorded snippets of the set. Or with how fans conduct themselves in comment sections all across the internet. Maybe if Metal is going to retain relevance as we move into this new age, it’s time for the founding fathers to start calling out the less savory behavior of people buying tickets to their shows.

For my own part, I feel a bit ashamed as I think about what that woman who saved my ass goes through with the good Captain on a day to day basis. Can’t be a walk in the park. I don’t know what I could have done to help her. I don’t really know what the answer is. I live and learn day to day, and try to leave the world a little better than I found it. And if I couldn’t do anything to help her, it’s probably ridiculous for me to expect Anthrax to exercise any sort of moral authority over the situation?

Who knows, maybe she’s reading this? If so, maybe she decides to try and get some help for her man if she feels like she has to stay in that situation? Or maybe she realizes that saving erstwhile rock journalists from getting pummeled at the hands of her boyfriend is not an ideal calling in life.. And gets the hell out of there.

In any event.. Whomever you were? Sweet Valkrie of Metal?

Thanks for the assist.

I owe you one.

/scene.

This post was rerun with permission from the folks at Norfolk’s best blog/alt news source, the Alt Daily – check them out often!

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner




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