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ANTHRAX – Caught Moshing Still
Anthony Morgan
November 2015

Anthrax (l-r): Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Scott Ian, Joey Belladonna and Jon Donais
Pic: Ignacio Galvez

On November 2nd, 2015, New York-based thrash metal outfit Anthrax confirmed it would issue 11th full-length studio album For All Kings on February 26th, 2016 in Europe through Nuclear Blast Records, with Megaforce handling North American release. At that moment in time, Anthrax were nine days into a European trek supporting Huntingdon, California-based thrash metal ensemble Slayer.

“I think the band overall is sounding like it really wants to be,” reckons Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna, due to perform in Newport, Wales that very evening of November 21st. “It’s definitely heavier. For me vocally, there’s a little bit more room than usual. It’s really, from the start, like the old days. We have finally had a chance to be a band; we haven’t had any people in from the side, like this guy or that guy, and all that horse shit we used to go through (laughs), or they have been going through… I think it really just sounds like a new thing that we’re doing. It’s a bit of the old, a bit of the new, and it’s kind of a darker album, too. It’s got some really interesting moments. I just think we’re really, really on top of our game, doing what we need to do.”

September 2011 predecessor Worship Music was recorded under different circumstances. “With the last one, there was some other interjections with other people – not to go into names and stuff – so obviously I wasn’t there right from the beginning, and with no other people…,” the singer notes. “Overall though, I still conquered the album in my own way. I made it work for me, and we changed a whole lot of stuff here and there. It wasn’t like I wasn’t able to do anything, but with this one, obviously it’s just us. There’s no other people involved. Vocal-wise, I was with Jay Ruston the producer. It was just me and him working together and that’s always a great thing, because I don’t have any distractions and stuff. I can actually make the record in the peaceful and most productive way that I possibly can, without just being distracted.”

For All Kings’ creation included Joey’s involvement since its initial inception, which wasn’t the case with Worship Music. “Obviously when a song is put together and someone actually sings a little bit of something, you tend to think that that’s the way it’s gonna be, and you hear it for so long like…,” he muses. “Or at least however long they hear it. It’s hard to kind of just peel it apart completely, and take it, and just make it all brand new. Again, it is all brand new. If you put both of them together, you wouldn’t hear the same thing at all.

“It’s just nice when there’s no other guide there, without someone else doing something, because you get accustomed to it and it’s hard to change it. We went in and did some more drums though, and did some more bass. We did more guitar… We did a lot of stuff. The album was as good and fresh as it could be, but at the same time, I wasn’t there from the very, very beginning. That’s about all really, I guess. I still made it my own. That’s all I can think of (laughs). Again, when someone’s there doing it, you tend to think that that’s what it is, and then you just do it now instead of him. It wasn’t quite that.”

An official lyric video was created for the composition ‘Evil Twin’, selected to be the lead cut from the forthcoming For All Kings. “The visuals, I didn’t even see how all that went down,” the frontman admits. “Someone made that for us, which is awesome. It’s nice. We didn’t even have to participate in that. It’s on YouTube, and all that good stuff. It’s not like where we used to do videos, where you sit there all day, and just wait, wait and wait, and spend a lot of money on something that maybe people never even got to see, or know you even did. It’s cool, it’s definitely dark, and it’s for real. It says what it is. I don’t know where the decision came for for which song. I couldn’t tell you why we chose that, but I guess it’s just as good as anything else. At this point, you put a song out there. I mean, there’s plenty of tunes on there that are really, really good that could’ve been the single if you want. It’s definitely a dark song, too. It has a very, very strong meaning.”

Although Anthrax is a heavy group of course, ‘Evil Twin’ seems perhaps a step heavier again. “Let me ask you: what do you think?,” Joey returns. “If you heard that… Forget there’s a record. Where do you put ‘Evil Twin’ in Anthrax’s catalogue?”

