ANTHRAX - Decapitate And Bleed

July 21, 2011, 7 years ago

By Aaron Small

anthrax feature

On September 13th, ANTHRAX will release their brand new album, Worship Music. The cover was created by Marvel and DC Comics artist Alex Ross, the same artist who did the We’ve Come For You All and Music Of Mass Destruction covers. With the obvious exception of colour scheme, there are striking similarities between the artwork that adorns Worship Music and We’ve Come For You All; this is not a coincidence, as guitarist Scott Ian explains.

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“There’s a point to that. You could say it’s eight years in the future of We’ve Come For You All, and this is what’s happened. We’re not looking to create some comic book world with Anthrax album covers, but the initial idea going in that Charlie (Benante, drummer) had, besides having the title Worship Music with Alex, was just creating something where you have a situation where people would be worshipping something. How do we tie this in with the last album cover and with the Thraxagram? How do we make this all work? They just came up with this idea, whether it’s a post-apocalyptic future, or the past, or an alternate universe, I have no idea. But whoever all those freaks are, they want a piece of Anthrax.”

The Worship Music image ties into the artwork for the first single, ‘Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t’ (available now on iTunes and Amazon), which depicts the band members battling their own personal zombies. As such, the Worship Music cover looks like a bunch of zombies surrounding the Thraxagram.“People know I’m a big fan of Stephen King,“ acknowledges Scott. “He has a series called The Dark Tower and there’s some parts in those books where the main characters are in a city, they’re underground and it’s filled with mutants. This album cover has nothing to do with that; that was never said to Alex in any way, shape or form. But when I look at it, that’s what I think of because it reminds me of a couple of scenes from a Stephen King book. That’s what I would prefer anyone to do when they look at any album cover of ours, is just take from it what they will. What does it mean to you when you look at it? That’s how I feel about our artwork, our lyrics, our songs, everything. That’s how I am as a fan. I don’t want to know every single thing that was behind every decision on a record. When I bought KISS – Alive, I wasn’t wondering where Gene Simmons bought the candelabra on the album cover. Why is it there? And how many scales are on his boots? I never cared about any of that shit. It’s just how it made me feel.”

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An incredible sense of accomplishment must surely be felt, seeing as Worship Music is the first Anthrax studio album in eight years, and furthermore, Scott and Charlie started working on it four years ago. “Yeah, it was either late ’06 or early ’07 that I flew out to Chicago and we started writing. It was just the two of us. At the time, after the reunion tour we did with Joey (Belladonna, vocalist) and Danny (Spitz, guitarist) ended in October ’06 in Japan – there was no band. There really wasn’t. Everyone kind of went their separate ways with no idea of what was happening next? It literally was just Charlie and I. It was like, ok, what are we going to do? We both had some ideas, so we got together and started writing. After a couple of months of that, and putting together some of the songs that are actually on the record now, that’s when we felt like we definitely had something great. We really felt the songs were just incredible. The world needs to hear this, and the rest of the band needs to hear it. We need to put the band back together and take it on the road as they say.”

At the end of 2007, Dan Nelson was named vocalist for Anthrax. The band played a few shows with their new singer and began recording Worship Music together. Then in mid-2009, Nelson unexpectedly left the group. That whole debacle set Anthrax back at least 18 months. “All I can really say about that, obviously having hindsight and being able to look back on everything that’s happened since the end of ‘06 up until now, some things happen for a reason,” concedes Scott. “Everyone went into that situation with open hearts and minds, everything was great. And things changed. He (Dan Nelson) made the decision to not move forward in this band. That’s the absolute – that’s what happened; we have the emails. He made that decision and I’ve got to say it’s a good thing he did because then maybe we’re not sitting here with the record we have right now. Everything happens for a reason. I’m not a spiritual guy by any means. This is one of those situations in my life where I can now look back on it and say, what if this didn’t happen? What would we be doing right now? It’s pretty strange how things ended up working out over the last few years. Very difficult at some points, but the thing that kept us going was the record. We felt so strongly about these songs, and we knew what this could be if we would just get the chance to finish it. Obviously we did and everything worked out.”

