Anthrax's Charlie Benante Reflects on Polarizing 'State of Euphoria' for Its 30th Anniversary Reissue
"It's great to finally see it come out in a way that will make all of us happy."
If you ask any Anthrax fan who came of age in the late '80s, there's a good chance the celebrated Queens, NY-based metal band's fourth studio LP, State of Euphoria, ranks right up there at the top of their favorite albums list.
In fact, within the liner notes to the forthcoming deluxe edition of Euphoria that will be released on Oct. 19 to celebrate the LP's 30th anniversary (which is Sept. 19), there are quotes from everyday fans offering personal testimonials about what this particular title meant to them amidst the eyeful of rare photos, tour posters and artwork.
However, to hear it from drummer Charlie Benante, State of Euphoria could have been a much better album if they had the opportunity to complete it the way they wanted.
"The momentum behind Among The Living almost made you have to like our next record," he explains in regards to the success of Euphoria's 1987 predecessor, largely hailed as Anthrax's singular masterpiece. "And I'm not saying that State of Euphoria was bad; all of us in the band felt that it was not finished. We could have used a little more time with it."
It was that need to improve upon what was hastily crafted and rushed into record shops in the fall of 1988 that served as the harbinger of the group's decision to kick off this long-overdue reissue campaign of their back catalog with Euphoria.
"I took myself back to that time and going through all the motions and moods and pressure we all felt back then," Benante explains. "You have to understand, we were only that band for maybe four years at that point. So believe me, man, it was a whirlwind trying to maintain a certain level of continuity between our first three records that we did and State of Euphoria. If you compare our arc to what Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth were doing as well back then, our records were all on the same wavelength. Among The Living was our Reign In Blood, our Master of Puppets, and those were all, I felt, our signature records. The ones that came out after that weren't as strong, in my opinion. I don't think …And Justice for All is nearly as strong as Puppets, though I still love that record, and I don't think State of Euphoria was as strong as Among."
Considering Island Records, at the time, had such superstar acts as U2 amongst its ranks and bringing the label all the gold and platinum it could carry, you might think they could have given Anthrax a little more time to woodshed the follow-up to Among the Living, especially given the success of the group's I'm The Man EP, one of the pioneering works of the rap-metal genre that would define much of the '90s.
"We were the only metal band on the label," the drummer reminds. "From their side of the game, we were blowing up. And of course, what does a record company want to do but reap the benefits. And with the unexpected success of I'm The Man, it was a matter of seeing if we were gonna continue with the whole rap-rock thing or not. There was a lot of pressure for us."
Within the grip of that pressure, Anthrax entered Quadradial Studios in Miami with producer Mark Dodson (who would also work on 1990's Persistence of Time) and banged out ten songs in classic thrash metal fashion. The quickness of delivery might have worn heavy on the heads of the band, but for fans—especially those who listened to music beyond metal—State of Euphoria was a delight for both the ears and the eyes. There were songs about books and films still relatively current -- like "Misery Loves Company" about Stephen King's classic 1987 examination into fan obsession -- and "Now It's Dark," an homage to Dennis Hopper's Pabst Blue Ribbon-swilling sociopath in David Lynch's 1986 cult favorite Blue Velvet. Former guitarist Dan Spitz had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles painted on his Jackson Rhoads model a hot moment before they became the obsession of schoolkids everywhere. Plus all the members -- rounded out by singer Joey Belladonna, guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello -- looked more like skate kids than metalheads, unafraid to sport a Public Enemy, Living Colour or Spin magazine t-shirt in publicity photos.
"We were the products of comic books, movies, cartoons and stuff like that," Benante reveals. "Whatever we saw, we felt so compelled to write about it. Like the movie Blue Velvet; it was just so surreal. Everything about that movie I just love, so we wrote a song about it, because Frank Booth [Hopper's character] was so fucking crazy."
And then there's the inside (or back, depending on the format) cover of Euphoria, which boasted a caricature of the band drawn by iconic MAD Magazine satirist Mort Drucker.
"The whole idea behind that was behind my love for caricatures," Benante explains. "And the way he would do them in MAD Magazine was always so funny and so goofy. Then I was a big fan of Al Hirschfeld as well, and the way he would always figure out a way to put his daughter's name in his portraits. I always thought Aerosmith's Draw the Line was a great, great album cover, and it inspired me to reach out to Mort Drucker for that image. I grew up reading his parodies, like 'The Oddfather.'"
In addition to the cornucopia of imagery, including the group's momentary mascot the NOT Man, the 30th anniversary edition of State of Euphoria will also include an expanded edition of the remastered LP that will feature covers of The Ventures' "Pipeline" and "Parasite" by Kiss, in addition to the live and French versions of their rendition of Parisian punk-metal act Trust's "Antisocial," which gave the album its biggest hit. There is also a second disc containing nine demos from the Euphoria sessions culled from Benante's private stash, most notably a version of "Make Me Laugh" that rivals the original. However, for the drummer, it's the revelation of just how much State of Euphoria means to Anthrax fans that makes him feel confident in revisiting this polarizing favorite in the group's discography.
"A few months back I put out the question on social media about Euphoria and what this album means to you," Benante states. "Just give me your thoughts. Then bam, a flood of responses came in. I couldn't choose all of them, but I chose a good amount of them to include in this new package. Stuff like, 'This album got me through tough times' or 'it got me through junior high school.' I was looking for the human side of this whole thing, because I know what State of Euphoria meant to me and the band, but what did it mean to everybody else? And it's great to finally see it come out in a way that will make all of us happy."