Joey Belladonna
Pic: Andrada Mihailescu

‘Evil Twin’ arguably doesn’t neatly fit into a specific section of Anthrax’s catalogue, but seems to be a logical progression from Worship Music’s fare. “It’s itself, right?,” the musician submits. “Is it that that song is a little bit difficult to even figure out where it should go? I don’t really know any more.”

As stated, ‘Evil Twin’ seems perhaps a step heavier again. “Heavy?,” Joey questions. “Heavier? I mean, there’s a lot of variety on the album, and that’s the other thing. If you ask me about the new album, there’s tons of variety. That’s the thing. We have a lot of room to move and grow. We’re capable of doing a lot of things; there’s so many different ideas, like cool riffs. That’s what’s good, although ‘Evil Twin’ is a really good indication, but not necessarily. There’s gonna be a lot to hear when you can hear the album.”

Discussion regarding For All Kings can be broader in scope following its release, once the media and public have had an opportunity to digest the effort. “You’ll have plenty of things to talk about on the record, or even just to hear it,” the performer recommends. “You’ll start to hear so many dimensions of things that you might not have heard from us, or more of.”

As referenced, For All Kings’ release has been preceded by a European trek supporting Slayer, which began on October 25th at Tilburg, Netherland’s 013. “It’s been going great,” Joey enthuses. “From what I hear, it’s 95% sold out. We go way back together as bands, Slayer and us. We’re very familiar with each other; we’re friends, and we have a good time together. There’s no ego, no friction. There’s a lot of complimentary conversations that go with everything and there’s a lot of fun, so that makes it great, and it’s metal (laughs).”

The entertainer joined the ranks of Anthrax during 1985, although his first interactions with Slayer occurred several years later. “Really, the first time for me was the Clash Of The Titans back in ’91, and even then I don’t think I had a lot of interaction…,” he confesses. “I mean, I did see them and we did talk, but I didn’t hang with them that much. I think everybody was in their own little bubble. That’s all I remember from meeting them then. Some people had a little bit more contact with them. As for what they do, where they live, what’s going on and stuff, change of members and all that, I was never up on all of it. I wasn’t really that familiar with them.”

Clash Of The Titans’ 1991 North American trek spawned several road stories, although Joey is hesitant to divulge the intimate details. “There were some fun moments,” he chuckles. “I wouldn’t wanna reveal certain things that were a little bit too destructive in some ways (laughs), but there was plenty of fun, believe me. It was just a great moment to have all of us together at one time. One of the bigger stories was Alice In Chains coming out; nobody knew who the hell they were, and they were an odd band on that run if you think about it. It was great though, because when you look at packages over the years, that was a really cool package, and we did it. We did it again, but without Alice In Chains obviously. It was a good bill, although it wasn’t the Big Four. The Big Four was a great time, super. It was all Metallica, putting that together.”

Reported worldwide, on November 13th, Californian rock band Eagles Of Death Metal performed at the Le Bataclan in Paris, France. The audience was attacked by terrorists using automatic rifles, grenades and suicide vests, ultimately claiming the lives of 89 people. Anthrax’s European dates supporting Slayer had brought them to Paris weeks earlier on October 26th, performing at Le Zenith. “We had played Paris about a week to two weeks before that,” the vocalist seconds. “Someone asked me about that, too, like what I think about the area and what’s going on – even though that hadn’t happened yet. I said ‘You know what? It sucks.’ What do you do? Does anybody really have any answers for that kind of stuff? The more and more I listen and the more and more people talk about it, it’s a very complicated situation. It’s deeper than it looks.”

Such events cause fear among bands and fans alike, causing some to wonder if their own respective shows might be targeted. “Yeah, and that’s the thing,” Joey begins. “Every day goes on and every show that happens, you can’t help but think about stuff like that. We’re very sad to hear of any of that stuff go down, because we knew some of those people. There were caterers there that we knew, some lighting people that were there. You know what? Who would’ve even thought that with Dimebag (Darrell, late Pantera / Damageplan guitarist who was shot while performing onstage on December 8th, 2004)? That somebody would come into a club and do shit like that? Any of that stuff, it’s horrible. I wish I had an answer for it, and I wish I had… Who wants to stop? I don’t wanna stop, and I don’t want people to not come out. We don’t wanna go home, and all that stuff. We’re just carrying on right now. Everybody’s taking as much measures as they can.”

