TV has soap operas, literature has Shakespeare, and metal – well, metal has Anthrax, that fire-breathing, thrash-spitting, multi-headed beast of a band that – 30 years since the day Scott Ian and then-bassist Danny Lilker searched a biology textbook for the disease that would become their moniker – smiles back at you with a monstrous, upturned middle finger and refuses to fucking die. But then, if you have an inkling about heavy metal, you’ll have heard of their meteoric rise in the 80s alongside the likes of Slayer, Megadeth, and a little band that once crashed on Anthrax’s studio floor known as Metallica. You’ll know all about their game-changing, crossover hit with Public Enemy on Bring The Noise in 1991. You’ll have listened to generations of bands that owe everything to their signature stomp and crushing riffs. And in more recent times, you’ll have witnessed an almost irrational will to survive in defiance of monumental odds. And that, true believers, is the story of one of the most doggedly heroic bands in metaldom on the cusp of their greatest release to date. The road has not been easy.
Rewind to 2005. Hot on the heels of 2003′s rapturously received We’ve Come For You All, a unanimously praised, end-to-end scorcher spearheaded by vocalist John Bush, Anthrax shocked the metal world with the announcement that singer Joey Belladonna would be re-joining the band for a classic, 80s-era reunion that would sweep them around the world on a wave of head-banging nostalgia, but more importantly, reconnecting the band as friends and as the brutal thrash machine that gave the world Among The Living. Once that tour finished, Anthrax returned to discover that John Bush had moved on, and they would need to recruit yet another singer for the recording of their follow-up to WCFYA, the album that would become Worship Music, their tenth studio album. The band worked with one singer for a period of time, but in 2009, they were still without the right vocalist.
“There was no way I was going to let anything derail my life’s work,” says Scott Ian. “We’ve been through more drama than most bands experience in a lifetime. Granted, we didn’t have to deal with somebody dying or some tragic situation but at the same time we really did face an uncertain future. For lack of a better way to explain it, I am a tenacious prick, and if I want something to happen I will make it so. It’s always been like that. It touches on the 30th anniversary. I think back to July 18, 1981. Danny Lilker and I were friends and I always said to him, ‘when White Heat [Lilker’s band at the time] break up, we’re forming Anthrax,’ and he was like, ‘we’re not breaking up.’ I’ve always been like that, and with such an amazing record to put out, there’s no way I was going to let anything screw that up.” Refusing to accept their predicament, the remaining members rallied themselves in a spine-tingling gesture of conviction and self-belief for what would become the single greatest metal event of the 21st century, the first-ever performance of The Big 4. According to Charlie Benante, getting the band’s proverbial excrement together for that gig was just the motivation that Anthrax needed to spit out the blood and get back on their feet.
“The genesis of this whole Big 4 idea – and you could say the idea of getting Joey back in the band full time – was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Benante continues. “It was me, Lars, and Scott talking at the bar, bullshitting, and Lars just blurted it out. It was such a surreal moment, we weren’t sure if he was taking the piss out of us and all of a sudden it just happened. It made us really say ‘we need to step this up and get this thing going.’ It was because of that that we were pushed into this direction. Metallica gave us the kick in the ass that we needed.”
“Joey was the band’s vocalist from ’85 to ’92, the time period when ‘The Big Four’ started,” added Scott, “so we felt he had to be the guy to represent us on these Big Four shows, and he had to be the guy on the new record.”
Rob Caggiano picks up the story – “So Charlie called Joey, they started talking and Joey expressed an interest. Then we all met with him in New York and while the vibe was really good, none of us really knew what to expect. Then we did the first Big 4 show with Joey, I think that’s when we all knew that this was right. The vibe was amazing, he sounds better than he’s ever sounded, including the reunion tour.” Reuniting with Joey Belladonna for a whirlwind, globe-stomping tour that would see Anthrax playing shoulder to shoulder with Slayer, Megadeth and old pals Metallica, the explosive success of The Big 4 would suddenly beg the question of what would happen next, and more to the point: who would sing on Worship Music, and how would Anthrax approach the follow-up to We’ve Come For You All? It wasn’t easy, but – from the ferocious attack of “Earth on Hell” to the red-blooded might of “Fight’em ‘Til You Can’t,” the results have been nothing less than horn-conjuring.
“The majority of this record was about 55% done before we even had a singer in mind,” explains Charlie. “It was me, Scott and Frankie in our rehearsal room, the same way we wrote Spreading the Disease – with no singer in mind. But I’ll never forget the day I first heard Joey singing, I got goosebumps, I got excited – all I could think of in my mind was ‘how will he sing this song’ and it was just amazing to me. Every time I heard the next song I would be like, ‘this rules.’” “The process leading up to it was painful but I think being in Anthrax is painful,” says bassist Frank Bello with a laugh. “I think everything happens for a reason and to listen to this record now, this is the reason it had to happen that way, and I am loving Joey’s voice. I’m listening and I’m thinking ‘you know I can’t tell you when he sang better.’ I’m not gonna kiss his ass that much but I really think the guy just doesn’t age. He weirds me out because he just goes out there and sings like a bird, amazingly, with power. He came into a hard situation. He really rose to it. When Joey came in it was like the icing on the cake for me. ”
Joey agrees: “It’s not easy to throw someone in there and try to wash away what you’ve done and how you’ve done it,” says Joey. “I feel honored, but I also feel like I’ve done a lot to be there, I wasn’t just saying ‘oh I’ve got a chance again.’ I just thought I’d be who I was without being like ‘can I be like someone else?’ I just went in and sang with the best intentions. I just did whatever came from my heart to the best of my abilities, and it worked.”
