Anthrax is a band that should really need no introduction.
As of 2016, the New York-based quintet has been at the spearhead of thrash metal for 35 years, and has used that time to release eleven studio albums, tour all over the world and amass an intense, dedicated cult following.
And with a legendary career already behind them, the band’s front-man, Joey Belladonna, sees no sign of the veteran group stopping anytime soon.
“It’s not like anyone’s got any other ideas. It works, us playing. So we’re just going to keep playing!” he declares enthusiastically in the shadow of the media tent at the 2016 Bloodstock Festival.
“We feel good about it and I think if you can do what you do and do it well, then you’ve gotta do it. If you’re not doing it good, you lose the love of doing it. It’s like a football player; if they go out there and they don’t have the skills or they don’t have the passion to get in shape, then you’re not going out there. You just don’t do it.“I don’t like it when people don’t really want to be out there. You can just see it; just do everybody a favour and don’t do it! Sure, I’d love to see Led Zeppelin again, with [their late drummer] John Bonham and all that stuff, but they don’t want to sing that shit anymore [or] play anymore. It’s interesting when these bands finally say no to doing it one more time.”
Joey and Anthrax are currently spending their 36th year of existence out on the road, touring in support of their new album For All Kings, which dropped in February. The record was the first to feature the band’s new guitarist, Jon Donais, who is also known for his work with metalcore thrashers Shadows Fall.
“He fits right in,” says Joey.
“He has a great style and I think he has a great outlook on what we’re doing. He’s a good dude. Jon is fun to be around, he makes me laugh. It was an easy transition.“We knew him from Shadows Fall. And [Anthrax’s ex-guitarist] Rob Caggiano knew him, so it was just a matter of a phone call. He was transitioning after moving on from his band, so the timing was just perfect.“It’s not like ‘Maybe this guy will be in, maybe this guy won’t be in.’ We’re all together now and we feel like a normal band. We’ve filled that spot up so we don’t have to think about it that much, where if you had to think about that all the time and had fill-in dudes – which a lot of people have anyhow, that’s OK too. Shit, some bands, you won’t have anybody in the band! I saw Foreigner and even Mick [Jones, founder and lead guitarist] wasn’t there. But we’re a full band and we’re together still; even though we’re minus one dude, that’s OK. We’re as good as we can be, if not better.”For All Kings achieved critical acclaim upon its release six months ago, but it was an album that was five long years in the making, following up from 2011’s Worship Music.
“I don’t think anybody’s in a hurry to make a record if it’s not going to be good,” Joey explains.
“The ideas have to be fresh and have to be thought-out, and even then you never know. I go in pretty quick; once I finally get everything sent to me, I just wing it. It’s laid out, but I still need to make something happen. It just takes time. It wasn’t a rush; I’d love to be able to put something out every year, but once you finish it, you need to absorb it. It’s hard to keep putting stuff out fast. Then it isn’t genuine too.“We’re on the road too. We don’t even get the chance to write anything when we’re on the road.“It’s not ‘Do you have any good ideas?’, it’s ‘When are you available?’ When we started tracking drums, we only did eight songs then stopped. We took a minute, then went back and did some more.”
2016 may have been huge for the Anthrax camp, with their 35th birthday and the addition of For All Kings to their canon both being huge milestones for the veterans, but 2017 will also see some cause for celebration: predominantly, the thirtieth anniversary of their most successful and beloved album, Among the Living.
“It was just a great turnaround,” Joey says of the 1987 classic.
“Coming out of [1985’s] Spreading the Disease, the whole thing emerged into something different. How would I know what was to come about? I had just gotten into the band, I didn’t really know what we were about and then [Among the Living] just makes its mark! That’s what makes me just go ‘Wow!’, because I didn’t know anything about the music.“We’re honoured to have tunes that people really, really wanna hear. And I don’t dislike things like that. I mean, even in my cover band [Chief Big Way], I play stuff that maybe, might not be my favourite choice or have the best vocals, but I know that other people will want to hear it. So I compromise a little bit; it’s the same with our stuff. There’s nothing in there I hate. There are certain songs that might be harder live, ones that are easier, ones that go over more, ones that don’t go over.“There are some songs where people just to this to it,” he continues, staring into space blankly for a few seconds to illustrate, “but with others, they’ll sing. But not every song does that. So what do you do? You just have to work around that. There are songs where there’s not much to them vocally so I’m not in favour of them and they’re a lot harder to play live, but other than that, I don’t dislike anything.”
And Anthrax’s future is looking just as bright as its past, as Joey is already teasing the band’s progress on their next release.
“I’m going to record something when I get back – a couple of songs – but that’s right in the middle of it. If something needs to be done, I’ve got to get in to do it. I hate to be rushed; I wish I could have done it two months ago but now there’s a window. I don’t like being ‘Oh, if it isn’t done today, that’s it!’ It’s got to be right. People write in the back of the bus on their way to their next city. I could do that, but we don’t.”
What this recording will be and when it will see the light of day both remain a mystery, but until it rears its head, fans have 35 years’ worth of pioneering, infamous thrash to satiate themselves with.
Anthrax’s new album, For All Kings, is available physically and digitally now via Nuclear Blast Records. Read our review of the album here.