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A Quietus Interview

Anthrax's Charlie Benante Talks About The Birth Of The Blast Beat
Mark Eglinton , March 9th, 2009 07:32

Our mountain climbing metal marauder Mark Eglinton tracks down and grills Anthrax's drummer on inventing the blast beat, and the band's high turnover of singers

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Of the Big Four of 80s thrash, one, Metallica, has made something of a return to form, while another, Slayer, never really went away. For Megadeth and Anthrax, however, the jury is very much still out. Both have endured fairly stressful passages of late, hardly helped by unsettling changes of personnel.

Anthrax make their very much anticipated return later this year with a new and relatively unknown vocalist Dan Nelson. Worship Music will be their first since 2002, and is reputed to be cut from the same cloth that made their 80s high-water marks Spreading the Disease and Among the Living so essential.

When you think of rock, you think of Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante. Since joining the band in 1983, he's battered out a reputation as one of the most gifted and innovative rock drummers of the modern era. The Quietus spoke to Benante to find out what 2009 has in store for Anthrax.

The new record Worship Music was scheduled for a May release, is that still going to happen? And what stage are you at?

Charlie Benante: "Well, that was always the plan and it’s possible that it’ll still happen that way, it kind of depends how things go. The drums are done, but the vocal parts and some of the guitar stuff is happening now, and we haven’t mixed it yet. We haven’t decided where it will even be mixed - LA and New York are possible. As far as how it will sound, it will have elements of Spreading the Disease type stuff and some elements of newer stuff like We’ve Come For You All.

Nobody had really heard of Dan Nelson. What was it about him that made you want him on board?

CB: "Dan’s style has a lot of the qualities John Bush had, but also he has the kind of voice that’ll suit some of our older songs. The problem is that he has to play catch up and that is never easy, we’ve been playing for twenty five years, and to catch up on that is almost impossible, but we’re really happy with how he’s doing."

Joey Belladonna sang on arguably your most commercially successful material. What exactly happened with Joey?

CB: "Honestly, I could name lots of different things on lots of different days but all in all the differences were musical and the direction that Anthrax the band wanted to go and the way Joey wanted were two different things. As far as being in contact with him I am not, but I mean it’s not like Joey doesn’t have all my numbers and everything..."

Do you think that your more light-hearted approach and lyrics hampered your progress over the years?"

CB: "That’s a good question. How you do depends a lot on whether your label pushes you or doesn't push you and I don’t think lyrics really make a difference. Being in a band for us was all about having a good time and our lyrics are really just our personalities coming out and we wouldn’t change that."

While we’re on labels, you guys have had a pretty mixed time with them over the years. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to succeed without the support of a big label?

CB: "You can’t be as successful without a big label ‘cos you don’t have the same music business presence, you just can’t have. If you release a record on the internet it is gonna be a lot quieter, unless you are someone like Radiohead, who I like a lot. They have a lot of clout and masses of fans, so for them to do it like they did, it works. It’s much harder for a smaller band to achieve that kind of impact."

So I take it you don’t just listen to metal these days?

CB: "No, I listen to nearly everything to everything. I heard the new Lamb of God online and I liked it. I think that the last record AC/DC put out was the best thing I have heard from them in a long long time. It’s exactly what I wanted to hear from them. Some black metal is OK too but most of it I couldn’t put on my main system and freak-out to at home, apart from Dimmu Borgir. I like the way that’s produced, the orchestration is like the soundtrack to a horror movie."

What did you think of Death Magnetic?

CB: "Well it’s right back to what they do isn’t it. They haven’t really made a true thrash record since maybe ...And Justice For All anyway, but yeah it’s a good album, no doubt."

Do you think that if bands released records like Among The Living or Master Of Puppets now, people would buy them like they did?

CB: "Yeah, absolutely."

You’ve had your share of line-up change over the years. How much damage does that do?

CB: "You know, our main changes were singer changes, the early one then from Joey to John Bush. Then after the reunion tour in 2005 that’s when things started to go a bit wrong. But people change and what they want changes, and I‘d never blame anyone for that. It hurts the chemistry but also having someone new can add a whole new dynamic to the band... You have to remember that in heavy metal, people don’t like change and are like, 'If it ain't broke please don’t fix it!'"

Have there been moments where you thought 'Fuck it, I’ve had enough’?

CB: "Seriously?, not really as bad as that. But there are times when we’re on a plane to London, then Amsterdam, then back to London, then to Australia and back to LA, when I wonder if there are better things to do. It’s all about being an adult and dealing with more adult subjects now. You might think that missing something your kid does at school doesn’t matter, but it definitely does."

Would you factor that into touring this record? Metallica came home between some dates?

CB: "They do things on a completely different scale don’t they? But within our means we’ll try and maybe make it a kind of ‘tour for a bit/come home/go on tour again’ type thing and we’ll probably come to the UK."

You play Bogota, Colombia next month with Iron Maiden. How did that come about?

CB: "They took us out on other shows and asked us to do this. It’s an outdoor park we’ll be playing and the best thing about it for me is that I get to play in front of however many thousand fans, AND I get to see Iron Maiden!"

Clear a burning issue up for me. The blast beat: did you invent it?

CB: "Ha! If you mean that I decided to sit in my room and invent it, no it wasn’t like that. The thing was something that had been around the NY hardcore scene for ages but hadn’t been used for other things. The first time it really happened was on S.O.D’s ‘Milk’ song, so I guess you could say I had a lot to do with it. Now a lot of bands are using it, and doing it really well."

Finally, Worship Music, is the pressure on or off?

CB: "For me you could say it’s off but maybe for the new guy you could say it’s on. I just want to enjoy what I am doing these days and just don’t want to do the whole fucking record company game and so I want do things to work a bit more organically now."

Worship Music will be released on Nuclear Blast, produced by Anthrax and Rob Caggiano, sometime in early summer.

Robin Brown
Mar 15, 2009 4:08pm

I've always been a huge Anthrax fan...and all there output has been good. I thought Vol 8 (yeah, you didn't even know there was one, right?)was their best work with some inspired drumming from Charlie but as usual interview references always hark back to Among The Living; it would piss me off no end. Anyway, nice little piece. Can't wait for the new material if the sneek peeks on the Anthrax website are anything to go by.

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Mark Eglinton
Mar 16, 2009 10:21am

Vol 8 is fine, but hardly their highest profile release. For interview purposes, particularly when time and space are at a premium,you have to try and pitch new material against the most important work in the back catalogue. With that in mind, few would argue with ATL's place there..and anyway,CB referred to it himself.

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