Anthrax returned to the studio in the fall of 1989 with Mark Dodson (who produced the previous album, State of Euphoria) to start work on their fifth album. Recording of the album was difficult, with a large structure fire causing the band to lose more than $100,000 worth of gear and their recording studio on 24 January 1990. Following this disaster, the band moved to a different studio in late February of that year to finish work on the album.
The album's tone is decidedly more contemplative and mature than the bulk of Anthrax's previous work. Abandoning the humor and comic book references which were common on their previous albums, the lyrical focus of Persistence of Time is the need for tolerance and peace. Reaction to Persistence of Time was mixed, with critics and fans alternately panning and praising this darker sound. The band also introduced a progressive side of the music which had not been present in their earlier work, while also placing a reduced emphasis on typical thrash metal elements such as fast tempo and aggression.
This is the last full studio album to feature Joey Belladonna on vocals before John Bush took over vocal duties. He appeared on several songs on the 1991 EPAttack of the Killer B's before splitting acrimoniously from the band in 1992. Belladonna returned to the band in June 2010 to record the album Worship Music, which was released in 2011.
Persistence of Time highest position on the Billboard 200 chart was No. 24. It was certified gold by the RIAA on January 17, 1991.
Steve Huey of Allmusic gave the album a favorable review, saying that it "rivals Among the Living as Anthrax's best album". "The more cartoonish side of the band" is substituted by a "dark, uncompromising examination of society's dirty underbelly", which makes Persistence of Time "their most lyrically consistent album". Kim Neely of the American magazine Rolling Stone underlines the social tone of the lyrics and describes Persistence of Time as "a foray into the dreary, gray bowels of urban hell", praising singer Joey Belladonna for "railing against every societal ill known to city-bred man". He concludes saying that the album "ain't the most uplifting thing to listen to, but it's real." A similar concept was explained by a review by The New York Times of 18 November 1990 which said that "the music carries the exhilaration of a desperate struggle."