When I think of new content for this site, I often think of underrated albums. As a new music journalist with a brand-new site, I like to shed some light on albums that perhaps should be given another chance by anyone who reads my articles. It is often difficult to define “underrated” because everyone has a different idea of what “underrated” is. I personally think of an underrated album as an album that either did not receive the attention it deserved or received overwhelmingly negative feedback when in reality it offered a strong statement in music. This is highly subjective, I know, but I have decided to give a platform to some of my favorite albums that I consider underrated. And I can’t think of a better starting point than Anthrax’s Stomp 442.
I got into metal in 1998 when I was introduced to Megadeth. Once I realized I loved the music, I started following all the local metal and rock magazines I could find in Ankara, where I lived at the time. There was no such thing as social media, the Internet was still in its painfully slow dial-up stages, and international magazines were super expensive for a 13-year-old to buy. But I was lucky that I found a few amazing magazines published by local journalists, and those magazines were much cheaper to buy. I learned a lot from them and I owe a lot of my early discoveries to their articles. One thing I learned from them was the term Big 4 used to describe the four early innovators of thrash metal: Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax. I knew Megadeth; I knew Metallica. I needed to learn more about Anthrax and Slayer. With that mission in mind, I started with the band whose name sounded cooler to me…
I don’t remember what my first Anthrax album was. It definitely wasn’t Stomp 442 but I just can’t recall what it was. I think I bought Fistful of Metal on cassette first – I remember going to the store and buying that on cassette because it was cheaper than a CD and I didn’t want to spend too much before discovering the band. While I wasn’t instantly blown away, I liked it enough to want to buy more. Soon, I got pretty much every album of theirs I could find. I was a fan now. Since this is about one album and not about the band’s history, I won’t go too deep into their background, but suffice it to say Anthrax is a unique band that unapologetically blends any genre they please with metal. Even when they do straightforward thrash metal, their lyrical concepts, rhythm attacks, and approach to songwriting was so different than any other band. Of course, their music changed over time, but at least the earlier material has always reminded me of a band having a lot of fun and not taking themselves too seriously. In a genre where a lot of folks do take themselves super seriously, it was a breath of fresh air. To this day, I still love Anthrax and follow all of their new material. I am particularly thrilled to see their popularity soar again with the release of Worship Music (2011) and it continues to grow.
Back to tour topic…
Anthrax has had 3 vocalists in their history whose voices you can hear on their records. I am not counting singers who may have sung with them prior to the release of their debut, or Dan Nelson, who was briefly in the band but there are no released tracks with him on vocals. Neil Turbin only sang on Fistful of Metal. Good vocalist but didn’t leave a big impression on me. He must not have left a great impression on the rest of the guys either because he was soon replaced by Joey Belladonna, who fronted the band until 1992. Joey is an exceptional vocalist with an impressive range in his vocals. I think he is the reason Anthrax was able to craft their own space in metal. If you look at the rest of the Big 4, their vocals are great too; I certainly like Hetfield’s or Mustaine’s singing, but while their styles are great and fit their respective bands, I wouldn’t necessarily call them “singers” in the strict definition of the word. Belladonna, on the other hand, is a singer through and through. He has the ability, training, and the range to deliver whatever the songs called for. But in 1992, John Bush was announced as the new vocalist of Anthrax… Joey was let go because the band at the time didn’t feel like his vocal style suited the mood of the musical direction they were now going in. At least that’s how Scott Ian explained it in one interview. But whatever the decision was, John Bush, who was known from Armored Saint, had just joined Anthrax… His vocal style was so different. Hence, it was a fairly controversial decision and Anthrax fans still argue about who the better vocalist is.
In all honesty, I like them both. I’m not trying to be political, I do genuinely think both are talented singers; it’s just that their styles are really different. In terms of who I liked better in Anthrax, it’s got to be Joey Belladonna. I think he’s the better fit for this band in general, which is why I’m glad the band was able to work out their differences after a tumultuous period in mid 2000s and get him back in the band. But like I said, I like both vocalists… and a big reason for that is Stomp 442.
Now let’s go back to 1992. Thrash metal, after having enjoyed some popularity in the late ‘80s, was on the decline. I’m not one of those journalists who thinks there wasn’t any good input during mid ’90s – what I mean by decline is strictly in terms of mainstream popularity, not quality of music. But every band wants success – you can’t blame them for that. They will inevitably have to pay attention to what’s happening around them if they want more commercial success. Incredibly risky? Yes. Understandable? Well, that’s a yes too. Plus, musicians grow older and change. You can’t always push yourself to make the same type of music if you’re not feeling it… So in the middle of all that, there was Anthrax. Metal bands, overall, did one of the three things: stuck with what they were originally known for but had to settle for lower sales, embraced the grunge/alternative movement and streamlined a lot of their songs for more radio appeal, or they slowed down, tuned their guitars much lower and embraced groove much thanks to a newcomer on the scene with an immensely talented guitarist, Pantera.
If you look at reviews or social media comments, Sound of White Noise (1993) seems to be most people’s favorite John Bush era Anthrax album. It’s the first album they released with him and, apparently, still the most popular from his era. It signaled a huge shift in songwriting but I don’t think they’d incorporated the groovier side of metal just yet. I differ from most people on how I see this one. Sound of White Noise is not my favorite John Bush era record, as you can guess from the title of this article. It is a good album and there are some great tracks (Packaged Rebellion has always been one of my favorites) but it feels a little too generic for my taste. I feel like the band didn’t really know where they wanted to go with the music. Not that you have to have a clear path all the time – but I like albums that feel like the band had a particular goal they wanted to achieve. The most I can say about Sound of White Noise is that it’s a decent album… but I don’t feel particularly impressed by it. The change in overall songwriting is understandable because they were just getting used to writing songs for Bush after years of writing for Belladonna… but I don’t think they’d found their particular comfort zone just yet.