According to reports, Charlie Benante would step behind the drumkit the evening of the date this interview took place as well as for all remaining 2015 European live commitments, Jon Dette having fulfilled said duties thus far on all European dates. Suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, Benante needed to rest and recuperate. “I’m not even sure now, at this point,” the singer comments (editor’s note: Charlie didn’t perform with Anthrax in Newport). “Not that I know of. I got up today, and I haven’t seen him yet. It says the 21st he’s meant to come back, but he’s not here as far as I know. It would be a surprise (laughs). It even affected him a little bit, too. He only had a couple of weeks left, so we’re still waiting on all that. Jon’s great, Jon’s a fun guy. He really, really fits in. If anybody was to even take anybody’s place right now, he’s like the right guy for what we’re doing. He knows almost all of our ins and outs and how we roll, so we don’t have to really let him know where we are, how we work, what we do, and how we do it – the songs. He’s very much a team player, and he’s fun to hang out with, too. He’s a good dude, and he plays well.”

Anthrax (l-r): Frank Bello, Scott Ian, Charlie
Benante, Joey Belladonna and Jon Donais
Pic: Stephanie Cabral

In addition, Dette has stepped behind the drumkit for Slayer in the past. “He did a double when we played the Soudwave Festival in Australia (2013),” Joey adds. “He doubled up.”

The severity of Charlie’s carpal tunnel syndrome issues is a topic of discussion among Anthrax fanatics. “For him, I mean…,” the frontman ponders. “I guess I’m a drummer, too. There’s a certain point where you just can’t continue, and you need a rest, and you can’t play, and you just don’t do it. What else can you do? He’s there, and he’s capable of doing it. He played on the record, and he’s played some shows. We’ve already played shows together since the record was finished. I guess the timing is not so convenient. I don’t sit there and talk with him actually, like grill him on how he feels comfortable, when he can play, and when he can’t play. If it’s to a point where he’s not here, then this guy’s coming in, but if he’s here, then we’re good. I wish it was easier, but there you go.”

Theoretically, Charlie’s carpal tunnel syndrome issues could become so severe in future that the man would be forced to vacate the drum position. “I’m not sure that he’s crippled enough to where he couldn’t do anything, because I just think he has to pace it and put it in a context where he can actually function enough to where he doesn’t abuse it,” Joey clarifies. “I mean, again, if I sat there and talked with him, he may just say ‘This hurts,’ but then… I mean, when I play – and I’m sure it’s the same with any drummer or whatever – you get sore and stuff, and sometimes it’s just not as comfortable. It’s not like you’re playing just straight ahead; this stuff is so wrist-oriented. If it’s that, I don’t know. Even as a vocalist, you’ve gotta think about how you roll.”

Second Anthrax full-length Spreading The Disease celebrated its 30th anniversary in October 2015, the effort notably marking the debut studio appearances of the musician as well as bassist Frank Bello. “I always tell the story that I had never even heard of these guys before, and to come in and join …,” he remembers. “Even to just walk in the studio, it was like ‘Wow, what’s this shit?’ I had never heard of the band, never heard of the music. I had never heard any of that or anything like it before, and yet I went in and started singing to this stuff. It sounded pretty cool, but I was still indecisive on whether this was what I should be doing. I always say that I thought they had their shit together, though. I thought that it sounded really good. It was like ‘You know what? Might as well take a shot, and see where this thing goes,’ and to be able to do something and hear myself sing and what I sound like?

“I didn’t really do a lot of originals at the time. I knew what I sounded like, but not really until I started singing on a vinyl, a CD, or however you wanna put it, because then you go ‘Wow, okay. That’s what I sound like.’ Even though with Anthrax and when you hear me sing, I can do a whole lot of different shit. Anthrax gives me so much room, whereas other music gives me more room, because I can sing a lot more explorative and much more inventive than I do with Anthrax.