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Saving the day, former Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna returned to take his rightful place behind the microphone. The title Worship Music endured, and the vocals were re-recorded, but what percentage of the Dan Nelson version survived to the Joey Belladonna version? “There is no Dan Nelson version. Anything that Dan had written isn’t on the record because we dropped those songs. There was a couple songs that he had written lyrics to and were finished on a different version of this record, but we never did anything with those songs after that. Any other lyrics he may have had on any of the songs that are on the existing version of Worship Music, were long removed by me. So there really is no Dan Nelson version. Of course, there’s a record that he sang on, but this record, this Worship Music that people are going to hear in September, there’s nothing on this record that he wrote. As far as stuff that was re-recorded, I think three of the songs on the record were re-recorded from top to bottom; completely re-arranged into different songs so we had to redo them, and then in the case of ‘Fight ‘Em’, we just decided to re-record it because we felt we were playing it so much better at that point in time.”

The last Anthrax was in a recording studio with Joey Belladonna was Persistence Of Time – 21 years ago. Worship Music must have felt like a high school reunion. “We worked on this record differently than any other time in the past, from back then when Joey was in the band. We approached it differently this time, which was basically giving Joey the freedom to go into the studio and do his thing. Obviously he had templates; songs were done and lyrics were finished. He was going in and singing the songs, but it was just him and Jay Ruston (who produced the vocals and also mixed the record). We just kind of left it to the two of them to figure it out. We wanted to give Joey that kind of freedom, which was different than it was in the past with Anthrax. Back on all those Joey Belladonna records from the ‘80s up to Persistence Of Time, it was very much a case of a lot of dictation, and we didn’t want to be that way this time. We wanted Joey to be able to go in and make his own choices. If he had ideas that were different than the ideas we were giving him, we wanted to hear those ideas. We wanted this to be an open door policy for him, and have our singer contribute to this record. There are a lot of choices he makes vocally and phrasing wise, even notes, where he would take a line that was sung a certain way, and he would make different note choices. These are ideas that I certainly didn’t have in my head, and they made the songs better. It was really refreshing to be able to do that and give Joey that opportunity.”

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Writing a song called ‘Judas Priest’, which appears on Worship Music, seems an insurmountable task, yet Anthrax did it. Since then, guitarist K.K. Downing quit Priest and was replaced by Richie Faulkner. Scott shares his inspiration behind wanting to do a song named ‘Judas Priest’. “I was literally on the computer one day, possibly on Brave Words, and I saw something about Priest retiring. I clicked on the link and read an article about how Judas Priest was calling it quits. They were going to do this final tour and blah, blah, blah, everybody knows the story. It just hit me really hard reading that because Priest are one of my favourite bands of all time, one of the biggest influences on not just me, but everyone in Anthrax. It’s just one of those things that gives you a little perspective on, now I’m going to see my heroes retire, and worse, going to have to see some of my heroes die, which obviously is DIMEBAG (DARRELL, late guitarist for PANTERA and DAMAGEPLAN ) and RONNIE JAMES DIO (late vocalist for BLACK SABBATH and DIO). Certainly for me, the biggest in my life, as far as people I looked up to musically and that made such an impact on my life, when Ronnie passed, it really punches you in the fuckin’ nuts! It’s like, holy crap! This sucks! So the Judas Priest thing was just like, wow, what a fucking bummer. I was talking to Charlie not long after that and I thought it would be cool to somehow pay tribute to Priest on this record, for everything they’ve given us and the world. We actually started calling the song; that was a work in progress at the time, the working title for the song was ‘Judas Priest’. It was never even an intention really at that point in time that we were actually going to call it ‘Judas Priest’. But the more we worked on this song, the more it took on this life of sounding like a really great tribute to Judas Priest. It’s the most metal song Anthrax has written in ages – musically and lyrically. Why not call the song ‘Judas Priest’? It’s not about Judas Priest in any sense of the word. It’s not like we wrote a song about the band. The context of ‘Judas Priest’, those actual words, is more in the context of an evil priest. I just think overall, it certainly pays tribute to our heroes because of the amount of metal contained in the six minutes.”

