Perfect Sound Forever

ANTHRAX


Want to guess which decade this was?

In My World
By Pete Crigler
(February 2014)


Anthrax has always been one of the best thrash metal bands around, but they've also had an unbelievable share of bad luck that has crippled them time and time again. In the early '90's, they could have the same career as Metallica or Slayer but instead they wound up like Testament and Exodus: multiple record deals, different line ups and an uneasy feeling dealing about their past.

The band was the brainchild of rhythm guitarist Scott Ian who started the group in 1981 with some childhood friends and wanted to start doing a different type of metal than what he was being fed by Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. After turning over the entire band, he settled on a lineup of drummer Charlie Benante, vocalist Neil Turbin, bassist Dan Lilker and lead guitarist Dan Spitz. After playing around their home base of New York for a couple of months, they managed to snag a deal with local indie Megaforce Records. By the end of 1983, the lineup wound up in the studio and began work on their debut album. The resulting effort, Fistful of Metal was released in early 1984 and immediately made an impression on metal fans and critics alike with its punishing riffs and interesting lyrics- a lot of metal bands hadn't been handling such insane subject matter in quite a long time and while diehard fans only feel that Fistful is the best record, it set the stage for the band to balance humor and seriousness all while keeping the speed up.

One thing that nobody could seem to agree upon was Neil Turbin and whether his voice fit with the band well or not. It was a couple of months after the album was released that the band found themselves in a quagmire. Tensions were building and finally Lilker announced he was leaving. He went on to form Nuclear Assault and Brutal Truth. Not long after, Turbin was fired and the band began auditioning for replacements. They eventually settled on Benante's cousin Frank Bello on bass and vocal powerhouse Joey Belladonna. Belladonna's taste in music was quite different than the rest of the band but his vocal power could never be denied. The band got a chance to show off the new and improved lineup on the Armed and Dangerous EP that was released in the spring of 1985. It was about this time that Megaforce signed a distribution deal with Island Records, bringing the band along.

After touring steadily, the band returned to the studio and began working on their sophomore effort. Spreading the Disease was released late in 1985 and the band made their first attempt at MTV with the video for "Madhouse," which was filmed in a derelict asylum. The video was only shown late at night because MTV was weary of its images (not just the setting of the video but also because the band had people dressed up as 'loonies'). After touring in support of the album, which included a failed jaunt with Black Sabbath and touring with Metallica when Cliff Burton was killed, the band made their way back to the studio with the legendary Eddie Kramer (who engineered Hendrix's studio albums) to begin work on their masterpiece.

Among the Living was released in early 1987 and included the thrash classics "Indians," "Caught in a Mosh," "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)" and "I Am the Law," their ode to Judge Dredd. The album was an immediate smash and quickly went gold. By this point, they were all over MTV and were admired by fellow thrash bands. A couple of months after the album's release, the band released an experimental EP entitled I'm the Man, the title track of which combined Jewish folk songs, thrash and hip-hop in a hilarious and amazingly trendsetting song which turned the rock world upside down. The EP was a smash and subsequently went platinum and launched the band into the mainstream.

In 1988, the band returned to the studio and quickly made and released State of Euphoria. The album went gold but the fans and even the band felt the finished product was a bit rushed, due to time constraints and label pressures. But the album also produced two of the band's most known songs, "Who Cares Wins" and a cover of the French metal band Trust's "Antisocial." It also happens to contain one of this author's personal favorites, "Be All, End All." The band went back on the road but they knew they needed to come back harder and stronger on the next record and that's exactly what they did.

But the road getting there wasn't so easy. In early 1990, their rehearsal space caught fire and tons of gear and inspiration was destroyed. The band were bitter and angry so when they went into the studio that spring, they came in swinging. The result, Persistence of Time was one of the hardest and angriest metal records to come out by a band not called Slayer. Anthems like "Belly of the Beast" and "In My World" became staples in the band's set and their incendiary cover of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time" was heralded by the man himself. To support the album, the band went on one of the most legendary metal tours of all time. Clash of the Titans paired them with Megadeth and Slayer along with a young Alice in Chains opening up. The tour was a smash and the band were on top of the world.

