They were lost for a while, but 1980s metal megas­tars An­thrax are back, with old front­man Joey Bel­ladonna, a new al­bum and a new en­ergy. “We sell more tick­ets now than in 1986,” gui­tarist Scott Ian tells Can’t stop the mosh

Ronan Mcgreevy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

THERE ARE NO sec­ond acts in Amer­i­can life, ac­cord­ing to F Scott Fitzger­ald, but some­body for­got to tell An­thrax. In the 1980s, they were in the van­guard of thrash – heavy metal riffs played at punk-rock pace – which changed heavy metal for­ever, and for the bet­ter.

In 2009, af­ter more than a decade of di­min­ish­ing re­turns, they had recorded an al­bum of new ma­te­rial, but had no singer – ironic given that they have had eight since the band’s for­ma­tion. They had parted ways with Dan Nel­son and then his re­place­ment John Bush, who had been in the band pre­vi­ously and was the long­est-serv­ing vo­cal­ist An­thrax had ever had.

The death rat­tle of a band in its fi­nal throes was au­di­ble. What to do?

“That was the most con­fus­ing mo­ment in all my years of An­thrax, and we’ve been through a lot of crap, as any band would, in a 30-year span,” re­calls gui­tarist Scott Ian – the only per­ma­nent mem­ber of An­thrax since the band’s for­ma­tion in 1981. “To be sit­ting there with a fin­ished al­bum and no lead singer was cer­tainly a new one for all of us.”

The so­lu­tion seemed ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­body ex­cept the band them­selves. “Char­lie [drum­mer Benante] brought up Joey Bel­ladonna in a meet­ing. He said ‘Why don’t we talk to Joey?’ and we said, ‘yeah, shit, why don’t we talk to Joey’.”

Bel­ladonna was the singer dur­ing the 1980s when An­thrax were at their cre­ative and com­mer­cial zenith. Vo­cal­ists have come and gone but he has al­ways been the one most as­so­ci­ated in the pub­lic mind with the band. Be­tween 1985 and 1992, with Bel­ladonna on vo­cals, An­thrax re­leased four al­bums, Spread­ing the Dis­ease, Among the Liv­ing, State of Eu­pho­ria and Per­sis­tence of Time.

That phase spawned the songs for which they are best known, from Mad­house to their in­spired cover ver­sion of Joe Jack­son’s song Got the Time.

But in 1992, when grunge threat­ened to lay waste to the whole metal scene, Bel­ladonna’s old-school vo­cal de­liv­ery came to be re­garded as su­per­flu­ous to re­quire­ments and he was fired. He re­turned to rekin­dle old glo­ries with a long tour in 2005 and 2006, but when they were of­fered a fur­ther lu­cra­tive sup­port­ing slot, he baulked.

Ian now ad­mits that he should never have fired Bel­ladona in the first place. “Peo­ple say ‘why it is so hard to keep a line-up to­gether?’. Peo­ple don’t get it. It’s worse than fam­ily,” he says.

“You spend so much time with peo­ple in your life and some­times it would seem like the eas­i­est thing on your mind to pick up the phone and call some­body.

“We called Joey. We met in New York. It was as sim­ple as 15 min­utes over a cup of cof­fee in New York. ‘Do you want to do it? What do you think?’ He was on the same page. That was three years ago and we haven’t looked back.”

The in­duc­tion of Me­tal­lica, the undis­puted kings of thrash, into the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 pro­vided an­other fil­lip. Ever schem­ing and dream­ing of ways to keep Me­tal­lica in the pub­lic eye, drum­mer Lars Ul­rich came up with his most au­da­cious plan to date, a tour in­volv­ing the “Big Four” of thrash metal, Me­tal­lica, Me­gadeth, Slayer and An­thrax.

He made the sug­ges­tion to Ian who had been in­vited to Me­tal­lica’s in­duc­tion. “We were all drunk and Lars said ‘what do you think about do­ing the Big Four?’ and I said ‘what’s the Big Four?’ I said it was awe­some, not tak­ing it se­ri­ously at all. It was drunk talk.”

Most fans thought it could not be done be­cause of the ocean of bit­ter­ness be­tween Me­gadeth main­stay Dave Mus­taine and his erst­while band­mates in Me­tal­lica, who fired him in 1982. (An en­counter be­tween Ul­rich and Mus­taine on the bril­liant Me­tal­lica doc­u­men­tary Some Kind of Mon­ster is worth check­ing out on YouTube.)

To com­pound mat­ters, the com­bustible Mus­taine also had an on­go­ing feud with Kerry King from Slayer.

Ian says An­thrax never fought with any­body. “So much of that crap is an­cient his­tory. As much as I’d like to think none of us have grown up, a lot of us have grown up in a lot of ways.

“We have got on with those other three bands al­ways. What­ever is­sues Dave and Me­tal­lica had in the past, it cer­tainly wasn’t rear­ing up when­ever we were play­ing shows to­gether.”

In true re­demp­tive fash­ion, Mus­taine kicked his ad­dic­tions and be­came a born-again Chris­tian. He made his peace with the rest, and

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