It’s truly difficult to overstate the prominence of Anthrax to metal fans. Chances are if you grew up anytime after 1980, you’re more likely to hear the word “anthrax” first used to describe the New York thrash metallers rather than the actual disease or white powder in envelopes. Being one of the Big Four, they’re often compared to Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer as one of the founding artists of thrash, but the band is in the middle of a resurgence in the 21st century. After some turbulence in the 2000s, Anthrax started to regain some momentum after the release of Worship Music, but with a new album on the horizon, the future is still looking bright for this legendary band.
The 11th studio album
Their new record, For All Kings, drops February 26 and marks as the band’s 35th anniversary since it formed. Even with the lengthy discography and multiple iconic metal songs under their belt, members of Anthrax adamantly believe this album is their best work to date. The band constantly strives to write a better album each time, which means this record needs to better than the Grammy-nominated Worship Music.
“I wanna try to top the last one,” said Charlie Benante (drummer). “You know there’s that old saying that you’re only as good as your last record, so I guess the Worship Music record, we had no real expectations. We just kinda made a record and it had Joey on it. And what that did, it totally brought back a style and sound that was once familiar to people and to myself.”
“This is our bread and butter,” said Frank Bello (bassist). “We’re bringing this out to the masses, out to the people. It’s gotta be top-notch. If you’re not gonna leave it all on the table, then don’t show up. That’s the way I look at it. It’s always been that way with Anthrax.”
“We’re blue collar guys. At the end of the day, there’s no rock stars here. Everybody just wants to do their best. We’re fans of this music and we just want to write the best possible music. It’s gotta be from the gut because you’ve gotta live this. We’re gonna be living this record for the next couple of years on the road, so it’s gotta be exactly meeting that fire in our belly”
For All Kings can best be described as a mixed-bag, but not in the traditional good-and-bad sense. It blends their familiar ’80s style with a modern twist and combines thrash songs with melodic elements
“Every song has its own identity,” said Jonathan Donais (guitarist). “To me, a lot of modern metal is just you hear one song and you hear the record. It just doesn’t feel like any songs have their own identity and it’s just one, long 50-fucking-minute song. Like you can’t tell once you start listening to it over and over again. With this, each song has its own identity. They have the thrashy stuff, they have more of the hard rock stuff on the record and there’s some mellow stuff.”
“I keep saying that this record is a back to the future record type of record because there are elements of the old-school Anthrax that you hear, but there’s also elements of the future Anthrax that you hear,” said Benante. “It’s a bit of a blend.”
This confidence doesn’t just lie with the band members either because let’s be honest, a band that’s enthusiastic about a new release is far from abnormal. The reception has been overwhelmingly positive among critics, which has boosted the band’s morale even further. Their voices were teeming with excitement and anticipation for their music to be heard by the fans.
“This is what I’ve always felt from hearing this record, but now that I hear the reviewers and people who have heard it say, ‘If you like Worship, then you’re gonna love this because this is a step above.’ And I’m not just trying to sell our record,” said Bello. “I truly feel like that and agree with the people that are saying that, and I think if you haven’t heard an Anthrax record this would be a great representation to start. It’s a great representation of who we are. And I’m really proud to say, that after all these years, I think we know who the band is and what we do and we show it in our writing.”
Everyone in the band is proud of this album. Even more so considering For All Kings was also created in, according to Benante, one of the most difficult times for musical creativity in due part to the struggling music industry and easy access to digitally pirated copies of records.
“Trying to make a record nowadays, is, I feel, like it’s the probably hardest time to be creative, because there are so many elements that come to you mind about being creative and so many distractions of not wanting to be creative,” Benante said. “When I say distractions, I mean like why do we make music nowadays. What’s the purpose of making music? It’s a form, that in the past, people made a living doing, making music. People enjoy music, people buy music. Nowadays, why do we make music? People don’t even fucking buy it the way they used to. They steal it, it’s devalued, so you really have to kick yourself in the head sometimes and say, ‘Why the fuck am I making a new record?’. Then there’s the opposite of that. You need to make music. It’s why I’m here, to make music. There are people too who aren’t thieves, who do support the bands they love. The problem is finding that new business model, so we both can enjoy it.”
