It’s said that three things in life are certain: death, taxes and change. After 35 years – and counting – you can add a fourth item to the list, thrash metal icons Anthrax.
In a time when bands come and go faster than a breakneck guitar riff, those, like Anthrax, with decades behind them are a rarity. Forming in 1981, the genre pioneers recently dropped their eleventh studio album, For All Kings, with no signs of slowing.
Currently touring in support of the 11-track crusher that drummer Charlie Benante describes as "aggressive and super-thrashy," the band has been busy on the rock fest circuit. Like the rest of the band’s albums, Benante had a heavy hand in writing the songs on For All Kings, collaborating with bassist Frank Bello and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian, on the follow-up to 2011’s Worship Music.
While Benante covers the kit for Anthrax, his "riff-writing" is done on guitar. Additionally, he worked with new guitarist Jonathan Donais on all guitar leads and he designs the band’s cover art, ads, merchandise, and more.
Despite a hectic schedule and looming performance on Day Two of Carolina Rebellion, Benante carved out some time to chat with AXS writer and photographer Sherri “So Very” Crawford. Here, the drummer extraordinaire dishes on Anthrax’s longevity, the new album and even reveals a few phenomenal details, in this backstage Q & A.
Sherri Crawford/AXS: After 35 years as a band, what was different with the latest album?
Charlie Benante: We took the best of what we know and put it all out there on this record. Because of the Worship Music record – it was so well received and there were so many shows that we did - we became a band again and a real tight unit. The momentum was good and that really carried into the writing of this record – and that’s the truth.
SC/AXS: Most of Anthrax’s song writing starts with you - how does that process work?
CB: I come in with the basic framework for the song, the music, and then we get in the room together and kind of play the song. Then Scott (Ian) will take it and put some lyrics to it and Frankie (Bello) has become more involved in the melodies for the song. We just found a really good working vibe that worked for us and we just took it and went that way.
SC/AXS: Which song on For All Kings stands out to you?
CB: I can’t pinpoint one because they all have different moods, different emotions, different reasons why they’re on the record. There may be something about a song that makes me feel some emotion about it. If I had to pick one, “Blood Eagle Wings” always stood out to me because it’s different than anything else on the record. It has a certain “thing” about it that I always go to it, I love that song.
SC/AXS: What’s behind the band’s longevity?
CB: I think we got that last boat that sailed away – the name of the boat was “Longevity” and we took it. The thing about us, and I don’t know if has to do with that “New York mentality” or whatever, but God, we’re always so hungry. We’re always striving for more, striving to better ourselves. I think it does have a lot to do with coming from New York. We don’t settle.
SC/AXS: It’s interesting to hear that - a band that’s been as awesome and as long-term as Anthrax - for you to say you’re still hungry. You floored me by saying that!
CB: If you listen to this last record, you can tell that the band is really starved. We didn’t pick five or six songs to put on and then we just put some other songs on there – we put 11 songs on this record that, I don’t know, the last five could’ve been the first five. We just wanted to give our fans the best record they possibly could have.
SC/AXS: With that being said, what’s next for Anthrax?
CB: I guess we have to go play these songs now (laughs). We’re gonna play these songs live and see how that goes (more laughing).
SC/AXS: I’m stoked to catch you guys live this afternoon. What can fans expect at an Anthrax performance?
CB: We always go up there and zone out and do our thing. We love to interact with the audience. That’s always the best show for us – we feed off of (the crowd) and they feed off of us and you just go with it.
SC/AXS: As part of 'The Big Four' of thrash metal, what sets you guys apart?
CB: Those four bands have individual styles and even though we’re all part of the same movement, you can definitely tell a Megadeth song from an Anthrax song, from a Slayer song, from a Metallica song. The one thing that set us out right from the start was Joey (Belladonna). Joey was more a singer than the guys in the other bands. Not to say they’re not singers but Joey’s more of that traditional type of singer. We all come from New York and the other bands come from the West Coast, so maybe that has something to do with it, too. We have a style and they have a style but we’re all part of a movement.
SC/AXS: Let’s pretend that I’ve never heard of Anthrax before and don’t know any of the band’s songs. Which one would you play for me and why?
CB: “Caught in a Mosh.” That pretty much tells the story of what you’re about to hear, is basically what this band is all about. That song sets us apart from other bands.
SC/AXS: You do the cover art for the band’s albums. Where do you find inspiration for that?
CB: I get inspired from different things. I’ve always had that eye for art – I’ll look at something and see it and think, “That would be really cool if it was this [or that], or you know. I think most artists look at the world that way.
SC/AXS: Off the subject - you and I walk into a bar, what do you order?
CB: That’s a good one! What kind of bar is it?
SC/AXS: We’re going to a dive bar.
CB: I’ll probably get a Coors Light.
SC/AXS: Ok, now we’re hitting a tiki bar.
CB: I want a mojito. But if we just ate, I’m gonna have a nice glass of Fernet (smiles).
As one of the four bands that defined the speed/thrash metal genre, to being the first metal band to have its music heard on Mars - when NASA played "Got The Time" to wake up the Mars Rover - Anthrax continues to show, that for them, it's all about the music. For more info. on Anthrax and to check out their latest list of tour dates, visit the band’s website here.