After a tumultuous few years both musically and memberwise, New York thrash metal pioneers Anthrax will be able to close out 2011 on a pretty high note. In addition to releasing the critically and commercially acclaimed Worship Music - their first studio album in eight years, and first with classic-lineup vocalist Joey Belladonna in almost 20 - they've played "Big 4" concert dates with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, and launched their own headlining tour. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the band's founding.
But the creation of Worship Music could have tested the patience of a saint. After parting with the band post a successful reunion tour of the classic lineup, Belladonna was replaced by Dan Nelson, who sang on an earlier version of Worship. An acrimonious split led to dates with post-Belladonna vocalist John Bush, who then left, leading the band back to...Belladonna, who re-recorded Worship's vocals.
The current lineup includes band co-founder Scott Ian (guitar), classic lineup members Charlie Benante (drums), Frank Bello (bass), and Belladonna, along with guitarist Rob Caggiano.
Rocks Off spoke with Benante about the record, the recent Big 4 show at Yankee Stadium, his love of coffee, and just what kid of uncle he is to Bello, who is married to his older sister.
Rocks Off: I know the record had a tortuous birthing process, but was it kind of destined that Joey came back into the fold?
Charlie Benante: I think so. I think this path led us to him and it was supposed to happen. We had to deal with some bumps and bruises on the way, but we made it there. And the record is the reward, it sounds so great. To all of us, this feels like our first album.
RO: What did you want to do musically to make it stand out?
CB: We wanted to keep the integrity of the band that was in the '80s to the '90s, but modernize the sound to make it fresh while still having that old school feel. One of the key ingredients was Jay Ruston's mix. He really understood the band and our music.
RO: Did you end up using all the instrumental tracks that you had recorded with Dan on the final record?
CB: About half of those tracks were done and we liked them, so we didn't really want to change anything. There were a few that we felt needed the new energy and excitement, and we went back into the studio to capture that.
RO: The casual Anthrax fan knows you're the drummer, but may not know how involved you are with the songwriting, art work, album concepts, and - on this album -even playing a lot of guitars. Is Worship Music the most Charlie-centric Anthrax album yet?
CB (laughs): That's pretty funny! Um, it took up a lot of my lifelines making this one, but I enjoyed it so much, all of the aspects. It's a labor of love.
RO: On different tracks you pay tribute to influences like Ronnie James Dio, Dimebag Darrell, and Judas Priest. Do bands come up to you and say the same thing about Anthrax?
CB: Many do, and I'm so honored when I hear it. Because sometimes I don't hear it in their music, but do in the individual playing. It's the same with us. We have influences, but we don't necessarily sound like those bands. On "Crawl," I played the beat on the song and opened the hi-hat, and that comes from Queen and Roger Taylor.
RO: Can you even describe how you felt playing the Big 4 show at Yankee Stadium? And also, even the New York Times pointed out that, as hometown boys, you should have been higher on the bill.
CB: Well, to be quite honest, we felt that way too, but there's nothing we could have done about it. We just wanted to be there. It was a big homecoming, especially for myself, growing up in the Bronx with Yankee Stadium in my backyard.
There was an excitement around the whole day for us. And we knew it would go quick, so we just tried to grab onto everything and have the most memories that we could. And my family and friends were all there.
RO: If there was ever a Big 5 show, who gets the extra slot? Testament? Exodus? Someone else?
CB (laughs): Ah, that's not for me to say! But yeah, probably one of those bands.
RO: Any particular memories of playing Houston?
CB: Yeah! I remember we did a Headbanger's Ball show in '88 or '89 playing an arena there, and the kids took all the chairs and the seating and piled them up and started moshing. Then someone lit a fire. I remember that. Of course, they tried to stick us with the bill at the end of the night for the damage!
RO: I know that you are a stone-cold coffee fanatic and even have a tattoo of the Starbucks logo. What is your usual order?
CB: In the summertime it's an Iced Venti Americano with vanilla, and they make it with a breve, which is they add half and half to it. Lately, I've been kind of getting into this salted caramel mocha that is fucking awesome!
RO: How did you develop such a taste for coffee? I know you also experiment with making your own blends.
CB: I used to, and I'm trying to start that back up again. Since I was a little kid, I was drinking coffee. My mom said that (laughs) she used to put decaf coffee in my bottles with a bunch of milk, because I used to always drink their coffee at the table! And that was it! I've always loved coffee.
So when the Starbucks explosion happened, I was like "Yeah!" The thing that I love about Starbucks is that, when I travel abroad, I can get exactly what I want. It's familiar, and I can sit there and be like "OK, I'm cool."
RO: Well, [former Anthrax bassist] Dan went off to Switzerland to study watchmaking, maybe you can go to South American and be a coffee harvester.
CB: I've already done it!
RO: As Frank [Bello] is actually your nephew, what kind of uncle are you to him? Do you put money in his birthday cards? Take him toy shopping?
CB (laughs): Let me see, for his birthday in July we were in Canada, and I bought him a John Wayne lunchbox.
RO: So what do you have planned after the tour?
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CB: We take a little break and then go off to Indonesia and Japan, then off for the holidays, and start another tour next year. We really want to work this album because we feel albums like these don't come along every day, so we want to push it. We don't want to record another one right away. But we don't want to wait eight years either!