ANTHRAX - Metal Thrashing Mad With Melody
May 25, 2017, a year ago
Although Scott Ian didn’t want to hear it, I stand by my remark that Anthrax’ debut album, Fistful Of Metal, is still one of my go-to records. He laughed it off here saying that: “I think we’ve written ten albums with better songs than that one.” To this day it remains a thrash classic. At the time, singer Neil Turbin was quickly shown the door and the underground waited anxiously for his replacement. I wasn’t the only one taken aback by new throat Joey Belladonna and the first chords of the acoustic-led Armed And Dangerous EP. One of the Big 4 enlisted an actual singer with harmony! And as you read below, the frontman is the final icing on the cake in every moshing moment. But more on that later. Let’s talk about the present, Anthrax firing on all cylinders with their last two slabs, Worship Music and For All Kings. The fierceness and pit-friendly energy are back! The band are breathing lightning as it were!
"It’s great you feel that way, because I do too,” singer Joey Belladonna begins. “There’s something about what we’ve been doing with the last two albums. The sound…it’s nice that they even let me sing alone on most records, because before everybody’s just fucking all over you. But me and Jay (Ruston, producer) alone can really make something a little more than it really is. I mean I come in later, way later after these songs are already placed in their spots. There’s no changing anything. It’s just … there’s your song, now this is what you can sing on. It’s not like ‘hey, let’s shorten that up, let’s change the key’ or something. You can’t do anything and I’ll say that over and over, to be able to do it alone is a big thing for me.”
BraveWords: But you’ve got a unique tool that doesn’t sound like its aging. How do you treat that voice?
Belladonna: "I just think I’ve been into it more. I’ve been practicing a lot and I sing in my covers thing (Chief Big Way) a lot. We do four hours a night and we do classic stuff. Stuff like the Rush, Triumph, Van Halen, Journey, or Foreigner. It’s right in my wheelhouse and I love the music. Even before that, I just really got better at taking it, at roughing up a little bit more, but I don’t wanna go too far because I don’t know how to do it further than that. The music’s so different to do than this Anthrax stuff.”
BraveWords: Which is borderline not singer’s music. Not dissing the Arayas, Mustaines, or Hetfields. It’s a much different kind of melody than Lou Gramm!
Belladonna: "We’re not and sometimes the more it was, the more it might not be heavy, that’s what happened. I think along the way, for some reason, they thought, ‘hey fuck it, let’s get him out, let’s get somebody (imitates growling voice) and we’ll sound like this band now’. And all of a sudden I’m not in the band anymore. It’s cool as hell what we have and it’s unique. It just happened the way it is and it works that way. And I don’t try to do anything different, I just be myself and ride over that music and you get what you get. I never want to be like anybody else and I don’t listen to anything when I do the Anthrax stuff. It just happens and I walk out of there each day when we do something and I’ll be like ‘shit, wow, that’s pretty cool. I didn’t realize it would sound like that.’ And even these guys, they get MP3s from me when I get done singing and they’re like ‘holy shit, that’s pretty cool.’ It’s kind of neat for me to have them dig what I just did and not knowing what the hell if there was going to be vocals on there.”
BraveWords: But Anthrax turned a lot of heads when that Armed And Dangerous EP came out.
Belladonna: "Yeah, it was neat right? It even was for me. I was like ‘wow, this is pretty cool.’”
BraveWords: It was like Anthrax brought Steve Perry into the mix, but were still metal thrashing mad.
Belladonna: "Yeah sure, but I also sang. It’s all I knew, to try and sing over it. I wasn’t trying to like blow your face off; I just wanted to sing. It made sense to me and that’s what you got. That was like one of the first tunes I did. I was like ‘wow, this could be really cool’ and it was.”
BraveWords: Did you feel any backlash when that first EP came out?
Belladonna: "Not really. It was so early on; I was just so overwhelmed myself. I was too busy trying to go ‘Wow! What is this? Is that me? Holy cow.’ It was one of my first and only real original bands. I was in Bible Black - guys with Ritchie Blackmore - Gary (Driscoll) on the drums, Greg (Gruber) on the bass, and we did the Deep Purple, Black Sabbathy type of stuff, but we never really did anything original. Anthrax was the first time doing solely no covers, just straight-up originals.”
BraveWords: Speaking of Steve Perry, I think on Anthems, that Journey cover (“Keep On Runnin’”) really sticks out. That’s your octave.
Belladonna: "I never sang that song before. I’ve sang many Journeys, but that one I’ve never tried before.”
BraveWords: It wasn’t one of their top hits, but it’s a killer song.