“Anthrax kind of puts me in a box in a way, because it’s fast, the keys are messed, it’s all over the place, and it’s a lot more words – way more words than half the stuff… I’ve got a cover band, and I do classic rock, I do straight-up blues, hard rock, and metal. And it’s much more vocal-oriented. Anthrax is super-challenging, though. You’ll even hear on the new album, it’s very melodic, but to sing over, it’s tough. It’s a lot of work, because you’ve got to stay in the key. This shit’s fast.”

Joey’s vocal style is arguably markedly different to the likes of Big Four compatriots James Hetfield (Metallica), Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), and Tom Araya (Slayer). “It just happens to be that way,” he observes. “I don’t think anything is intentional. It’s the way the cards are laid out, and I’m that card. Obviously, I’m different. I don’t know in one way or another, if people are comparing us as being better or worse. It’s hard to compare. I just sing different; I have a whole different approach. That’s my style, whereas Tom’s that style. I don’t know anything about that – I wouldn’t even know how to do that. I could do it if I wanted to, but it wouldn’t help me. It wouldn’t make me feel good, because I don’t sing that way.”

In light of Spreading The Disease’s 30th anniversary, its position among Anthrax’s greatest studio jaunts is an inevitable talking point. “Maybe three?,” the performer wonders. “I think it’s Among The Living (March 1987), Persistence Of Time (August 1990), then Spreading The Disease. I don’t know. It’s hard to rank them, but it’s definitely in my top three just because it’s a special record. Of all things, on that one I had a little bit more room to sing a little bit straight ahead in some ways. It was my first record, and I had a lot of fun doing it. It was just one of those records where I wasn’t strickened as much. As times went on, things started to change. It got faster. People were trying to make sure you didn’t get too far away from what you were doing, like ‘Let’s try to do this.’ People holing you into a style. Not to even bring it up, but look how they changed when they went and fucking got someone else… Really, for whatever reasons. Just to make a change.

Anthrax 1985 (l-r): Charlie Benante, Scott Ian, Joey
Belladonna, Dan Spitz and Frank Bello
Pic: Geoffrey Thomas

“I had nothing to do with that. How did I even know that my style was correct? At this time, you didn’t even know what these guys were digging as a vocalist. Me and you could both listen to the same music, and go ‘Fuck, I don’t like that, because I like this.’ ‘Why do you like that?’ ‘Well, because I like his style and I don’t like his.’ You can have that in a band, too. Do you realise that each guy in each band has a certain likeness of how certain players are? How they perform, and what they like? Maybe they like a different style of drummer, you know? It’s funny how people in your own band can judge you and rate you, and put you in a spot, so it’s tough. I don’t know. I just do what I do, and I try to be as good as I can. I didn’t chase the 90s – I don’t chase anything. I just do my own thing. I have my own style, and I do what I do.”

Relationships are seemingly cordial within the Anthrax camp, nowadays. “Oh yeah, we get along,” Joey shares. “It’s a business, too. We do go out to dinner together, we do hang out. We’re laughing and horsing around, and all that shit. We’re like little kids, man. Sometimes I think we’re 25-years-old. Seriously, we do the dumbest shit. It’s just funny, but at the same time, it’s not like we’re hanging out a lot. People have got families now. I’m doing my thing, and they’re doing their thing. We get along as good as you can. I always say the word ‘fair’: it’s fair if it’s done right, but when we get out there? We’ve done the records we do live, and it’s killer. We do as much as you could possibly believe in a band like this, and are comfortable with our whole catalogue.

“We do everything we can to make it a great record. We don’t wanna fuck around. It’s gotta be good, and it’s hard to make a great record. The thing is, when you hear the record, you’re not gonna just hear this. You’re gonna hear a whole lot more; you’re gonna turn your head a little, and go ‘How the hell did he do that?’ Like when you hear a song that a band does, and go ‘Man, that’s a great one. How the fuck did they come up with that? That’s awesome.’ Like which songs you wish you had written. Certain things come out, like ‘Wow, how did they do that?’ That’s great when you get those things to happen.”

