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
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