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Scholars and Headbangers Agree: Thrash-Metal Greats Anthrax Are 'Kings'

Thrash-metal veterans Anthrax are due to release their latest album, For All Kings, later this month. While many Houstonians wait in anticipation for the release, many will find themselves listening to the new tracks live tonight at Revention Music Center with headliners Lamb of God. Drummer Charlie Benante has promised us the group will play old favorites, deep cuts and at least two new songs from Kings.

Speaking from his Chicago home, Benante opened up about the process of writing the album, his artwork and politics. He’s a man of creative genius and spends his time on many fascinating side projects — all of them an extension of his passions.

Most serious of all is his music, naturally. So, how good is For All Kings? The new album boasts 11 tracks, and label MegaForce has created special packaging of two different vinyl box sets. If that’s not enough, posters, dice and a deck of cards are also included. Benante is proud of the album, as well he should be — not only does he help write the riffs, but he’s designed every single album cover including the new one.

Anthrax have been known to push boundaries and themes, as in their groundbreaking collaboration with Public Enemy and their Stephen King-inspired lyrical content. But, For All Kings, is a mature and sometimes political statement piece. And it’s an idea Benante is not afraid to talk about. The new music is timely, and rightfully so, especially in an election year. Politically motivated, like the track “Evil Twin,” Benante doesn’t shy away from his opinion about our current cultural climate.

"I think 'Evil Twin' discusses a topic that not many people feel comfortable talking about because everybody, in this country especially, are so quick to use the racist card, you know?" he says. "I think that the subject matter of 'Evil Twin' is very topical. We had a lyric video we put out and then a few days later, the Paris bombing happened. We live in a world that has become very scary, and it sucks that [ISIS] uses our planet for this.

"I think that politicians say what they want to say and we will probably never get to the bottom of the cause of all of this 'why people hate people or why a certain group are retaliating against all of us,'" Benante adds.

Anthrax are not just a political voice in metal. A member of the "Big Four" of Thrash, the band even boasts academic appeal: Recently, they were recognized by the Smithsonian Institution's "Places of Invention" series for their achievements in the sweaty field of thrash-metal. The accolades couldn’t be more deserved, especially for a band who have been relatively intact for decades.

For the most part, Benante is a big reason. When not working on Anthrax endeavors, he arranges his time around his many interests. He's an adroit artist whose talents range from designing signature Disney dolls to creating T-shirt designs and coffee distribution, all of which he takes very seriously.

“I do my coffee [distribution], and I love doing that; it’s a labor of love," he says. "I enjoy everything about it.”

His latest project is a comic-book series, and he's searching for inspiration and a good writer. Benante says, “I’m also trying to work on a comic-book series. I really want to get a comic book off the ground; it’s something I really love to work on.”

As you might expect, the comic book is directly tied to the album covers he’s created for Anthrax. He continues, “I’ve had this concept for a comic book since 2001. The cover for our album We Come For You All is set in some sort of time, some sort of place, some sort of world, you know, and I then went to the next album cover, Worship Music, and tied in the world with this one, and with For All Kings, I tried to tie in both of those with the cover. I’m really trying to now get a story and a reason why these worlds are tied together. For me, writing music is easy, just boom boom boom, bang it out, you know? When it comes to something like this, I mean, I could illustrate stuff, but it’s hard for me to convey story into…we’ll see.”

Yet his music comes first, as it always has. “I want to do some other material, you know. I have two or three albums worth of material I could do; I just need the right people to do it with, you know?”

The right people can be hard to find, even for a metal giant like Benante who finds inspiration everywhere from David Bowie to Deafheaven, one of tonight's openers.

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“My favorite band that I’ve been into for a few years now, and were on tour with us, is Deafheaven," he says. "I think they’re awesome. And I love them a lot.”

Benante, who will actually be sitting out tonight's gig because of carpal tunnel complications — Jon Dette will be filling in — opens up about his own music tastes.

“Lately, I’ve had David Bowie records on loop," he says. "That was my first concert ever as a kid and I’ve been a fan a long time. I’ve always loved Bowie.” He sighs and recalls the magic of Bowie. “He came out, did his thing, changed his thing, did his thing, changed his thing, you know [laughs]. He kept evolving; you can’t really do that anymore. Evolution in rock is done. You can’t be creatively without being derivative of being something popular five years ago. People are so stupid, they just rip something off without knowing where it came from. [Laughs].”

Anthrax performs with special guests Lamb of God and Deafheaven tonight at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 6 p.m.

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