ANTHRAX – Worshipping Metal Legacy
The year is 1985. Being a junior high student, discovering new bands during those adolescent years came down to two things- the media I would be exposed to (magazines, radio, television) as well as the friends who would be more than willing to play their latest acquisitions in their burgeoning record collections. As a result, I got my first exposure to "Spreading The Disease" by the New York thrash band Anthrax through one of those friends, and a year later I’d be taking in this band in a live arena setting, blowing Black Sabbath off the stage during their Seventh Star tour.
In the 26 years since, there have been many stylistic and vocalist shuffles for the band- none more pronounced than the 8 years between studio albums in the 2003-2011 period. Joey Belladonna is back. The metal has returned. Have no fear that anything outside of pure aggression and passion are behind "Worship Music". The break has fueled their desire for new music to be consumed, appreciated, and taken in permanently, not passively.
Drummer Charlie Benante took on my questions with a directness equal to Anthrax’s music. These are glorious times for the veteran band- read onward and do not miss this renaissance.
How does it feel to finally have a new studio release on the market 8 years after you’re last effort with John Bush "We’ve Come For You All"?
Oh… probably (laughs) me personally I must say that I feel very good about having a new record coming out now. It’s been a long time coming and I really want these songs to be heard by our fans and just by other people. I’ve lived with these songs for so long and I feel strongly about these songs. I want people to hear the material and feel what I’ve been feeling about the songs all along.
Do you believe a lot of your festival appearances with the Big 4 of thrash inspired some of the old school feel of many parts on "Worship Music"? Were there any particular tracks that were a challenge to re-work or re-write with Joey Belladonna back on vocals?
No, because the music was written prior to doing that anyway. There wasn’t any challenge at all with Joey and this material- as a matter of fact it was a luxury to have him singing with his voice now. I’ll put it to you this way- this is how simple it was- I heard him sing on "Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t" and we knew it instantly- do not change it, keep it and let’s move forward and that’s exactly how it happened.
Is it easier to deal with separate independent labels for the major markets as you have now with Nuclear Blast for Europe and Megaforce for the United States?
Both record companies have so much love for us and the music. It took a couple of years to get it to this point but everyone surrounding the band at this point, whether it be the record company, the booking agent, management- they are there for the love that they have. Nuclear Blast has so much love for Anthrax and we have so much love for them- they know how to work the records the right way. The same goes for Megaforce.
You’ll be playing Yankee Stadium with the Big 4- could you ever imagine Anthrax playing such a large venue in your home state this far into your career?
No dude. For us growing up we had dreams of playing the biggest place in New York which is Madison Square Garden- which we were able to do in 1991 on the Clash Of The Titans tour. You pretty much had hit the top- none of us ever thought about playing music in Yankee Stadium, and then this Big 4 thing happened and it would give us the chance to do something we never thought would ever happen. I grew up in the Bronx, so this means a hell of a lot more than for a few other people in the other bands because they aren’t from New York.
It’s well known that you are a prominent songwriter for the band and can play decent guitar in addition to your great skill on the drums. Is it easy for you to separate your mind when you’re writing versus performing in the band? Do you employ any specific practice routines or regiment to keep your drumming level sharp?
When I’m writing music, it’s primarily on guitar. And I’ve said this before, when there is a riff in my head and it’s coming out on guitar I’m almost possessed by the riff to play it through the guitar. I will have 10 minutes worth of a song and all different types of riffs built around that theme. Once the song is finished I’m done with it and then I become drummer guy again. I have to warm up at least 45 minutes before we go on stage- the older you get the harder it gets as well. It does help me to warm up before I get out there and really play- it’s like running a marathon some nights.
Anthrax have always been a band that I believe keep an ear on the pulse of current music. How do you make sure you stay relevant with your 30+ years as Anthrax?
Well this is something that happened without even knowing that it happened. A lot of people have been saying with this record it seems that we reinvented ourselves. To that I say, that’s the best way that it could have happened to us. To go in to re-invent ourselves- it happened naturally. For other bands, it’s like an accident to re-invent themselves, maybe it was a good thing that we haven’t released a record in eight years. Maybe that’s not the pattern all the bands should take, releasing a record every other year. Give it some time and write a great album.
I’ve heard that "In The End" is somewhat of a tribute to some of metal’s fallen heroes like Dimebag Darrell and Ronnie James Dio- what can you tell us about the lyrical concept for this?
This is very true, and I’ll tell you how it came about. I had a piece of music that was "In The End" and it had a very melancholy feel. Scott usually takes the song and then writes lyrics to it, but with this song he didn’t have any idea of what to write about. Talking about it I told him I was thinking about Dimebag a lot
and how much I missed him. He understood… I had this line about ‘the long star is dark tonight/ a diamond shines so bright’ and that’s about Darrell… and Scott liked it, and he went with it. The song ended up being about Darrell and Ronnie James Dio too- two people who took hard rock and heavy metal music to another level completely.
