By Christopher David
When it comes to sustaining a career, forty years is a long time. And when that career involves constant touring, it becomes one hell of a long time. But you’d never know that it’s been forty years since thrash titans Anthrax landed and broke the mold for what a thrash band could be if you were basing it on Sunday’s raging performance at Chicago’s Radius. Currently in the throes of their Covid-delayed 40th anniversary tour, the New York quintet delivered a tight if largely predictable setlist that again highlighted why they’ve had such staying power.
Opening the night was perhaps the most underrated of the ‘80s thrash scene. Exodus, whose debut Bonded by Blood remains perhaps the most vital album in the ‘80s metal canon for setting the genre’s tone, has continued to turn out incredible, uncompromising albums for just as long as the night’s headliner, and guitarist Gary Holt remains one of the touchstone figures in all of metal—after all, what could be more metal than a guitar that’s painted with your own blood? (Yes, it’s true – check the ITL archives for my 2016 interview!) Vocalist “Zetro” Sousa still has killer chops, and pummeling cuts like “Piranha,” new tune “Prescribing Horror” from 2021’s Persona Non Grata, and set closer “Strike of the Beast” all delivered in spades, and their eleven song set left the crowd wanting much more.
Fortunately, there was more, in the form of one of metal’s biggest icons, Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society. What can be said about Zakk that hasn’t been said already? The man is a giant in the world of heavy metal and he knows it, Blazing through a thirteen-song set with the energy and presence of a headliner, Wylde led his four-piece unit through hits like “Stillborn” and “Suicide Messiah” along with “In This River,” a moving, piano-driven tribute to the late Dimebag Darrell.
And finally, it was time to get caught in a mosh. Following a short intro movie that ran before the band’s 2021 live-streaming event to celebrate their 40th, Scott Ian and Co. hit the stage with the energy of twenty-year olds, tearing through a twelve song setlist in what felt like a flash. Opener “Among the Living” led into a litany of favorites like “Madhouse,” deeper cut “Keep It In the Family,” and “I Am the Law”; the back end of the set even saw a rendition of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” one of the flashpoint moments in Anthrax’s career. It’s easy in 2023 for the relevance of that cover to pass by without a thought—metal and rap have had a relationship of sorts for decades now—but when Anthrax did it in 1991, it was new, it was fresh, and it was polarizing. It also exemplified how Anthrax was determined to do things on their own terms—they are, without question, the most uncompromising of the so-called “Big Four” of thrash metal, and as such, they’ve remained arguably the best of those bands, enjoying a renewed energy since 2009 when the band saw the return of vocalist Joey Belladonna and embarked on the “Big Four” tour with Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer.
Which is why the absence of any songs from 2011’s Worship Music and 2016’s For All Kings was so noticeable—recent live stalwarts like “Evil Twin,” “The Devil You Know,” and “Fight Em Til You Can’t” were all missing, and while band’s live-streaming event in 2021 featured a whopping 25 songs from every moment in their storied career, Sunday’s setlist was undeniably safe; certainly, fans had hoped to see deep cuts like “Aftershock,” “Medusa,” and “N.F.L.” on the tour after such a bombastic tease during the livestream. Also absent was drummer and founding member Charlie Benante, though drummer Derek Roddy was an outstanding fill-in who delivered on every nuance of Benante’s often complex arrangements. But these are mere observations, not complaints—there is nothing, repeat nothing, to complain about when Anthrax is on stage.
“Chicago, do you love thrash metal?” shouted guitarist Scott Ian just a few songs into the set. The response was as one would expect and led into a savage rendition of the crushing “Metal Thrashing Mad” from way back in 1984. It sounded as fresh as ever, but then, so does Anthrax. You don’t hit forty years in the game for no reason, and the band is certainly having a great time on this current tour reminding us all how far they’ve come.
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For photo gallery from the show, click here
Anthrax – Radius, Chicago, IL – 1/29/2023 (setlist)
Among the Living
Caught in a Mosh
Metal Thrashing Mad
Keep it in the Family
I Am the Law
In the End
Got the Time
Bring the Noise