This year the mighty thrash stalwarts of the East Coast, Anthrax, turn 35 years old. To kick off the celebration, they have just released their eleventh studio album, For All Kings. The legendary Big 4 heroes were started by guitarist Scott Ian in 1981, and drummer Charlie Benante jumped on board soon afterward. He and Ian are the only two members of Anthrax to play on all of the group’s recorded works. Bassist Frank Bello, Benante’s nephew, as well as vocalist Joey Belladonna, joined in time for the quintet’s acclaimed sophomore album, Spreading the Disease in 1985. The same core unit remains the same on For All Kings, which finds Anthrax still firmly entrenched near the peak of the heavy metal hierarchy.
This week, AXS caught up with Charlie Benante to talk about the band’s 35th anniversary and the making of their new record. Benante is Anthrax’s primary songwriter, while Scott Ian handles most of the band’s lyrical content. After spending two-thirds of his life writing music for the group, he admits he sometimes worries about the musical ideas running out, but on For All Kings, Charlie shared that a dry spell did not concern him because the creative energy just flowed out of him.
“That was the best part about it was that it was just flowing. Sometimes it worries me that it won’t flow. You get writer’s block and ‘Uh oh, now what?’ But I was just in such a creative space that the stuff just kept happening. So I was just letting it go and coming up with different songs. It’s no secret that I worked really hard on this record making some of the best songs I’ve felt we ever had. And the other guys did too. We really worked hard on this one.”
For All Kings marks the recording debut for Anthrax’s newest member, lead guitarist Jonathan Donais (Shadows Fall). While Benante is the band’s, if not the thrash metal genre’s, master drummer, he is also a fantastic guitarist, and he writes most of the band’s heavy riffs. Charlie talked about how Donais impacted the new record, and guiding him in the ways of the Anthrax style.
“We all knew Jon was capable of playing some great stuff, and I actually worked really closely with him on this record just to get him in the right direction, and he’s on fire. He just plays such great sh*t. He’s awesome.”
Because Benante is such a notable guitarist in his own right and considering that the lead guitar spot in Anthrax has been fluid over the year’s, we asked Charlie if he had ever considered moving out from behind the kit to take on that role.
“I don’t really enjoy playing guitar on stage, and that’s the truth,” admits Benante. “It’s something I’m just not comfortable with. I enjoy playing, of course, in the studio—you know--dressing room, I’ll just play all day, all night. But when it comes to going onstage I think I feel more secure behind the kit. I guess maybe it’s being surrounded by something that makes me feel more secure, but just playing guitar in front of people on stage makes me feel almost somewhat naked, so I don’t know, I’ll choose the other.”
In talking about some of the songs on For All Kings, it is mentioned that the lyrical content of “Monster at the End”—Your golden halo is burned and melted. Crown the monster at the end—while not intended to be, sounds as if it could be an indictment on the current state of America, and a nation that would even consider someone like Donald Trump a potential presidential candidate. Benante hesitantly spoke his mind on the matter of politics:
“There is a very scary vibe going on in our country and I’m almost afraid to even talk about it because of the division that there is. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know, if say a Donald Trump does become president of our country—I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know how it’s going to be perceived globally.”
During the full interview, which can be heard above, Benante talks more deeply about politics and For All Kings. He also discusses some of the records he considers “perfect albums”, the importance of album sequencing, growing up on the music scene in New York City, as well as his thoughts on another Anthems covers EP. Anthrax is about to head to South America with Iron Maiden for string of shows, and Benante shares which Iron Maiden cover song might just see the light of day at some point.