Anthrax has a history of politically charged songs and the new record is no different. Some of the lyrics of For All Kings reflects the current state of the world, which isn’t doing too well, especially considering the current divide among United States political parties and terrorism on both global and domestic front.
Needless to say, there are many messages on this record, including the third installment of the fictional story on the album covers that started with We’ve Come For You All.
“With the We’ve Come For You All cover, you see the band being pulled up with these hands, or are we pulling these people down to us,” Benate explained. “Then on the next cover you see these creatures that are drawn to this image, this light. I don’t know where this world is. If this symbol soothes them or makes them completely insane. And on the next cover, you see these creatures in this hall of these kings. Do we know if they worship these kings? Did these kings bring this sound? It’s a hall that they go to worship this form of music, or this thing that was called music.”
Benante, who’s in charge of the album design, says these concepts and future albums will tell a complete story, but For All Kings definitely isn’t the end.
“This was kind of my last audition for the band,” Donais said. “I was touring with the band for about two years and they liked the way I was doing everything live. We were getting along, but they just wanted to see how I did in the studio and how I wrote the solos in the studio and how I performed.”
Celebrating 35 years
As any band that’s more than three decades old, their sound and style has evolved and changed throughout the years. However, For All Kings is aiming to be a testament for who Anthrax is, was and will be.
“Before I came in the band, I always thought the band sounded a bit Iron Maiden-ish,” Benante said. “Once I came into the band, I started to write songs that were completely different. I would say it’s a step up. By the time Spreading The Disease came, it was basically me writing a lot of the music and Scott writing a lot of the lyrics. The music we were coming up, I felt were light-years ahead of that first album and it just evolved from there.”
They’re a band who helped pioneer an entire sub-genre of music. It’s no surprise so many people grew up listening to and adoring Anthrax, even if that includes their own guitarist.
“I started listening to Anthrax when I was 13,” Donais said. “If you told me when I was 13 I’d be playing guitar for Anthrax, I definitely would not have believed you.”
Additionally, they have numerous other contributions attributed to their name including six Grammy nominations total, collaborating with Public Enemy on Bring The Noise, and being the first metal band to have its music heard on Mars (NASA played Got The Time to wake up the Mars Rover). The only people who’ve been more impacted than the fans are the band members themselves.
“This band is life,” Bello said. “It’s a scrapbook of my life. I see all the pictures of my early days with Anthrax; that’s the scrapbook of my life. That’s the best way I can describe it. Imagine opening a scrapbook of your youth and looking at it ‘til now. And I have to say this and I’m very humbled by it: It’s been a great run, so I’m very thankful. All I can do now is be honest about the music that we write and what we put forward and work as hard as we can.”
Before All Kings
In case you stopped paying attention to the metal scene in the 2000s, Anthrax, as a whole, arguably had their most difficult moment after the release of We’ve Come For You All. The band had multiple lineup changes, which is always tough to deal with regardless if you’re in an established artist.
“We didn’t have a solid foundation,” Benante said. “Right before that whole Worship Music period, things were in doubt. I think that was the time when other people in the band decided to go do other projects. I didn’t. I stayed. I kinda held the fort down. I just wanted to do the best I possibly could. And then I think everybody got that kind of sense of regrouping.”
Interestingly enough, Anthrax began their recovery after Metallica’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
“After the ceremony, we were at the bar and Scott, Lars and me were talking and Lars says, ‘Hey what do you guys think about doing a Big 4 tour.’ And we’re like, ‘Fuck yeah! That would be awesome. That would be amazing,’” Benante said. “After that talk, Scott and I just looked at each other and said, ‘We gotta get our shit together.’”
From that point on, Joey Belladonna came back as the group’s vocalist and they performed the famous Big Four tour, which was around the same time frame as the Worship Music release. The tour would bring them to play at Yankee Stadium, which is the most memorable moment for both Benante and Bello (Benante is Bello’s uncle).
“Yankee Stadium was a pretty big moment for me,” Benante said. “I played basically in my backyard where I grew up. It was the last show that my mom got to see. We got a day named after us in the Bronx. It was just a lot of stuff, a lot of emotions that day and week leading up to it.”
