The critical community has had nearly 30 years to chew over the impact of 1980s thrash metal, and, for some reason, New York City’s own Anthrax still appears to be the black sheep of the herd.
Sure, die-hard fans of the genre are well aware of the band’s significance, but those in control of terrestrial radio have come to espouse the belief that thrash begins and ends with that modest little outfit from San Francisco called Metallica.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold the first three Metallica albums in the highest esteem, but I challenge anyone to argue that, album for album, Anthrax’s catalog doesn’t pack the same punishing authority as the other groups that comprise “The Big 4.”
These guys bring it, plain and simple.
With their first new record in eight years, “Worship Music,” the band has, in my opinion, reasserted itself atop the metal mountain with a commanding set of tunes that rivals their 1987 masterpiece “Among the Living.” Having Joey Belladonna manning the microphone once again is a nostalgic move, but also a savvy artistic decision that rewards both the band and listening audience in equal doses.
With less than a month until Anthrax’s scheduled gig at Buffalo’s Town Ballroom, I spoke with drummer Charlie Benante about the new record and how it felt to reunite with Belladonna after 18 years without his services.
Question: As amazing as “Among the Living” is, I think “Worship Music” is the best sounding Anthrax album yet. What were your expectations when you first began recording?
Benante: We didn’t really have any expectations. By about the fifth song, we could feel the record starting to take shape, and we were able to go back and rewrite anything that didn’t work. A lot of what we had in the beginning stayed, because we knew it sounded the way we wanted it to.
Question: How does it feel to have Joey Belladonna back in the fold?
Benante: It’s awesome, you know? Back in the early 90s, we were different people and not as mature as we are now. Some unwise decisions were made, but you just have to roll with it. There was a moment while recording where I listened to Joey sing, and I knew right then that Anthrax was back. I immediately said, ‘That sounds like Anthrax.’
Question: I read that you began work on the album a while ago, but didn’t have any long term plans at the time. How did the music evolve once you knew that Joey would be singing?
Benante: We were on tour with Slayer and Megadeth at the time, and Scott (Ian) and I would write in the back of the bus whenever we had a chance. When we decided that Joey was in, I was excited and, during the rewrites, we honed in some things that fit well with his style.
Question: What do you think Joey brings to the band that previous singers didn’t?
Benante: For the most part, I think he brings familiarity. He was our singer in the 80s, and, for people who grew up on our music, I think it will be a huge boost to the band’s appeal. As I said before, listening to him in the studio gave me a feeling that I hadn’t had in a while, which reinforced what we as a band already knew. That he’s the perfect fit for us.
Question: How does the released version differ from the unreleased version of the album?
Benante: Well, some things we kept, and others we didn’t. Overall, it didn’t change too much.
Question: I really like the song “The Devil You Know.” How did that come about?
Benante: That was a different song for us. It was kind of our version of AC/DC combined with the boogie beat of “Caught in a Mosh,” which brought with it a killer chorus. I love the driving beat the song has.
Question: “In the End” is arguably the greatest song you guys have ever written. Where would you rank it among the catalog?
Benante: It’s my favorite. Because of the emotional tie I have to that song, the meaning runs a lot deeper for me.
Question: How did the song “Judas Priest” come about?
Benante: We were really bummed out when Judas Priest announced their decision to break up, so we thought it would be cool to name a song after them. I’m very proud of that song.
Question: How cool was it to play a “Big 4” show in front of your hometown fans at Yankee Stadium?
Benante: That was one of my favorite shows of all time. For the first time in a long time, all the families were there, and it really felt like an official homecoming.
Question: When you guys come to Buffalo, you’ll be playing a club. What’s the biggest adjustment you guys make in a club as opposed to a stadium?
Benante: For us, it’s doesn’t matter where we play. We like the intimacy of a club, but we’re going to bring the same level of energy regardless of the venue.
“Worship Music” is available now.
You can catch Anthrax with Testament and Death Angel at Town Ballroom on Nov. 5.