Cover song EPS have been all the rage as of late, and if they are done well, one can’t really argue with their value. Great songs are great songs, and hearing them interpreted by other bands we enjoy and respect usually makes for audible ear candy. Anthrax originally planned this disc of tribute tracks as a bonus for a deluxe edition of its 2011 album “Worship Music”. In the end they chose to release it separately.
“Anthems” includes six covers from 70s icons like Rush, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Journey, Thin Lizzy and Boston. Nothing heavy in the vein of Anthrax, so fans might expect much heavier renditions of these songs. Alas they would be disappointed. Certainly the covers offered here have slightly edgier guitar tones, but overall these are not noticeably weightier than the originals.
Anthrax remained extraordinarily faithful to all six cover songs; from “Anthem” (Rush) and “T.N.T.” (AC/DC) to “Smokin’” (Boston) and “Jailbreak” (Thin Lizzy) to “Big Eyes” (Cheap Trick) and “Keep on Runnin’” (Journey).
For many fans the lack of added heaviness or variation in interpretation will be a letdown. It makes the disc rather pointless for the most part. In fact, if not for the original bonus track, “Crawl”, one might easily pass on this EP. Even there, rather than add a second original they included a second version of “Crawl”. In all, this was not an act of marketing genius. They would have been better off sticking with the bonus disc concept.
On the plus side, it’s fun to hear Anthrax take on some of the lighter bands that inspired their youth. To their credit they did not choose obvious songs. The Boston and Cheap Trick picks were especially nice. Joey Belladonna did an exceptional job rendering the voices of each band covered, and “Anthem” is a stellar performance.
The band brought in keyboardist Fred Mandel to perform on “Smokin’”. Mandel has recorded Alice Cooper, Queen, Elton John, Supertramp and Pink Floyd over the years. Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell added his own flair to “Jailbreak”.
“Anthems” marks the band’s last recorded efforts with former lead guitarist Rob Caggiano (Volbeat) who helped produce the disc. Jay Ruston added his production talents as well.
At the end of the day, the 30 minutes represented here are a fun sonic trip, but the disc fails to offer anything to make the EP worthy of repeated listens. The performances are extremely well done and the songs are well-chosen and delightful to hear with modern production, so it is hard to rate the record poorly. I just expected something more representative of Anthrax; something muscular, raw, and perhaps tinted with either anger or humor.