But then in 1995, we got Stomp 442.
I fucking love this album. There’s no other way for me to put it. I love every second of it. This is the definitive John Bush era album as far as I’m concerned. Lots and lots of people will disagree with me, but that’s fine. That’s the beauty of opinions. Regardless, this album is definitely underrated. People either don’t give it a chance at all because Joey Belladonna doesn’t sing on it, or they just give it one listen and move on without really digesting what’s on here. It’s the perfect sign that this album is under-appreciated, overlooked, and underrated.
This isn’t a thrash metal album. That’s for sure. If that’s what you want to hear, you won’t get it. But unlike Sound of White Noise, Anthrax had a purpose on this record: embrace the groove that Pantera spearheaded in the scene and try something different. I think they achieved exactly that. The energy on this album is unmatched by any other Anthrax record. You can tell they were energized, refreshed, and having a ton of fun coming up with the tunes. The songs are relatively short; and the songwriting is fairly straightforward. They are there to deliver a punch and be done with it before you even realize the song is over. It leaves you wanting more. Not a lot will appreciate that but I love it. It’s different, it’s got great groove and it’s the best Anthrax could write to showcase John Bush’s capabilities as a singer. He’s the star of the album. Like I said earlier, there’s no other vocalist who could have delivered the vocals these songs needed the way he did. I love him in Armored Saint and I do prefer Belladonna in Anthrax in general; but I’m so glad he was a part of Anthrax to give us Stomp. To me, it’s just that good.
I got into the album from the first listen but it got even better with each listen. Songs like Fueled, King Size, and Riding Shotgun are classics to me. They are so good at delivering catchy choruses, some incredible growls from Bush, and insane grooves overall. Then there’s some slower songs that show a completely different side of the band with Nothing and Bare, the latter mostly being an acoustic song and proving that John Bush can handle a variety of genres as well. Then there’s Tester, In A Zone, American Pompeii and all the rest… Honestly, there isn’t any song that I skip. They are all different in certain aspects; but they have the same goal: to make you feel something as a listener. You are not here to be a passive listener; you are invited to join the band. This band usually writes songs with the live performance in mind – and I think Stomp 442 is a testament to that. And when you set yourself free to the music without any expectations of whatever it is you expected from them, you will feel like you’re in the room with them. At least that’s how I feel…
Discussing what you consider an underrated album is always risky for music sites like mine because us heavy metal fans can be super opinionated. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that – you are entitled to what you think of each album – but what’s interesting to me is sometimes I get the feeling that certain albums are almost universally disliked. I can’t seem to find much support. Furthermore, the arguments against them are almost always about how it has nothing to do with said artist’s earlier material. Seriously, are we this afraid of different styles? What essentially prompted me to write this article was noticing that so many people were trashing Stomp 442 online when it’s always been one of my favorite metal records. And then I went on Google to find some other reviews, and the results were similar. Popular metal review site Angry Metal Guy titled its article as “90s Metal Weirdness” and said Stomp 442 was “the sound of admitting defeat and jumping on some totally inappropriate bandwagons”. Yikes! I can see why they would use the word “bandwagon” as Anthrax isn’t the inventor of going for more groove than speed; but I don’t get what exactly is “inappropriate” or “weird” for that matter. Then at the end of the article, they tie it back to Anthrax’s decreasing popularity in the ‘90s and imply this album was one of the reasons. Maybe. I get that Anthrax lost fans and their popularity decreased – but I don’t see how that would be any indication of the quality of the album. Another huge music review site Allmusic.com has one reviewer call it a “generic collection of speed metal bombast”. I don’t find anything generic here. That’s okay, maybe you do. But even if you do, you can’t take a review seriously if they think Stomp 442 had anything to do with speed metal. The band intentionally did not even attempt anything remotely close to speed metal here. I’m not sure if we are even talking about the same album. Then there’s YouTube reviewers who call it Anthrax’s lowest point – but even if you were strictly talking from a popularity point of view, I’d argue that the lowest points came in mid-to-late 2000s when every year they seemed to have a different vocalist until Joey Belladonna permanently came back. The Stomp era doesn’t even come close.
I completely get that not everyone sees eye to eye on metal albums. I should know; I differ from most people when it comes to John Bush era Anthrax. The reason why I quoted a few reviews above isn’t to trash those reviewers – it is to show just how much this album is disliked. It’s fine if you don’t like this album – I know I’m not the biggest fan of Sound of White Noise. I like it for what it is and still find quite a lot that I appreciate but I do differ from many fans. I would just have to remind the haters of Stomp 442 that if you are going to accuse Anthrax of “jumping on a bandwagon” with this record, perhaps you should avoid jumping on another bandwagon yourself by trashing it without giving it another listen. You might be surprised about what you find.
“Play me to the point of pushing me too far away.
I can only say ‘whatever’, ambivalent to your game.
You can pretend to the mirror, it’s the lie you tell yourself.
And I won’t walk on eggshells, that’s a dance for someone else.”