It was around this time they decided to release a collection of B-sides and decided to record a new track. Scott Ian had long been fascinated with Public Enemy and he called up Chuck D to ask if they wanted to collaborate on a cover of P.E.'s legendary "Bring the Noise" (which name-checked Anthrax). At first, Chuck wasn't sure but when the band sent over the completed music, he was thrilled and eagerly signed the group up. Both bands had so much fun making the track and the video that Chuck decided they needed to take this show on the road. So in the fall of 1991, Anthrax and Public Enemy hit the road on a massively successful arena tour that brought two completely different cultures together. When Attack of the Killer B's was released around the same time, it quickly went gold and brought the band a Grammy nomination for "Bring the Noise."

At the utter height of the band's success, they decided some change was necessary as they were heading into a new musical direction. Joey Belladonna was fired and the band decided to leave Island Records. John Bush, formerly of Armored Saint was brought in on vocals and the band signed with Elektra Records for a reported $10 million. The rejuvenated band entered the studio with Dave Jerden, fresh off working with Alice in Chains and came out in the spring of 1993 with Sound of White Noise. The album got the fans' attention right off the bat due to several things; for one, Spitz had nothing to do with the writing, he basically just showed up in the studio, recorded his solos and that was that; second, the album was more rock oriented than anything the band had done for years. The album didn't have that same thrashy sound as previous records but it was still successful, debuting at number seven on the Billboard 200 and going gold. The singles "Only" and "Room for One More" were all over Headbanger's Ball and got some airplay on rock radio. The other single "Black Lodge" was co-written with composer Angelo Badalamenti and was a tribute to his score for the TV show Twin Peaks.

During the album's touring cycle, Bob Krasnow, the President of Elektra was dismissed and a whole new regime was brought in. The new President was more focused on hip-hop and R&B and didn't really give a shit about Anthrax. It was also around this time that Spitz decided to leave the band and become a watchmaker. It was in the midst of all this chaos that the band went back to the studio to make their seventh album with The Butcher Brothers producing, who were best known for producing hip-hop acts and Urge Overkill. The result, Stomp 442 was released in the fall of 1995 to dismal sales and negative reviews. It didn't help that the band forgot how to write good songs. There is absolutely nothing memorable on the record at all and as a result, the record tanked and the band began bitching about Elektra not promoting them properly. Sometime in 1996, the band and the label parted ways and the band went on the road in order to keep momentum going.

In late 1997, the band announced they'd signed with Ignition Records, a rock oriented subsidiary of the legendary hip-hop label Tommy Boy. The band announced that the new album, co-produced by touring lead guitarist Paul Crook, entitled Volume 8: The Threat is Real! would be released in the summer of 1998. When the album came out, it did even worse than Stomp 442 even though the songs were a lot better and were more memorable, particularly the single "Inside Out." Unfortunately, less than eight months after the album came out, Tommy Boy shut Ignition down, leaving the band without a home. Sometime in 1999, they signed with the small Beyond label, home to Blondie and Motley Crue. That fall, they released Return of the Killer A's, their first greatest hits collection. Among the older material was a new cover of The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion" that featured both John Bush and Joey Belladonna on vocals. About that same time, the band was preparing for a tour that would feature both vocalists but Belladonna pulled out at the last minute because he didn't want to commit to the band.

By this stage in the game, the band had become an opening act for bands like Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. They were apparently preparing to sign a deal with ArtistDirect Records, a small label supported by the website of the same name but the contract was never signed and the band eventually signed a deal with Sanctuary Records. In 2001, the anthrax terrorist plot became headline news and people began to freak as to whether the band would change their name or not. But when they performed at a 9/11 benefit show in New York with new lead guitarist Rob Caggiano, formerly of Boiler Room, they showed their defiance, wearing suits emblazoned with the statement, "we're not changing our name." After that, the band went back into the studio and finally began work on a new studio album.

In the spring of 2003, they released album number nine, We've Come for You All, which debuted at #115, a much better showing than Volume 8. Two singles, "What Doesn't Die" and the ballad "Safe Home," wound up in heavy rotation on the revived Headbanger's Ball. "Safe Home's" video even featured actor Keanu Reeves, a longtime fan of the band. At this stage, the band were back in form and went on a very successful tour and they continued this winning streak in early 2004 with the release of The Greater of Two Evils, a collection of re-recorded Belladonna-era songs with Bush on vocals. The record met with general indifference but the band kept touring.