Speaking of Dime and Ronnie, ‘In The End’ is essentially their song. “Yeah, absolutely, that was one of the few – once we got our heads wrapped around that song – ‘cause that song is one of the songs that took four years to finish pretty much. From where that song started – different title, all different music – to where that song ended up, we always knew we had something there. It took us a while to find it but when we went back in a few months back and re-recorded that song with all the new music ideas, it just connected with me instantly that this should be a tribute to those guys. I think it was actually Charlie who said, not even specifically about that song but about having some type of lyrics about Darrell somewhere on the record. That song for me just had the right attitude, the right feeling. I felt like it was about Darrell and about Ronnie because it was in a sense the same subject matter and I had the same emotions about both things. ‘In The End’ is certainly a tribute to those guys.”

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In apparent contrast to songs about losing your heroes, either through retirement or death, is the track ‘I’m Alive’. “Yeah, which if you wanted to boil that one down into a nutshell, it’s pretty much my response to anyone who ever thinks, regardless of who’s running the country and running the world and whatever administration is in and whatever their religious beliefs are or aren’t – I could give a fuck. Nobody’s ever going to tell me how to live my life. That’s pretty much what that song’s about.”

As previously stated, Worship Music comes out September 13th, and the very next day, September 14th, Anthrax plays Yankee Stadium in New York as part of The Big 4 alongside METALLICA, SLAYER and MEGADETH. For Scott, this gig in particular holds special meaning as he’s a giant Yankees fan. “Timing is really on our side with the fact that we’re able to release our record that week. This Yankee Stadium thing for me is still so unreal, and probably will be up until the moment I hit whatever the first chord is of whatever we decide to open the show with. It’s just one of those things. I remember saying to Lars (Ulrich, Metallica drummer) months and months ago that if we ever got to do The Big 4 in New York, I know we’d probably end up playing Giants Stadium, but the really cool thing to do would be Yankee Stadium because nobody ever plays Yankee Stadium. Of course that was my own little selfish wish that we would get to do it. I figured The Big 4 could play Yankee Stadium, so why not at least try? I’m not saying that me talking to Lars about it has anything to do with the reason we’re playing there but, I certainly had that hope inside me. Someone must’ve heard me because that’s something I’ve been wishing for my whole life. I’m completely blown away by it and extremely nervous and intimidated and excited and terrified, all of that at the same time.”

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Do you think that will be the last Big 4 show? “I hope not. Kerry (King of Slayer), Dave (Mustaine of Megadeth) and myself were just in Milan (Italy) together for a sit-down interview with Guitar World and got asked the same exact question. Both those guys answered the same way. I think if you asked any of the Metallica dudes, they’d probably have the same answer. Really, I don’t know of any other Big 4 shows past Yankee Stadium at this point, but what I can say is, I know everyone in all the bands wants to continue doing this. That’s what I assume will continue to make it happen, because we all want to do it. It isn’t like management is shoving this down our throat saying go play more Big 4 shows, or Live Nation is saying we put together this package, now you’ve got to go out and play some shows. This came completely from the bands. This came from Metallica deciding they wanted to do this and then reaching out to the rest of us saying, hey, do you guys want to go have some fun? And it’s been nothing but amazing! I can only hope at some point we’re going to announce a lot more shows, certainly in North America because Europe’s had 12 shows now and this will be the second in North America, so we’re definitely lagging behind.”

At the Heavy T.O. fest in Toronto, on July 23rd, Anthrax and Megadeth are playing, then on July 24th, Slayer is performing. Why isn’t it a Big 4 show? “What can I tell ya? I don’t know. It certainly isn’t something we have any control over. That’s the best answer I can give you. If we were in the position of putting this together, I can safely say that Toronto would have a Big 4 show, but I’m not the one making those phone calls.”

