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​A fistful of Anthrax

by James Osborne | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Music | May 16th, 2018

Anthrax band

When I was 13 the “Big 4” of thrash metal ruled the planet. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax were so cool that my older brother hid their tapes for fear that me becoming a fan would make them instantly uncool.

Charlie Benante is Anthrax’s drummer. I always knew who Charlie was but not really because drummers tend to get relegated to the figurative background as well. When I think of Anthrax, I think of Joey Belladonna and Scott Ian. Joey because he’s the singer and has that wild-ass hair-do and Scott because he’s bald and has that cute little beard. Until now I couldn’t have picked Charlie out of a lineup. From talking to him, I think he likes it that way even though he’s responsible for Anthrax’s cover art and is an accomplished guitarist who writes quite a bit of the band’s music. He may not be the public face of the group but he’s arguably their most important member.

Anthrax was the black sheep of the Big 4. They were from New York and not California like the others. “And none of us were blonde.” says Charlie. “We also embraced other forms of music that we let sneak into our sound a bit.” They covered Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”, The Smiths “London” and, most famously, Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise”. Most importantly, where the other three maintained very serious and intense personas, Anthrax had a sense of humor and were willing to poke fun not only at themselves but metal culture in general. “Yeah, we were laughing and cracking each other up, who we were on stage and off was pretty much the same”. He says.

If we summed up the “Big 4” with Tiger Beat boy-crush archetypes: Metallica would be the straight-laced responsible one, Slayer would be the dark, rebellious one, Megadeth the troubled and complicated one and Anthrax would be the silly one with a ridiculous nickname like “Boner” or “Nugget”. You know, the guy that always has his finger coming out of his zipper in pictures and wears the 12 pack box as a helmet at parties.

After 9-11, anthrax-contaminated envelopes were mailed to media outlets, the band’s website http://www.anthrax.com (it was 2001) saw a surge in hits by people wanting to learn about the disease. Anthrax was pressured to change their name. They issued a press release saying they were changing their name to “Basket of Puppies or something more friendly…. Before the tragedy of September 11th the only thing scary about Anthrax was our bad hair in the 80's and the "Fistful Of Metal" album cover.”

Fistful of Metal was the band’s debut album, the cover art is notoriously bad. It’s awkward and makes no anatomical sense as both hands pictured are left hands. Even if it could be explained that one of the hands was detached and is now being force fed to some dude with chocolate sauce splattering everywhere…. it still really sucks. It looks like the 2nd place winner of a 6th grade art fair. “I hate it” says Charlie. “It’s wrong. The concept was kind of cool but the fist was supposed to be coming out of the back of the guy’s head but it’s coming from the side of the face which doesn’t make sense.”

Charlie vowed to never allow this to happen again and took control of both Anthrax’s art and aesthetic. “I’ve designed every album and every single after the first one. I get a whole feel for the album and the way it sounds and usually a title then a concept will come with it.” The art has gotten 100% better. “It’s very important to me to have a really good package with the album. I think it makes it that much more interesting for the listener.”

This is one of many reasons that Benante was outspoken in his opposition to file sharing during the ‘The Great Napster Debate of 01’ or whatever we call it now. “Someone was trying to tell me that I’m out of touch with that type of thing and that streaming is the way to go and I got really offended by it though I understood where it was coming from. I’ve been in this business too long to have someone tell me how it should be.” Thankfully, Charlie never reached Ulrichian levels of douchiness on the matter although, he does have a lot to say about it. In another interview he accused Apple of destroying the music industry’. I do agree with Benante that art adds an interesting component to album packaging. But if you can get past the cover, Fistful of Metal, is an otherwise amazing album. Aside from Neil Turbin’s soaring vocals, the speed, aggression and heaviness, all chief components of thrash metal are in place even though “thrash metal” technically didn’t exist yet.

I asked Charlie what they considered themselves to be “We just called ourselves a metal band. First it was “speed metal” then it got tagged thrash metal. After {thrash} evolved and it spawned arms, legs a tail.. we started using it but we were just metal at first.”