Less than three months after the record was released, Frank Bello announced he was leaving the band, shocking longtime fans because he'd been in the band for twenty years and had played on everything except the debut. He stated he was leaving to go play with the revived Helmet, taking over for the great Henry Bogdan. The shell-shocked band kept going and brought in Bush's Armored Saint bandmate Joey Vera to fill in.

The band continued touring uneventfully until the spring of 2005, when they announced that the classic lineup of Belladonna, Spitz, Ian, Bello and Benante were reuniting to go back out on the road. The announcement was met with great fanfare and a lot of questions regarding John Bush and Rob Caggiano's status in the band. The band did not answer these questions and instead went on a massively successful tour that included playing Among the Living in its entirety. When the touring was over, the plan was to go back to the studio and work on a new album with the lineup. In early 2007, it was announced that the reunion was over as Belladonna and Spitz decided that it had gone on long enough and they wanted to go back to their own careers. The fans were understandably pissed as the band's future was now up in the air.

But Scott Ian, headstrong as ever, decided to keep the band going, bringing back Rob Caggiano and hiring the band's fourth (!) vocalist, Dan Nelson, of the unknown metal band Devilsize. The fans were skeptical at this new singer but after some shows in Chicago, he was welcomed as the band announced they were finally going to start working on the next record. The next year was spent recording and mixing the material but in the summer of 2009, it was announced that Nelson was leaving the band.

So began a whole shitstorm in the press with the band saying that Nelson left due to illness and Nelson calling bullshit on the whole thing, basically saying that it was the band that threw him out. This went on back and forth in the press for a couple of months until Scott Ian announced the band would be playing some shows in Europe with John Bush back on vocals. The shows went very well and then the band was faced with the prospect of Bush re-recording Nelson's vocals for their still upcoming record or whether to write new songs. The questions never got answered as Bush decided he didn't want to do the band anymore and ended up going back to Armored Saint full time.

Faced with another mind-bending decision, Ian announced that Joey Belladonna would be returning in early 2010 as the band prepared for the biggest shows they'd done in years. They geared up for the Big 4 shows where they were teamed with Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica for a series of European festivals and subsequent American dates. The Big 4 shows were a massive, monumental success and then the band decided that Belladonna would stay in the band and they finally announced late in 2010 that they would go into the studio and that Belladonna would re-record Nelson's vocals and they would be adding some new songs to the material that'd already been recorded. In the summer of 2011, the band released their first new song in seven years as they announced their first album in eight years, Worship Music would be released that fall.

When the record was released, it was hailed as a return to form and it debuted at #11 on the Billboard 200, their best showing since 1993. The record was hailed as one of the best metal records of 2011 and the band found themselves back on the radio with "The Devil You Know" and they celebrated their success by touring around the world once more. But Dan Nelson reared his head again, claiming that he'd been deprived of songwriting credit and royalties for tracks that were included on Worship Music. Subsequently, the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. In late 2012, they returned to the studio and began work on an EP of classic rock songs that'd long inspired them, including Rush, AC/DC, Journey, Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy and Boston.

In January of 2013, the band found themselves on break and so Rob Caggiano went to go produce the new album for Volbeat. A few months later, he announced that he was leaving Anthrax due to musical differences and that he was joining Volbeat fulltime as their new lead guitarist. By this point in time, Belladonna was the only one who'd been present at every show as personal lives started getting in the way: Scott Ian got married to Meat Loaf's daughter and had a baby, Charlie Benante's sister and Frank Bello's mother passed away and Benante started undergoing a lot of personal problems, everything from injuries to an arrest with his wife over allegations of a domestic dispute in a hotel room. To solve this problem, the band brought in friends like Jon Dette of Testament and members of Shadows Fall to fill in live.

In the spring of 2013, the Anthems EP was released to mixed critical reception. Some critics said it was the worst record the band had ever put out but the fans didn't seem to care, as it debuted at number #52. Around the same time, Ian announced that Jon Donais of Shadows Fall was going to become Caggiano's replacement. With all this happening, he also announced that the band would get back in the studio towards the end of 2013 and that a new album would be forthcoming sometime in 2014.

It's no secret that Anthrax have been through a lot of B.S. over the years: lineup changes, label fluctuations, bad albums, poor sales. But through it all, they've managed to keep going. Though they could've been one of the bestselling metal bands of all time, they've had to fight and fight just to get where they are now. As a result of their determination and of course, the music, they will always be remembered as one of the fiercest, heaviest and fastest metal bands in all the land.

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