Very few metal bands on the scene have the kind of fighting spirit that thrash metallers Anthrax has. Fighting, to keep a firm grasp on the reins at every level of success they've achieved as a band, and fighting - at least at one point in the groups' career - to even stay together as a band. And although Anthrax's devoted following would disagree with their favorite band's need to have to claw their way any step of the way, Anthrax retains that fighting spirit to this day be it with the critics, an ever-evolving music world, or even with the occasional zombie.
AXS caught up with Anthrax drummer, Charlie Benante, while in the midst of their participation in the first leg of Slayer's final world tour, and got the chance to chat about Anthrax's new live DVD, looking ahead to the next Anthrax album, and how metal is absolutely, positively not dead.
AXS: You guys have been touring with Slayer on their official final tour for the past few weeks and just judging from everyone’s social media posts, it looks like everyone is just having a blast.
Charlie Benante: Honestly, it’s been like summer camp with all your metal buddies. You know, after the first week or so when you get the routine down then it becomes like, 'Ok, this is it,’ and you can relax a bit and enjoy it. So that’s kind of where we are at this point, just relaxing and hanging out. We’re all in each other’s dressing rooms and bulls**ting, and there have been birthdays and bonfires - you know, just good times. I am bummed that Behemoth won’t be on the second leg of the tour.
AXS: Well, and there has been some talk about another Big 4 tour before Slayer calls it a day. Is this in the works or is it just wishful thinking at this point?
CB: I’ve heard some stuff. I can’t confirm anything but I hear things here and there. I wouldn’t really speculate - it’s not really up to us. It’s up to that other band to bring out that ‘Big 4 phone’ and call us. [laughs]
AXS: Anthrax’s new live DVD, Kings Among Scotland, is an amazing package. You guys filmed the concert portion of it in Glasgow and it also includes a lot of other footage too. Now that you can step back and look at the whole package, what is your personal favorite part of this release?
CB: I mean, I love the way it sounds, that’s one thing that really makes me happy - the sound is really crisp and powerful, and just really sounds like us. As far as the way it looks, we chose to play that place in Scotland because it has a vibe and it’s one of the first places we played in our career there so we wanted to recapture it. But we couldn’t get our full stage set-up in there because the ceiling and stage depth limited us from doing that. So as far as the look, in a perfect world, it could have been a lot better but we chose vibe over aesthetics.
AXS: Is there anything about what Anthrax is right now that doesn't translate onto the DVD?
CB: I don’t think so really. You always have to take these kinds of recordings as documenting the band at this stage in their career. So that was us in 2017. I can tell you right now, the way that we’re playing the songs tonight - for me, myself, I don’t play the songs the same way every show. I will take a certain song and twist it a little bit because an idea always pops into my head and I just go for it. For some of the songs I like to stick to the original - maybe take some liberties here and there - but then there are the older songs that I’ve been playing for 30-plus years that - yeah, I’m going to have a little fun with this one. [laughs]
AXS: And speaking of songs, you’ve begun writing for the next Anthrax album. What can you tell us thus far?
CB: I’m hoping to get together with everybody. But we’re booked through the end of the year and then we’ll have a three or four week break, but I think everyone’s going to want to get away and decompress with their families. So realistically, I don’t see getting together until the beginning of next year to start working together on it. I’m always writing stuff and demoing stuff on my own, and then sending it and getting a vibe, and so far it’s been cool. And I look at this next record as the third in this group of albums that we put out - we have Worship Music, we have For All Kings, and this next one will be the third one in the series that I hope will tie it all together.
AXS: Walk me through the writing process - I know the songs begin with you, but how does it work?
CB: A lot of times I’ll send them to Scott - Scott is like my barometer - I know if he’s digging it then it gives me the confidence to show the other guys. Because there have always been songs on our records that I was a little apprehensive about, whether it be a song like “Safe Home” or a song called “Catharsis,” and of course there was “Breathing Lightning,” but I like to get the confidence when I go, ‘What do you think of this one?’ And if I get the thumbs-up I’m like, ok, cool, I liked it but I just needed that reassurance.
AXS: You’re actually an accomplished guitarist as well, would you ever consider doing a side project where you just played guitar and not drums?
CB: Yes. I think about that a lot, but it’s another one of those things where I need the time, and I also need the confidence because I don’t want to play lead guitar on stage because I really don’t like that too much. I’d feel somewhat naked out there with just a guitar. Maybe an acoustic guitar - sitting down - maybe that. But I definitely have a lot of material to do a record or two. It wouldn’t be a heavy metal record, it would be very eclectic with different things on it.
AXS: What's the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in life?
CB: Oh, wow. I can think of tons of important lessons in life. I think when you’ve been doing this for this long you have to be on your toes and you have to push yourself because there’s always someone behind you who wants your spot, and you have to come to terms with that. There are bands out there who have established themselves, like us, but because of a certain hierarchy they never had to worry about losing their spot - it’s always going to be there. Even if they don’t put out a record or do shows for years when they return they return at that spot. I’ve always felt like we had to fight our way to a higher position, and believe me - that’s a fact. Since Worship Music we haven’t stopped, all we’ve done is fight for our spot. If there was any band out there that could have called it a day it could have been us, but we didn’t do it because it didn’t feel like the thing to do. We’re all New Yorkers, and I think that’s a big part of who we are, and even though some of us have moved out of the State, we still have this fighting side of us that’s always going to be there. We will fight ‘til the end. [laughs]
AXS: Zombies and all, right?
CB: Zombies and all!
AXS: Is there anything you’d like to say directly to your fans?
CB: We’re just really grateful that people are coming to see us and that we’re still able to do this. Metal is not dead, it’s alive and well, and even all the younger kids - it’s amazing.