Relationships haven’t always been cordial within the Anthrax camp, something the entertainer could possibly document in book form some day. Guitarist Scott Ian issued memoir I’m The Man in October 2014. “A book from me?,” he considers. “I’ve got a lot of things to say (laughs). People ask me about that. I don’t know if I’m that anxious to do one. I’m not sure it’ll take me more time than I want to, and I’m not even sure how to speak about things that I don’t know if I really wanna say to people. I’m conflicted with that kind of thing, because I probably have a deeper story than a lot of people know. I could talk about a lot of stuff that might not be very friendly, just from the overall ins and outs of doing it from day one to now. There’s certain things that maybe make you unhappy, and it could be small things. Do you really need to talk about it?

“I’m pretty quiet for the most part. For me to go out there, and start spilling shit? I don’t know. I could talk. I mean, it doesn’t really have to be that way either. It could be about how I grew up, what got me into music, what I did when I got out of high school, and all that kind of stuff. Is anybody interested? I don’t even know. It would be cool if it didn’t take me forever, but then again, I could go forever about it because I’ve got so much I could say.”

Although the Anthrax fold is relatively stable, the penning and subsequent issue of a memoir might re-open old wounds, as it were. “The thing is, I didn’t read Scott’s book so I don’t know if he got into it at points, but I think he even probably had to bite his tongue when he wrote it because we’re together right now,” Joey speculates. “Is he gonna throw somebody under the bus? Even if it was about… If he said someone had stinky feet, or something like that… Do you wanna say that, or whatever? Something dumb. Do you wanna say something now, and piss somebody off? It’s a weird thing. I mean, you. What kind of book would you want to read from me?”

A warts and all-type book. “Just talking?,” the vocalist asks. “I definitely could. Like I said, I don’t even know how long it takes, or what it should entail and that kind of stuff. It would be very interesting. It would be nice to sit down with somebody, and talk about shit. I mean, I’ve got stories of just being with people. Should I tell that story about so-and-so, this place, and how we went there, and this happened? There’s a lot of logistics there, too. I’m not sure I really want to get into all that.”

A memoir would hopefully document Anthrax’s history from Joey’s perspective in great detail, perhaps including the music video to lead Spreading The Disease cut ‘Madhouse’. “I walked in there, and it was a fucking cold room,” he recalls. “Never did a video before, and now I’ve gotta go out and lip-sync something. The music’s just blasting, it’s fucking loud, and you can’t even think, so you’re overdoing things, but it was fun. I don’t know what the hell it was all about. Half the videos we did, I don’t even know the stories. You just walked in, and it was like ‘Okay, you’re gonna stand here, and then this ball’s gonna come over and wreck the building, and you guys have gotta run.’ It was dumb. The videos were weird, man. They’re fun to look back at, but some of them are just crazy.”

Joey Belladonna during 1985 video shoot for ‘Madhouse’

Released November 20th through Universal, a 30th anniversary reissue of Spreading The Disease includes a 1987 live performance recorded at Tokyo, Japan’s Sun Plaza. “I haven’t even heard it,” the singer divulges. “That’s the thing. Charlie’s got some… I don’t know where he got it. I have shit, too. He was like ‘Really? You’ve got stuff? You should’ve given them to me.’ I was like ‘No-one asked me.’ I’ve got cassettes of my first couple of recordings, too. I’m sure they have something in mind, but I haven’t heard the Tokyo one – it’d be great to hear it. There’s a lot of stuff that each one of us has that another guy doesn’t have. Somebody could tape tonight, and then five years from now go ‘Hey, remember five years ago at this gig?’ ‘Oh, wow. Can I get a copy of that?’ That’s cool I guess, but we could’ve dug out more stuff.”

Joey doesn’t own a wealth of archival material. “I don’t have a whole lot, because back at that time, for me to get a cassette and leave the building was as a reference so I could hear what I was doing,” he explains. “Even now with the last two records, we do a lot of it. On my phone, I could play you the minute I got done walking out, and you could hear exactly what I did right there on the computer just as a basic track. Stuff like that. That’s about all I have, though. It’s just at that moment, you recorded what you did, and it’s just raw.