It’s important to note something that Charlie failed to mention: “Thrash” in regard to metal was coined in reference to the second song off of side A. of Fistful of Metal which is “Metal Thrashing Mad”. Charlie co-wrote the first “thrash metal” song. It’s not the ‘thrashiest’ song on the album, it’s sort of a revisitation of Deep Purple’s Highway Star but it’s still a great cut.

Charlie also has his own brand of coffee, a process he says he’s “Really involved in”.

“Coffee is very important to me. I put it in the same spectrum as music, art and love of family. It’s part of every day. I love it. It’s definitely a way of life. I’ve been into coffee since I was a little kid”. He even a series of video shorts where he talks to other musicians ala Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. “When I’m with my friends or other musicians I find out which ones are into coffee and we’d be talking about coffee anyway. I think it’s a good platform for people who don’t normally talk about coffee in their interviews. I thought ‘Here’s something different. What’s your morning experience like with coffee? What gets you going?” He interviews Tom Araya in one and Brent from Mastodon in another. Anthrax even markets their own beer.

Despite all the branding and Scott Ian’s reality television foray, Anthrax has maintained credibility with a highly-devoted fan base. Perhaps it’s because they’ve stayed true to form, musically. The songs “Fight ´Em ´Til You Can't” from 2011’s Worship Music or “Suzerain” from their 2016 offering For All Kings make that pretty clear. They’ve never had to pander to new audiences to seem relevant.

I saw a video of Anthrax playing a concert from late 2017. If you squint you could confuse if for footage from 1986. They’re energetic, healthy and they sound as tight as they did before Scott Ian cut what little remained of his hair.

Despite all of this, it’s rare to see members of metal bands still playing at 35 years old, let alone 35 years after their inception. With Slayer announcing that they’re done and Dave Mustaine looking like someone slapped a red wig on Betty White, I wondered how many years Anthrax has left. Charlie said “As long as we’re still feeling it and the audience is still feeling it and people are coming to see us and we’re still capable we should be around for another five to 10 years. I don’t want to put a time stamp on it.

KFJ: Will you play a quick game with me, Charlie?

Charlie: Sure.

KFJ: Since Anthrax is getting to the age where they have a growing set of health concerns like Alzheimer's, blood pressure and arthritis, I figured it would be interesting to see if you have a hard time distinguishing thrash metal bands from geriatric drugs in this special edition of Medicine of Metal Band.

Charlie: Cool.

KFJ: The first name is Exelon.

Charlie: I have to say that’s a pharmaceutical

KFJ: That’s right it treats dementia. You got one right. Number two is Aberrazione.

Charlie: Are they from Poland?

KFJ: Is that your answer?

Charlie: Oh, I’m probably going to get this wrong. I guess I’ll say medicine

KFJ: It’s an Italian thrash band.

Charlie There you go.

KFJ: Varkolak.

Charlie: Pharmaceutical?

KFJ: It’s a German thrash band. One for three so far. Number four is Zytiga

Charlie: Man, I’ve never heard of this either. I don’t have any records by this band nor do I have and medicine by this name.

KFJ: You got a guess?

Charlie: I’ll say it’s a band

KFJ: It’s a prostate cancer drug. One for four. We got two more. Vervrax

Charlie: I’ll say medicine.

KFJ: That is a Polish thrash band.

Charlie: Hahaha! Ok.

KFJ: Ok, Xalacom

Charlie: Band?

KFJ: Man, those are eyedrops for glaucoma treatment

Charlie: Damn.

KFJ: One out of Six correct. You may be an awesome drummer, visual artist, guitarist, coffee maker and a whole bunch of other stuff but you’re lousy at distinguishing thrash bands from geriatric medications. Thanks for talking to me though, Charlie.

Charlie: Thank you, bro. Appreciate it.

Anthrax just released a two-hour concert DVD called King Among Scotland at Anthrax.com

All things Charlie Benante including his coffee are available at Charliebenante.com

Anthrax and thrash mates Testament play the Sanctuary Events Center with local heels Gorgatron May 23rd

IF YOU GO:

Anthrax and Testament

Wednesday, May 23, 7:15 p.m.

Sanctuary Events Center, 670 4th Ave N, Fargo

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