ANTHRAX Drummer Talks Spreading The Disease, New Album - "Radio Is Not Going To Play This"
November 14, 2015, 2 years ago
Things are moshing in the Anthrax camp these days, as the Atlantic-frantic chunk of the Big Four get ready to issue a new studio album (For All Kings; more details here) as well as cast their bloodshot eyes back, 30 years, to the release of their hard-as-nails second record Spreading The Disease, celebrated with a new reissue of the record that is fattened by a mercilessly lean live show plus assorted weird bits.
“I’d say it was one of those records that was on the cusp of that whole thrash metal explosion that was going to happen the following year,” begins Anthrax drummer and archivist Charlie Benante, asked to assess Spreading The Disease’s place in metal history. “And I think that was one of the records that was, you know, leading the charge.”
And the reasons the album did that, and got there so quickly and with such force... it’s a complex brew of influences, including local hardcore and Metallica’s first demos, Jonny Zazula’s store and tutelage and, of course, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
“For sure, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead were very influential around those times. And I’ve always been a huge fan of punk rock music, and then the hardcore element started to creep in, and we started to go to a lot of shows back in ’84. All of those elements, really, you just put it in a pot and cook it up, and we came up with this record. I mean, a lot of that record is influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. There are a lot of elements of that type of music in that record. But then there’s another element of speed and thrash and what was to come. The funny thing about that record is the last song that was recorded for it was a song that I had way later, even after the record was done recording. I had another song, which turned out to be ‘A.I.R.’ So that was the last thing we recorded, and it’s pretty funny how it’s one of those moments where the record took a different shape, and you could see where we were going with the next record, which would become Among the Living.”
And we can’t forget Jonny Zazula and his lovely wife Marsha. Not only did Jonny whip together Megaforce Records and sign the band, but through his store, Rock ‘n' Roll Heaven, he was the conduit to all the proto-thrash Anthrax would require for fuel.
“Well, the thing about Jonny,” notes Benante, “he was someone who believed in us from the start. And really took an interest in this form of music. He brought Metallica over from San Francisco, and put them up, and we put them up, and it became this family. And I think after that happened, other bands started to look to him too, sending him their demo. He became the guy to reach out to, because he could help. I just think we built this whole thing, he built this whole thing, we all built this together, and it just started to rise. And it was a really good time for music, because, like I said before, we were on the cusp of something happening, but we just didn’t know what it was.”
“With our first album, we were newbies to the whole thing,” continues Charlie, contrasting the meat and potatoes mien of Fistful of Metal with the sting in the tail of Spreading the Disease. “I mean, some of us had been in a recording studio, maybe once or twice prior to that. So our first album, we were really inexperienced. So going into that second album, it was what not to do that we did on the first album. And I remember thinking, the first album, okay, it’s our first album, but we always felt that it didn’t really sound like us. I wanted Spreading the Disease to some more like us. And you have to remember another thing, going into the studio up there, we didn’t have a singer. We just had the songs, and Scott took over the lyric department, and I took over more of the songwriting, the music. So it was a strange time, but also a really good time. And like I said, it was a learning experience. We wanted to work with Carl Canedy again, because we did have a good vibe with him, and I think he wanted to maybe make some corrections from the first album, with us. So we went up to Pyramid Sound, up in Ithaca. We loved Alex Perialas. We liked his whole vibe in his studio, so we went back up there, and we set up and just started to make a record, which took a long time to make.”
“And then we had a singer that didn’t work out,” continues Charlie. “And then Carl knew of this guy, which turned out to be Joey Belladonna. Joey was singing in a band up there called Bible Black, I believe. And Joey came down and he sang a little bit, and then that was it—we loved him. But it was almost like he was just thrust into it, because what we did was, we took a break from recording, and we did this two-week bunch of dates on the East coast, and I remember Joey was like, whoa, I’ve never experienced something like this. Stage diving and all that stuff. It was totally a new environment for him. But he enjoyed it and we enjoyed it. We were just five young guys, out on tour, learning about each other.”
As for the live show attached to the reissue... “You see, the good thing about this is, I’ve always put away things from the beginning—I always saved one of everything. I always think ahead, like some day we’ll use this for this, use this for that. And so I saved two shows from Tokyo. It was the first time we ever played Japan, and we played this venue called Sun Plaza, which was a huge venue. We played there two nights, and it was magical. It was our first experience with the Japanese fans, and the amount of love and admiration that you feel the first time you go there, it’s crazy. It’s like Christmas times one hundred, if you can understand that. And the reason why I wanted to put some of those performances on this was to show a band on the verge of breaking out, and just the excitement that we played the songs with. I was listening back to it, and I’m thinking, oh my God, we used to play it like that?! Because you have to remember, the songs were so new, so we were playing them just how we recorded them. Nowadays—and I think other bands can attest to this—once you play a song for maybe five, ten years, you change it a little; you have a different way of playing them. So here, they’re just played kind of more honestly, the way they were recorded.”
Flash forward 30 years and the band have unleashed a new track demonstrative of 30 years of growth, Anthrax becoming a tight, technical, almost progressive thrash unit, frankly, on the evidence of this track, a bit like modern-day Megadeth at their Shawn Drover-slammed heaviest.
“Well, ‘Evil Twin,’ basically, that was the working title of the song,” begins the proud poppa. “The only reason why I called it ‘Evil Twin’ is because it was the bookend to another song that was written already for the new album. And it was kind of like the brother/sister type of song. So we called this one the evil twin, because the riff was really evil. This song is kind of back to our thrashier roots. I was just in that state at that point, a thrash state. We had Death Angel on a lot of that Worship Music tour, and we love those guys, and Testament and then Exodus came up for some of those shows too. And it was a throwback. And so I think, in my mind, in that state of mind, this song came out of it. And the lyrics, we were talking about it, because we feel like our planet is being used as the venue for all of these monsters in it, that are just destroying it. And sometimes I think we as Americans, especially—and Canadians, and Europeans—I think we feel somewhat helpless, because some people are almost protected by a religious element. It’s gotten way out of hand, just what’s been going on with our world, and I don’t see it getting any better. And I’m not saying that some of us here aren’t to blame for it, but I don’t see this ever working out anymore. I think it’s so far gone.”
As for the rest of the album, Charlie figures, “The personality of this record is definitely a throwback to those times. And I think, half of it is also moving forward. I think it’s a modern-day thrash type of record. But it also has other strong moods. I mean, there’s a song on the record that is seven minutes long called ‘Bloody Wings,’ which is a fucking musical journey. A lot of songs on this record turned out to be long; I don’t think any song on this record clocks in under three minutes. We had this discussion in the band a few times, and some of the guys in the band felt that the songs were too long. And I always took the stand that, look, why are we trying to edit something that doesn’t want to be edited? If there’s something to say, and if it takes six or seven minutes to say it, then let it be six or seven minutes. Why are we editing ourselves down? For radio? The shit that you hear on the radio is probably the most watered-down, contrived, marketed, un-musical shit you could ever hear. Radio is not going to play this.”