“Like ‘Armed And Dangerous’; I have the first day I tried that. I have that cassette. It’s almost exact, too, and stuff like that’s kind of cool. Nowadays, you can hear stuff just by itself. I even have stuff like that – just me singing it. My wife taped me singing ‘Neon Knights’ (Black Sabbath cover, from March 2014 compilation Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life) just on a video camera in the room, so you don’t even hear the music. You hear me singing. Shit like that. That’s about all that I have, but that’s cool, right?”

As well as unreleased archival material, the Anthrax frontman is in possession of unreleased solo material cut during the 13-year period (1992-2005) he wasn’t in the band’s ranks. “Obviously at that time, I was a musician,” he highlights. “Obviously, I wanted to maintain some kind of musical career. I wasn’t gonna quit. There were my first demos with me and Paul Crook, who plays for Meat Loaf now and used to play in Anthrax. We sat around for hours every day and wrote songs, and it was a blast. I loved being able to come up with my own parts, coming up with riffs, and coming up with songs. I love doing it – I’d certainly love to do it. Since I’ve been with Anthrax, I just haven’t had time. I’ve got ideas; I’ve got songs, and I’ve jammed with people that wanna write. At the same time though, I haven’t been bothering with anything in particular.

“Even when I was out too, it’s hard to figure out where you fit in solo-wise since you’re out of the band and still carrying that Anthrax kind of metal. Thrash… Do people… I mean, it’s really hard to be on your own. It’s not easy – I was playing small clubs. Now, I have a cover band. I do classic rock and I’m a drummer / singer, so I know what it’s like and I don’t really care. I can play in front of 50 people. I don’t care. People love it, and that’s fine with me. It’s not always about being on top, and being a star. I just wanna play. I love singing and I love making music, so yeah.

“Some day, it’d be nice to do another, but something that’s maybe a little bit more solid, put together, produced, and the whole thing. A lot of my stuff is just demos. Some of it shouldn’t have even come out, but they’re demos. It’s kind of cool that way, right? It’s tough though, because when you put a demo up, people want it to be top quality. We’re talking eight-track cassette.”

The eternal question is as to whether solo material from Joey should be similar to Anthrax’s musical imprint, or markedly different. “I always ask you stuff,” he remarks. “What would you want from me?”

An answer would be difficult to give, given one could assume a track is mediocre prior to even hearing it, solely based on a musical description – even though said track could be a strong number. “That’s the problem,” the musician laments. “It’s like when you get an actor that was on say some kind of sitcom, and then you expect them to be different, but they’re so categorised as that figure that they can’t break away from being on those shows or whatever. It’s the same with me. I may have a certain style, so you might think that I have to be a thrash singer only.”

How much ‘thrashing’ Joey and Anthrax have left in the tank as it were is uncertain. “Where do I see it going?,” he responds. “I don’t know. That’s a tough one, man. If I start thinking like that, that’s desperation almost to a point where you’ve gotta let it roll, and be positive. We’re gonna be as busy in the next couple of years as we can ever be, without even blinking an eye. We just go, go, go. Hey, look. If anybody’s interested and we’re as attentive to what we do, there’s no reason why we can’t just go. I don’t know if I can put any number on it, because we could go on this album for two-and-a-half years without a blink. That’s two-and-a-half years. I don’t even know how it will go.

“It just goes, and that’s just that. Then there’s another album and then there’s another tour, or maybe we could keep touring. I don’t know. It’s hard. If I think about it too much, I might start pushing myself to get an answer. You can’t get one unless you just start to draw a line, and say ‘Two more years, and then I’m done. I don’t wanna do it any more.’ No-one’s done any of that.”

For All Kings will be released on February 26th, 2016 in Europe via Nuclear Blast Records, with North American issue taking place the same day through Megaforce Records.

Interview published in November 2015.