Release Date: October 30, 1985
Label: Megaforce, Island
Producer: Carl Canedy, Anthrax, Jon Zazula
Personnel: Joey Belladonna (lead vocals), Dan Spitz (lead guitar, backing vocals), Scott Ian (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Frank Bello (bass, backing vocals), Charlie Benante (drums)
Can you say, “winner for most-improved album?” By any measure, “Spreading the Disease” surpasses Anthrax’s debut album, “Fistful of Metal”, but that’s not why this album earns high marks. It scores well because it is simply awesome. Packed full of head-banging, knuckle-gripping, foot-stomping goodness and perhaps the most fun album to listen to of any Big Four album, this album just doesn’t quit because “it’s a madhouse.”
The boys from Queens had previously been my least favorite of the Big Four, but since I’ve begun a deeper dive of each group’s discography, Anthrax has risen greatly in my estimation and this album plays a huge part in that. Less technical than Metallica and less evil than Slayer, Anthrax put together a fun and even thought-provoking collection of songs to create “Spreading the Disease.”
“It’s time for your medication, Mr. Brown.” When those words are uttered, you know you’re in for a ride as Scott Ian begins one of his vintage riffs and the “wha-wha” sounds emanating from Spitz’s guitar commence. While this isn’t the first song on the album, “Madhouse” sets the tone for the album and to me is Anthrax showing us that they have arrived.
The title “A.I.R.” or “Adolescence in Red” is a kind of homage to Black Sabbath, specifically “Nativity in Black” or “N.I.B.” This song speaks of the youth who have all of their decisions made by their parents and are then thrown into adulthood by being forced to take ownership of their decisions in life. Fight or go insane; it’s their choice.
Inspired by Stephen King’s 1982 “The Gunslinger”, the song tells of a gunslinger, who on the wrong side of the law, seeks nothing but truth in this moral struggle of wrong and right.
Written by Joey Belladonna, “Madhouse” explains basically, what it’s like to be insane. In truth, this song is insanely good. Quite possibly Anthrax’s best work.
S.S.C./Stand or Fall:
A positive, determined song with the individual having to keep pressing on in life with his everlasting will.
From positive to negative, this song is about the man responsible for murdering over 6 million Jewish people because of racial prejudice. That’s right, it’s about none other than Adolf Hitler. A deep, sobering song this is indeed.
This song dives into the negative effects nuclear war has upon mankind.
Armed and Dangerous:
As this song tells us: a man with pent-up anger and frustration will eventually snap and beat you within an inch of your life. Let’s hope we don’t come across this guy.
Don’t look into her eyes for her “evil stare, will turn your flesh to stone.” This song is pretty easy to figure out.
Written by Anthrax’s first vocalist, Neil Turbon, “Gung-Ho” tells us to “live hard and die hard” and also shows us that Anthrax doesn’t take themselves very seriously. Just listen to the last bit and you’ll see what I mean.
- SOUND QUALITY: 7 – Definitely improved from “Fistful of Metal”, but not great.
- SONG SELECTION: 7 – The album has a strong beginning with the likes of “Madhouse” and “A.I.R”,but the band’s creativity seems to wane near the end of the album with the likes of “Gung-Ho”; and “Medusa.”
- LYRICS: 8 – Lyrically, this album is strong. Lyrics from “The Enemy” show the band’s darker side and “A.I.R.” shows the band’s thoughts on young people’s lack of independence.
- SPEED/PRECISION: 10 – It doesn’t get much better than this. The band really hit its stride here.
- ALBUM ARTWORK: 10 – Goes perfectly with the song “Madhouse.” A bit cheesy? Sure. But pure heavy metal gold.
- THEME/NAME: 10 – Spreading the Disease (STD). Need I say more?
- VOCALS: 10 – Oh yes, Joey Belladonna’s voice is perfect for the album and for Anthrax. Not to diminish from Neil Turbon’s voice, but Joey is better for the band.
- GUITARS: 9 – Scott Ian’s epic riffs are ever present in this album, and Dan Spitz does excellent lead work, but there should have been more of Spitz in my opinion.
- BASS: 9 – Introducing Frank Bello, his playing reminds me of David Ellefson (Megadeth), and that is a ringing endorsement of his play. My favorite songs with him are “Lone Justice”, and “The Enemy.”
- DRUMS: 10 – Easily the most underrated drummer in metal. Charlie Benante is on the Dave Lombardo level who is considered the godfather of the double-bass drums. The sound quality of the album takes away from Benante’s mad skills, but having paid attention closely to his play, he earned a 10.
Four Big Takeaways
- Lone Justice
- S.S.C./Stand or Fall
While the band would go through many lineup changes throughout the years, this one may have been their best. Exit Neil Turbon, Dan Lilker – enter Joey Belladonna and Frank Bello. While Turbon and Lilker were certainly good, “Fistful of Metal” didn’t have the cohesiveness and musical maturity found on “Spreading the Disease.” The lineup on this album along with the music and lyrics rival any metal album of any era – yes, you read that correctly. Do yourself a favor and listen to this heavy metal classic.