There’s also the song "Judas Priest" which has a little bit of the epic old school 70’s Priest feel- was that intentional?
"Ha ha… no, that song went through two or three different writing changes. The third time Scott and I got together because we had to re-work some parts that we put in, and remove other parts. The day we started to work on it, Judas Priest announced they were going to retire, and we were bummed about this news, a world without Judas Priest. It was very odd us to us- it became the working title that just stuck.
We are coming up upon the 10 year anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing. Do you feel safer and more secure as you travel a lot across the world in terms of the global touring you do with Anthrax?
"No, no I do not. I think it’s just the same. Going through airports that whole thing is a joke. In other countries you don’t have to do things that you do in America or say Canada. They will let you walk through with your shoes on, not even take your computer out. I think it’s ridiculous. I’m all for security, but I don’t know man. To be honest with you, Bush years really messed me up in a sense I don’t trust anyone anymore in the government. They put so much fear into the general public that it’s a total scam to mess people up.
What has thrash metal meant to you personally through the years?
Thrash metal basically was a form of music that certain individuals created because the music that they were growing up listening to was inspiring enough for them to be musicians and be in bands. They did it with a different style and a different attitude- metal needed a bit of kick in the ass. Because of bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and some punk influenced bands that really made thrash metal.
If you could place in a time capsule a specific Anthrax album and song for future generations to savor, what would you choose and why?
Just one song (laughs)? Oh man… it’s funny because when this whole Guitar Hero thing happened, the first song that Anthrax had a feature in was with "Madhouse". Kids started to discover Anthrax because of that game and that song- which is pretty cool to me. That was the first song in our career that people discovered too- the video to go with it, there’s a lot to be said for that song. For album I’d probably have to pick "Among The Living" – it’s got a very signature sound.
What would be playing on your Ipod device over the past few weeks when you have the free time to listen to music?
Actually, I was just going back to 1979 and listening to Pink Floyd’s "The Wall"- for some reason I was just in that mood. Yesterday I was in an old school rap mood and I was listening to The Beastie Boys’ "Paul’s Boutique". A lot of these older records still inspire me.
Do you feel like there are any new areas for Anthrax to explore in the coming years- be it recording-wise or touring-wise? Or even any particular individual goals you want to accomplish that you haven’t been able to get to yet?
The thing I would really love for this record is to reach people who may not normally even listen to this style of music to give it a listen. These are goals that you may not say after being in music for 30 plus years but we’ve kinda starved ourselves and as a result we’ve become so hungry again for this whole thing. It’s the most real it’s ever been- I want people to give this record a fair listen before they say they don’t want to listen to Anthrax.
Do you think the metal scene struggles because of this lack of hunger sometimes?
I think the metal scene struggles… how can I put this it without sounding bad- most true metal heads are not the most open minded people when it comes to music. They like what they like and they want that- and you have to deliver that. If you go a little left field, I don’t know man, that’s taking some chances there and you have to deliver. With this record, it is truly a heavy metal record. There’s no other influence on this record other than hard rock and heavy metal.
And the thing was, you were so far ahead of the trends when you first incorporated rap and metal together with "I’m The Man" and then the "Bring The Noise" collaboration with Public Enemy, yet you took so much criticism for it back in the mid 80’s and early 90’s…
Right. Come on, we don’t have a crystal ball. If we had known what we were doing with the rap thing would have possibly sidetracked us or derailed us. After we did the Public Enemy thing, it became such a known huge hit- the next record was "Sound Of White Noise" with a new singer and no elements of rap anywhere on the album.
What does the touring situation look like in support of "Worship Music" over the coming year? There are rumors abound of a pretty cool thrash package tour with some of the West Coast acts with you headlining state-side…
Yes, we are putting that together, we are pretty sure that type of thrash tour will happen.
Do you still keep in touch with most of the former members like Dan Spitz?
I saw Danny about a year ago when we played in Florida, he came out to the show. For a while there I was really concerned with Danny’s health. I know Dave Mustaine talks to Danny quite a bit, I love Danny, he’s a great human being.
You’ve stated in many interviews that your favorite fictional character is Darth Vader. What exactly intrigues you about this character?
Doesn’t Darth Vader pretty much represent all of us in some way? Everyone has a dark side to them, it just takes something to bring it out. There is good, but it takes some things to bring out a dark side to all of us. His outfit was pretty cool – black- it doesn’t get any cooler than that.