Release Date: March 22, 1987
Label: Megaforce, Island
Producer: Anthrax, Eddie Kramer, 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)
Happy 30th anniversary to “Among the Living”, indeed. Credited with earning Anthrax a commercial breakthrough in the music industry, “Among the Living”, even 30 years later, is still one of the best metal albums out there. I’m sure you hear claims about certain bands being the best band of all time, or an album being the best album of all time, but I can assure you I don’t make my claim lightly. Years ago, before I began my deep dive into Anthrax’s discography, and thought that AC/DC was heavy metal (forgive me), I knew “Among the Living” was a respectable piece of musical craftsmanship. Now, having listened to and studied this album, I can attest that it is more than just “respectable.”
There is something to note about this album. During its recording, Cliff Burton, the bass extraordinaire from Metallica, was killed in a bus accident while touring. This album was dedicated to his memory, and I’m here to tell you it does his legacy justice.
Much like I gave backgrounds to each song for “Spreading the Disease” in my review of that album (Music Review – Spreading the Disease), I’ve decided to go that route for “Among the Living” as well. In doing this, I’ve gained much more respect for Anthrax’s creativity and musical maturity over just a couple of years, so I hope you can appreciate that in my review.
Among the Living:
Based on Stephen King’s novel The Stand, “Among the Living” is a story of good vs. evil during a post-apocalyptic period in the world. Captain Trips is the name given for the disease that has spread and killed millions, and with the help of Captain Trips, Randall Flagg will “bring the world down to his knees.” With his ice-cold blood and ruthless murder akin to the Nazis in WWII, Flagg nearly accomplishes his evil plans, but he doesn’t account for something:
United, they can battle back, and make him force his hand!
Fear, yes fear! His end is growing near,
He didn’t count on Man’s good faith,
And their will to persevere.
Caught in a Mosh:
This song is a heavy metal classic that still experiences heavy radio play, and rightly so. Even with a simple chorus repeating “Caught in a Mosh”, the lyrics still tell a story to which most can relate and are catchy in doing so. An argument is being had with a father and his idiot son, and it’s all the father can do to not clean his son’s clock. Have you ever dealt with an idiot? Well, if you have, you’ll love this classic.
I Am the Law:
A man so hard, his veins bleed ice
And when he speaks he never says it twice
They call him judge, his last name is Dredd
So break the law, and you wind up dead
Just a heavy, steady song about the comic book character, Judge Dredd.
I’ll have to admit, the first time I saw the title for this I thought, “What the heck does ‘Efilnikufesin’ mean?” Well, I had to dig for this one and discovered it’s about the comedian and movie actor John Belushi, who lived too short a life, and the song title spelled backwards is: “Nise fukin’ life.” This song bemoans that fact that Belushi has departed from us, and wonders what would have been different had he remained among the living.
A Skeleton in the Closet:
Showing more of the band’s influence from Stephen King, “A Skeleton in the Closet” gets its inspiration from King’s novella, Apt Pupil. The music here really showcases just how fast and cohesively the band could play, while the lyrics of the clandestine old man fill in the rest. Benante is masterful on this track.
A sobering song with a positive message, “Indians” is. The message scorns Americans for rooting out the real Americans and turning them into second class citizens. Although many have prejudice and hatred in their hearts, as the song says: “some folks have none of this.” “Indians” displays the level of maturity the band had achieved in their song writing at the time.
Similar to “Aftershock,” “One World” discusses the negatives of nuclear war and tries to paint Russians and Americans as “just people.” Why can’t we all just get along?
A.D.I./Horror of It All:
Anthrax channels a little Ozzy Osbourne and talks of a man contemplating suicide.
Say good-bye, It’s such a horror
My memories there’s nothing harder
Anger and hatred fill the page
So smash the walls it’s time to rage
Imitation of Life:
A tough critique on the music industry and disingenuous people, “Imitation of Life” tells it like it is and kicks the politically correct garbage to the curb. There are few things more irritating than a two-faced person, and this song addresses the struggles of living among these people.
- SOUND QUALITY: 7 – Solid, but not great quality, and no improvement over “Spreading the Disease.” This is really the only beef I have with this album.
- SONG SELECTION: 10 – Awesome creativity was on display for this album, as each song had its own identity, but all went together.
- LYRICS: 10 – Major props to the band for their maturation from “Spreading the Disease.”
- SPEED/PRECISION: 10 – Stellar work from Ian, Spitz, Bello, and Benante. This album is heavy, fast, and beautiful.
- ALBUM ARTWORK: 9 – Benante, the band’s drummer and credited with conceiving the concept for the artwork, denies claims that the person depicted is Randall Flagg from Stephen King’s Stand or Rev. Henry Kane from the film Poltergeist II. He claims “it was just about how much evil there is amongst us. I wanted to show just the same type of person on the cover. The same type of people and then, the one person that was sticking out kind of giving you a wave, like a hi!”
- THEME/NAME: 10 – The theme, artwork, and song selection all flow together extremely well.
- VOCALS: 9 – Not perfect, but close. Belladonna’s voice seems a little strained on “Caught in a Mosh” in certain parts. He has a great range, but he was just a tad out of his element. I’m being nitpicky, but a 10 requires perfection.
- GUITARS: 10 – I mentioned in my review of “Spreading the Disease” that the songs could have used more work from Spitz, and “Among the Living” delivers. The song where I most enjoy his work is on “A Skeleton in the Closet;” his time to shine pays off in spades in enhancing the band’s sound. Oh, and Scott Ian is his usual self, just cranking out awesome riffs.
- BASS: 10 – Yes, yes, yes – Frank Bello bellows the entire album with his booming bass. Sample “Caught in a Mosh” and “I Am the Law” to see for yourself.
- DRUMS: 10 – I present to you further proof that Benante’s skills are severely underrated. Seriously, this guy doesn’t quit and ties together the band’s sound deliciously. “A Skeleton in the Closet” shows exactly what I mean.
Four Big Takeaways
- Among the Living
- Caught in a Mosh
- A Skeleton in the Closet
I hope you enjoyed my review as much as I did writing it. I spent months listening to this album in preparation for the review just so it could marinate, and I could gain a full appreciation for the musical creativity it provides. This album proves that a band can create an epic masterpiece and show they still like to have fun while doing it.
P.S: My reasoning for giving sound quality a 7 has been discussed with my colleague, Mr. Collins. For this album and many other albums for that matter, we feel that Anthrax perhaps just hasn’t focused as much on great production in the studio as much as they have touring and writing new material. I’ve talked to a number of people who have had the pleasure of hearing Anthrax live and have no complaints about their sound. Truthfully, sound quality in the studio isn’t the most important aspect of creating a new album, but it would help us better appreciate music now 30 years old.