It has been 35 years since Anthrax ran up the flag for East Coast thrash and planted its New York stamp on the genre. Like any career, there have been plenty of up moments, like the Smithsonian Institute recently adding a mini-documentary of the band to its Places of (Musical) Invention series, and down ones, like the firing of singer Joey Belladonna in 1992. Both the big and little moments stand out to drummer Charlie Benante — from the 2011 Big Four concert with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer at Yankee Stadium to the first time when, back in 1984, he saw a fan wearing an Anthrax shirt.
“It was down in the Village, and we were walking down Eighth Street to go to Bleecker Bob’s, and that’s where I saw a guy with our Fistful of Metal shirt on,” recalls Benante. “It was like, ‘Oh, look at that …’ It was cool. That was a moment.”
Because of the band’s hectic schedule, the time has really flown by. “I remember getting those questions when we were first starting out, like, ‘Hey, do you think you’ll ever go as long as Black Sabbath?,’ and we were like, ‘Ah, probably not.’ But I must say that things kind of flew by,” he says with a laugh. “It really sucks that it just kind of flew by so sudden. I think it’s because of always moving, always traveling, always doing this, and sometimes you have to just stop and kind of enjoy it.”
The Feb. 26 release of For All Kings, Anthrax’s 11th studio album, is one of those milestones the quintet should savor. The new project upholds the sound that the group delivered on their acclaimed 2011 album Worship Music, which critics cited as a refreshing return to form of the classic Anthrax style. Benante describes that core sound as something that “definitely stems from a piece of every one of our records. Our new record, even Worship Music to a certain degree, I’ve been seeing this record as kind of a Back to the Future-type of thing where there’s songs that are based in our heavy metal thrash roots,” he explains. “And of course, we didn’t want to stray from what people know or what we do and what we can do, so we tried to stay within the realms of what we know.”
When it came to songwriting, it helped that the band’s lineup remained consistent between albums. “We knew exactly what the band sounded like again, and a lot of the inspiration for moving forward is that we were a unit,” he says, referring to Belladonna’s return in 2010. For example, Belladonna’s voice has what Benante calls “a signature sound. When you hear it, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s Anthrax. That’s Joey.’ I swear the guy sings better these days than he did back [when he first joined]. He just freaks me out sometimes. He sounds great. We call him the Robin Zander (of Cheap Trick) of metal.” Watch the exclusive video below of the band discussing the role Belladonna’s vocals play in Anthrax:
Since Benante’s right hand is still recovering from surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome a few years ago (“It’s way better,” he says. “I’m talking a whole lot better since I had the surgery. But I find that it starts to get fatigued when I overuse it night after night”), he put such downtime as sitting out Anthrax’s 2015 European tour to good use by working on For All Kings.
Songwriting unfolded in typical Anthrax style, with Benante creating the foundation on guitar (he has played the instrument since he was a teen), while bassist Frank Bello writes the melodies and guitarist Scott Ian devises the lyrics. “We all interpret it a certain way at a certain time,” says Benante. “There’ll be modifications on it, or some of the songs I have I’ll play a guitar lick of what I think should be the melody, or sometimes it’ll be so strong I’ll put a guitar part in a melody.”
Jay Ruston, who helped produce Worship Music, returned to the helm For All Kings. The album’s title comes from Benante wanting to honor those he has looked up to as role models throughout his life, like Kiss. Meanwhile, Ian drew some lyrical inspiration from becoming a first-time father a few years ago and his fears for his son growing up in such a turbulent world.
One example is the song “Zero Tolerance,” which talks of not tolerating extremism and racial hate. Ironically, the song arrives following the uproar surrounding a YouTube clip of Philip Anselmo at the 2016 Dimebash event: He was accused of racism after the clip showed him throwing a right-armed salute and bellowing, “White power!” at the end of the concert. (He has since apologized.) Ian, who is Jewish and a longtime friend of Anselmo’s, was among the metal personalities who made a statement about the incident, saying that he felt Anselmo should donate to Jewish human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center to show the depth of his sincerity.
Asked his opinion about the situation, Benante says, “I think the thing that Philip did was wrong, [but] I know Philip. I know he’s not a racist. I know he’s not that type of person that some people are making him out to be. I know he said something that was very insensitive and I think there was a joke behind it somewhere, but we didn’t get that portion of the video … He’s a good friend of mine, and I hate to see people making him the poster boy for racism because I just don’t think he deserves that.”
Benante is excited to finally release For All Kings. “Every single song on the record has a different emotion or a different meaning to me or where I was when this song was written or recorded,” he says. “I love the whole thing as a whole piece.”
As for celebrating the band’s 35th anniversary, there are no definitive plans to commemorate the marker. “We haven’t thought it out too much,” says Benante. “We’ve been thinking so much about this record because it’s taken a lot out of us and a lot of attention is on this record, so it’s kind of hard to even think about 35 years, let alone [the past] five years.”