by Anthrax

Major labels are run by morons. End of discussion, let's stop right there, we need no further debate.

After all, this is the nineties, right? The decade in which US- style hardcore went from being a minority interest to stadium status. So why, precisely, did Island records and then Elektra do their best to sabotage the careers of cross-over kings Anthrax?

Let's not misplace blame here. The best action of Anthrax's career was getting rid of poodle-perm noodle-rockers Joey Belladonna and Danny Spitz, trimming down to an elegant four- piece with the addition of Armoured Saint vocalist John Bush, then producing two of the most vicious, intelligent and diverse albums of speedcore on the planet. So don't blame them for getting dumped.

Let's not blame other bands. After all, Anthrax set trends and never followed them. They opened up the NYHC scene and allowed it into the mainstream. At a time when every rock kid was wearing almost regulation black shirts and studded arm bands, they turned up in backwards baseball caps and trainers. Everyone had hair to their knees, Anthrax went all Mr Clean. There's a hell of a lot of bands, whether they admit it or not, owe a monstrous debt to them.

Let's not blame the fan base. They continued to recognize that Anthrax were daring and brilliant, capable of covering Thin Lizzy, Joe Jackson and Trust. They knew this was the band that opened up the entire rap/thrash crossover with comedy number I'm The Man and then with the utterly serious double- header tour with Public Enemy. They also knew that this was the band that produced a half dozen of the finest thrash albums since the form was invented. So don't say that they didn't support a band that they all loved.

Instead, point the finger where blame is due. Let's blame the record labels, who would rather dump old live sets and "best of" compilations on the market than actually support the band's new material. The real reason that the last album stiffed, while Pantera went straight into the album charts, was that there was no single, no tour and no store seemed to be stocking Stomp 442. Even now, if you can actually get hold of a copy, it'll generally set you back around seventeen quid, which is an outrageous sum for a single album. So let's face facts. The labels sabotaged Anthrax's career, for some weird purpose.

So thank criminey, then, for Tommy Boy records. A rap label had the sense to appreciate how magnificent Anthrax are and how magnificently they can perform with a degree of support. Little things like ad campaigns, properly distributed review copes and reasonable pricing help a lot if you want people to know that an album is available.

What an album. Cohesive, unified, diverse and perfect. As a band, they've always been about surprises and changes of direction and tempo. From the straightedge thrash of their early albums, through comedy covers of their own side project, S.O.D. and juggernaut heavy NYHC-influenced hardcore, Anthrax have skipped and jumped from one style to another, but always in different environments. Volume 8 finally brings everything together, through comedy speedcore (Cupajoe), countrified bouncealongs(Harms Way) and screaming thrash (just about everything else). There's even a brief burst of Scott Ian's recent collaborative relationship with misery-rockers Life Of Agony, on an unlisted and peculiarly melodic bonus track hidden at the end of the album.

This is Anthrax, let's remember. We may get melody, we may get comedy but that's all a welcome bonus. What we really want is masterful, muscular thrash from the only band that managed to seriously dent the San Francisco hegemony of the big three (Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer) during the eighties and are still producing essential albums in the nineties/ More cohesively a band than ever before, the seismic rhythm section of Charlie Benante and Frank "tallest man in rock" Bello give the ever- brilliant Scott Ian a launching pad for his coiled-spring guitar sound. After three albums, new kid John Bush is officially the Anthrax vocalist of choice, gruff and intent. It's so perfectly formed that when Phil Anselmo and Dimebag Darrel from the eternally ascendant Pantera turn up on guest duties, it's seems like Anthrax doing them the favor.

If there were any doubts, and I have to say there were none in this quarter, Anthrax have never been stronger. Maybe finally everyone is going to be given the opportunity to appreciate them that we and they deserve.

Volume 8: The Threat Is Real by Anthrax is out on Ignition. Their last two albums, Stomp 442 and Sound Of White Noise are available on Elektra, while Attack Of The Killer B's, Persistence Of Time, State Of Euphoria, Amongst The Living, Armed And Dangerous and Fistful Of Metal are available on Island. It's generally recommended that you avoid the early big- hair stuff, wait until Scott Ian shaved his head and just buy everything from that point in, especially the John Bush-era work. It's less likely to shatter the windows than Joey Belladonna's falsetto.