Belladonna: "Yeah, it is kind of a darker tune. It’s an off tune. It’s definitely not on the Greatest Hits we know that. That came about one day when we were picking songs and I go, ‘It’d be kind of cool for the hell of it to do a Journey cover’ and he goes ‘I’m in!’ ‘What do you want to do?’ ‘Let’s do ‘Keep On Runnin’’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, that’d be great’ and everybody went for it and I’m like ‘wow, I can’t believe we’re going to do a Journey song.’"
BraveWords: That where your heart-space is. That kind of classic rock; what do you gravitate to when it comes to singers or albums from that kind of era.
Belladonna: "Oh I love all that stuff. Kansas, Yes, Deep Purple, Rush, Foreigner, Bad Company, Whitesnake. You know there’s so much. Boston…there’s tons I’m leaving out. With my cover band we do more than that and I can go anywhere with it. The Who, Pink Floyd…you know I like doing all kinds of genres, even The Stones. I love doing good old blues like ZZ Top. I can do different types of styles and mimic that, but yet be myself so I just enjoy that a lot.”
BraveWords: What do you think about the big Asia death (John Wetton) because that must’ve been tough?
Belladonna: "I was thinking about them recently and I love U.K. I remember buying that cassette with him on that, not to mention King Crimson stuff, but the U.K. was one of my favorite things, those two albums Danger Money and the first (self-titled) one, and I got great live stuff. He was awesome. He was just really awesome. Asia’s great too, but I liked U.K. Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth. I love fusion. I love really good fusion stuff, especially instrumental stuff, the David Wheckel’s, Simon Phillips, and even Toto. There’s a lot of good classic rock, but great musician-type bands that I love.”
BraveWords: For a heavy metal website, our visitors certainly know the roots and value of these bands and I sincerely believe they are all part of the family tree.
Belladonna: "And that’s why when I hear people say they don’t really care for me as a singer in their band, the style is a little too polished, this or that. To me I don’t care, because I love that music and it makes sense to me. It makes me feel good and I still listen to it all and I can’t stop listening to it. So I don’t really care. You know you can’t try to be someone else. As a singer there’s a certain place where you go and if you can be original then I’m happy.”
BraveWords: And you’re fronting one of the biggest and most famous thrash bands on the planet!
Belladonna: "Yeah, well it’s tough. Where do you go? I mean, not to mention, I’ve been in-out twice, where somebody might go, ‘Fuck you, I’m not going back.’ And as far as trying to be in some other band, it’s hard and we do have a great core and it’s almost the original lineup. It’s funny bands now, you got one or two guys, no guys. Foreigner just has Mick Jones and it’s still Foreigner. I don’t know, I guess I don’t know where else to go. Do my cover thing or I’ll probably do a tribute thing soon which may be an all-inclusive type of style.”
BraveWords: We could talk about classic rock all night.
Belladonna: "They are just all great songs. That's what I love about it, I just love the music. My cover band now (Chief Big Way), we have 500 songs that you never think I would ever do. And it's all based around my vocals. I could do a whole night of the Eagles alone for instance. Or Bad Company or something. It's just odd stuff that you would expect.”
BraveWords: Do you think we'll see a record of covers or originals in that style?
Belladonna: "Yeah I have originals as well. But every time I go home I end up doing yardwork or something. So another half a year goes by. It's also motivation; who wants to sign it and where is the money? But yeah, I have songs and sometimes I get frustrated because I just want to put something out, even demos. I wish I could just put some music out. I've got some cool rock shit, some great hard rock. Not classic, but a little bit heavier. Something like Journey’s ‘Separate Ways’, something with a little bit of an edge to it. Do I feel dated singing this old classic rock? But I have some of my most fun nights performing this material. We do four hours straight of this stuff. And it's just endless you know.”
BraveWords: We we’re told not to ask you guys any questions about John Bush. What's the deal?
Belladonna: "Well I never asked for that. I don't give a shit.”
BraveWords: John Bush fit quite well with the Sound Of White Noise. And Stomp 442 is totally underrated.
Belladonna: “Yeah, because the band is good. But I don't like being compared. That whole vibe of who did what, who was better. Who cares. I'm happy that it has all subsided.”
BraveWords: Were you paying attention to the records that you weren't on?
Belladonna: “Yeah I did, but I could've sang on any of that shit. We wouldn't have missed a beat. And that's nothing against him (Bush). And you could see what trend we are doing now, it's some filtered from that stuff. But when somebody makes a change, there's always that kind of friction.”
BraveWords: One of my favourite Iron Maiden questions is; would Bruce go back and sing those two Blaze Bayley records?
Belladonna: “I don't think he would. Why bother. It's the same with me. We really don't have to do that Bush stuff. I don't need to hear about the comparisons. We have so much material that we don't even touch and don't even do. And not to mention the two brand-new records.”