Review: Belladonna ”Belladonna” [Mausoleum Records]

Review: Belladonna ”Belladonna” [Mausoleum Records]

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77 %
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Quite possibly the second best Anthrax album ever

While it’s certainly obvious that Belladonna is not a direct continuation of Anthrax, this record is probably the closest thing to a Persistence of Time followup we’ll ever hear. Yes, this is considerably better than most material that Anthrax released throughout their career. To be honest, I’ve always considered them to be the weakest link of the (caution – antiquated group definition coming up) big four because of their rather bland riff-writing, unremarkable soloing and mostly annoying vocal chops; be it the early, cluttered and boyish delivery of the juvenile Joey Belladonna or the later sellout-tactics-decision Mr. “they hired me to sing on a grunge album” John Bush. Surprisingly, both vocalists had reached their peak either after the dismissal from Scott Ian & hombres or prior to joining said group. I’m not old enough to give you any appropriate insight regarding the drama surrounding Belladonna’s firing in the early 90s though, so let’s leave it at that. In fact John Bush massively delivered on Armored Saint‘s Symbol of Salvation, and Joey left a mark in this reviewer’s ears with his sublime performance on the album carrying his very name.

Belladonna is – in most cases – not a product of its time. It was released in 1995 and I’m struggling to think of a thrashier album this side of Kreator‘s Cause for Conflict by any major or even minor player around this time. Of course we are still talking about the post-apocalyptic wastelands of traditional metal here, so this album’s material is quite a far-cry from late 80s progressive thrashing or anything resembling the apex phase of the subgenre, but this is a well-performed mix of slightly restrained, compact late thrash battering, classic heavy metal and a pinch of modern alternative rocking. Oh dear, I can hear you guys wailing already, NO! – just a pinch, a drop, maybe 5 to 10% of alternative influence, nothing that makes your balls shrink to the size of raisins. But it’s there.

The whole affair is basically carried by Joey’s voice, which might sound bad at first because a metal album should be driven by riffs and yet it works because he delivers many memorable lines (“Power Trip!”) seemingly with ease. Don’t get me wrong, there is solid metal playing below his distinctive singing, but it wouldn’t be all that memorable or even be heard of, if the scrap hadn’t been welded together by a splendid vocalist giving his all atop a 2nd-rate thrash foundation. Solos are sparse as well, but when they appear, they are again basically extending or backing Joey’s vocal range. No air-guitar-inducing licks or a multitude of shredding here, no wacky Slayer-isms either.

No disrespect here, but that’s basically what it is: a decent, if unspectacular backing band providing a more traditional (for the time) backbone for a singer who finally got the freedom to do whatever the hell he wanted. So If you were ever curious to hear how versatile and imposing Joey Belladonna could be in his heyday without the shackles of a major band holding him back – look no further. It goes without saying that this is also interesting for those treasure-hunters who are into scavenging the wastelands of 1990s metal for worthy material, because Belladonna feels like finding a six-pack of cold beer amidst the ruins of a post-nuclear hellhole.

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