That Toronto show is going to be Scott’s first complete show with Anthrax since the May 2nd concert in Bangkok, Thailand – after which he took paternal leave as his wife Pearl, gave birth to their first child, a boy named Revel Young Ian, born June 19th. Filling in for Scott on the 11 gigs he missed was SEPULTURA’s Andreas Kisser. However, Scott did make an unexpected appearance in Italy on July 6th.“I actually flew to Milan for this Guitar World thing because it’s just something I really, really felt I needed to be a part of. As well as my wife said to me, ‘you need to go do this because if you don’t go do it, and then after the fact, you’re not in it, that would be kind of lame.’ I did go to Milan for this Guitar World shoot and interview, and then got up and played half the set with Anthrax. I surprised the audience. I came out half way through ‘Indians’, right where the war dance part starts and then finished the set. I tell ya, playing with Andreas, me and him on stage left, it was fucking awesome! It was so heavy to have two rhythm guitars on the same side. It was brutal. It was so much fun.”

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Obviously family comes first, but has it been weird to be at home and see fan-filmed as well as pro-shot videos of Anthrax live in Europe with Andreas, on YouTube? “You know, I’d be the first to say I thought it would be weird and make me really bummed. I don’t know, freaking out more or something and you know what? It was just like the most natural thing in the world when I actually saw a link online for the first show in Germany. Actually you can even go before that because I was on Skype the day before when Anthrax was rehearsing with Andreas before the first show he was playing. So I was watching from home. I’m literally sitting on a chair feeding my kid, watching Anthrax rehearse in Germany, which you would think would be really, really odd, yet at the same time, I was exactly where I wanted to be. When they say having a kid is a life-changing experience; that just shows you how life-changing it is. Normally, there’s no way in a million years I would ever not be at an Anthrax show. These are the first shows I haven’t played with Anthrax since I co-founded the band 30 years ago. But having the baby really just made me… I wasn’t stressed out about it, let’s put it that way. It really does come down to priorities. If I was the type of guy who was like okay, we’re having a baby and now I’m leaving for three weeks right after he’s born, that’s not the kind of dad I want to be. That’s not who I’m going to be as a father. I’m definitely not going to be an absentee dad. It’s not a hard decision.”

Scott and Anthrax have played eight Big 4 shows in total. Do they all match the intensity of the very first one in Warsaw, Poland on June 16th 2010? “The first show in Poland, the intensity of that, and the ramp-up to that, knowing that this was going to be the first time, the level of excitement amongst us, amongst the bands was bigger than anything I’ve ever felt in all my years in Anthrax. The anticipation of getting on that stage in Poland for the first time in history with The Big 4, and the fact that there was like 118,000 people there, for me it was just like, holy shit! How do you ever top this? I quickly realized how you top it, by playing more Big 4 shows. There was never a time for me in the eight shows I’ve done where any of them lacked the same intensity or excitement that the one in Poland did. I may have played eight shows, but the 50,000 to 100,000 people, depending on where we’re playing, who show up – this is the first time they’re ever seeing it. So their level of excitement is the same as it was for everybody on the first day. That just immediately elevates you. It puts me on the same level as them instantly. That’s just how it is being in a band in general. You go out on tour for a year; it has to be new every night. It may be the 50th show and you’re sick of playing these songs, but those kids who are coming to see you, it’s not the 50th time they’re seeing you. But with The Big 4, it’s not like it’s hard to get excited to play those shows. It’s fucking awesome!”

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Word is that the second single from Worship Music will be issued in August, what will it be? “I don’t want to say yet. We’ve decided what song it is; in a sense, it’s really the first single. We don’t really consider ‘Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t’ a single. That’s a track we just wanted to put out there for the fans who have been so patient, waiting for new Anthrax all these years. We just put this out there to wet people’s whistle and give them a taste – here’s what’s coming motherfuckers! ‘Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t ‘ isn’t something we expect to get on the radio anywhere, it’s a thrash metal song. The song that’ll come out in August is something more along the lines of, maybe we’ll get radio play. It’s not something we really give a shit about. If radio stations have any balls at all, they’ll play it. If not, we don’t care. But we’ve made the decision on what song it’s going to be. There’s no ballads on the record, so it’s not like we have some power ballad to throw out there to try and get on the radio.”


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