And that is an understatement. Co-produced by Rob Caggiano and Jay Ruston (both Grammy-nominated producers), the album takes its name from one of Charlie’s late-night bouts of insomnia where, while flipping through TV channels he stumbled upon a religious-themed infomercial entitled “Worship Music.” A fitting sentiment for an undeniable masterwork of skewering melodies powered by herculean riffage and a tunefulness that bespeaks Anthrax’s utter supremacy as songwriters. From the haunting, ethereal tones of “Worship” – an atmospheric piece composed by Charlie himself – to the punch-in-the-face assault of opening track “Earth On Hell,” the results are positively badass. But that isn’t to say Worship Music is without its deeper subtexts.
“The song “In the End” has a melancholy feel to it,” says Charlie. “It has nothing to do with the band, but two people who had a lot to do with our band, Dimebag and Ronnie James Dio. They were both heroes and huge influences on us. Darrell played on the last three Anthrax records, a sixth member if you will, and Ronnie was always a champion for us, taking us on tour, just being so amazing to us always. It had to be made, and it was very cathartic.”
“It’s just an epic piece of music,” adds Scott. “Of course in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘if somehow I could get this in the lyrics without it being completely cornball, that song would just lend itself to expressing the feelings and emotions about how we felt about what those guys meant to us — Did we ever tell you how much we loved you tearing my head off tearing my face off ripping my heart out.” I meant that in a good way. The first time I ever heard Ronnie James Dio, my world was fucked forever.” Of course, Worship Music also features a far more obvious musical tribute about Anthrax’s greatest inspiration, Judas Priest, mysteriously entitled… “Judas Priest.”
“We wrote it right at the time the announcement came that they were retiring,” says Scott. “I just got so bummed out about it, almost the same way I felt with Ronnie dying or Darrell getting killed, it was a similar emotion, like: ‘is this what it’s like now, I’m just going to see my heroes go?’ It kind of depressed me. The thought of a world without Judas Priest is just weird, so I remember talking to Charlie and we agreed we should just write a song called ‘Judas Priest.’ It was such an overtly, metal song, and that in of itself is the tribute.”
Alongside the colossal crescendo of “Crawl” and the irresistible catchiness of “The Devil You Know,” Worship Music is a record of mass destruction to be released upon the world, and to the delight of fans everywhere it already began when, in July, the Anthrax.com was updated with new artwork by universally acclaimed comic artist Alex Ross and an offering of “Fight’em ‘Til You Can’t” as a free download that swept across the internet like a thrash metal hurricane.
“Basically, we made our fans wait so long so it was like ‘why make our fans pay for it?” says Charlie. “They’ve waited so long, so here’s a gift.’”
“’Fight’em ‘Til You Can’t’ is about humans fighting the Cylons,” adds Scott, referring to the title’s relationship to a famous line in the recently re-imagined space epic “Battlestar Galactica.” “My take is more Zombie-oriented than Cylon oriented, but I think you could absolutely read it as Anthrax fighting until we can’t. I’m sure that was in the back of my mind. As much as I like the idea of it just being a fun-filled Zombie killing romp, that emotional thread pretty much runs through everything I’m doing lyrically, you can’t keep me down, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.”
Given that this year Anthrax celebrates its 30th anniversary of fighting the good fight, Scott’s sentiment is a poignant one. So how does it feel to be releasing a new record over three decades since you began?
“It freaks me out actually, that that much time has gone by,” says Charlie. “In my mind I still feel like the same person from back then, but if we were to do this ten years ago, I would be more concerned about staying relevant and this time I could care less about staying relevant. It’s about doing what I think our fans enjoy.
“I truly can’t put it into any kind of context because we’re just so busy, you know? We’re sitting here with this setup of a record in the middle of playing shows with so much going on, so I guess I could say nothing is changed, things are exactly the same as when we’re working toward the next thing and that’s maybe somehow some way we’ve always been able to move forward, always looking forward and never stopping – it’s never been that way with Anthrax, even just this constant struggle to find band members who would commit to rehearsing for four nights a week and having to fire them, it was constantly moving forward until we recorded Fistful of Metal, well we’ve gotta go on tour and sell t-shirts, and we’ve gotta get rid of Neil Turbin, and then we found Joey… In 2011 my day is still filled with what’s happening with Anthrax, and I love this new record and how it represents our whole career in Anthrax. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
Over the past 30 years, Anthrax has achieved sales in excess of 10-million. The band has also received multiple Gold and Platinum albums, multiple Grammy nominations, and a host of other accolades from the media, industry and fans.