“We’re a New York band, I grew up a Yankee fan and that was the last show my grandmother saw of the band,” Bello said. “It’s a very personal thing. I’m very proud of that moment for the band.”
Worship Music turned out to be instrumental for propelling the band’s momentum to where they are today. Anthrax would later play approximately 300 shows for Worship Music, which is the most they’ve ever done since the ’80s according to Bello.
“The best part about that record was after living with it for a long time and doing so many shows, we became a band again, which made easier it for me, especially, to go and write new songs for this next record because I already had Joey’s voice in mind,” Benante said. “We were a unit again. We were a band again, and that was the best thing.”
After the Worship Music Tour ended, Donais, who already got along with the band, became the current guitarist a little before Shadows Fall went on hiatus. Donais learned Anthrax’s live setlist with the help of Scott Ian (guitars) and Caggiano and flew to Australia for his first live show with the band.
“It was pretty stressful,” Donais said. “Fly all the way to Australia and then just get thrown into an Anthrax show. And then all these songs that I grew up on as a kid, I was just you know, ‘Don’t fuck this up man, you’ve got all these people watching me.’ And I definitely didn’t want to let the band down”
“It’s pretty nerve-racking. First of all, you’re playing with a band that I grew up on. They were a huge influence. And then you gotta be the new guy, so you’ve got a target on you for like all the fans cause they’re like, ‘Who the fuck’s this?’. And everyone’s like show ‘em what you can do, so it’s pretty nerve-racking. But what the hell? What are you gonna sit back and not do it? So I gave it a shot and so far, so good.”
Benante would later have surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome (more than likely consequence of playing drums for a thrash metal group for three decades). During his recovery, he was able to come up with multiple riffs and ideas for the record that would become For All Kings. And then came the recording. The band made sure to break up the recording sessions and take month-long breaks to prevent getting burnt out.
“It’s a good way to work because it makes everything really easy and it’s very comfortable,” Bello said. “And I think you get the most comfortable, best performance out of all of us. We’ll all be at the top of our game that way.”
“It really is a great perspective to go in with a fresh head and fresh, renewed energy. You can hear it on the record, and that’s why I’m surprised. Not only for the writing of the songs and everything else that comes along with this record, but I can actually hear how tapped into a live feel in the recording. Everybody in the band has a special niche, and I feel like there’s a live vibe on it, which I really love.”
Back to the present and looking forward
For All Kings is the product of a legendary group that’s experiencing the career equivalent of a second wind. You can count on Anthrax touring to promote their new material, and they’ve still got it. They take what they do seriously enough to the point it’s even able to bridge the gap between the generations.
“[Anthrax] is a lot more put together,” Donais said. “In Shadows Fall, we were a bunch of fucking drunk assholes. With Anthrax, everything is pro put together and the thing is with those guys, they still run circles around 25-year-olds that I see. These guys go crazy live and it’s great to see. The best part is seeing the younger generation start to show up now. You see the younger kids keeping it alive. You see 15-year-olds wearing their denim jackets and all the thrash patches on it. It’s like it’s 1987 again. It’s pretty awesome seeing kids like that just keeping it alive and waving the flag.”
“At the end of the day we’re entertainers, and life isn’t easy,” Bello said. “If we can make people forget all their problems for an hour and a half by coming to see us, wherever they are, that’s all I want to do now. It’s really important to do this. That’s why I listen to music. That’s what I go see bands for, to take me away from day-to-day life.”
After For All Kings is released, Anthrax will be touring with Iron Maiden in South America until May. You can expect maybe three or four of the new tracks on the setlist, and the band can’t wait to play them.
“Right now, I gotta say I really do love playing the new stuff live, and doing Evil Twin or Lightning Breathes live because I get to do something I contributed to, so that’s exciting for me,” said Donais.
One thing is certain; despite being 35-years-old, Anthrax is back in full force, ready to provide some quality thrash metal.
“There’s a common goal that we have, that we want to achieve,” Bello said. “Quite honestly, I don’t know what that is, but I know we have something to prove. I swear to God, I don’t remember Anthrax being this hungry since the ‘80s. There’s a fire under our ass, there’s a fire in the belly.”
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