Latest release: For All Kings (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.anthrax.com
It’s 7am when Anthrax bass player Frank Bello takes my call, and apologises for the early hour. There’s been five years between albums for the New York metal legends, so with For All Kings just a few days out from release, every member of the band has been up at all hours doing press with outlets around the world, who naturally have to also be up at all hours to accommodate them.
“In the States here we’re going on morning shows and everything, and we’re on tour here at the moment too, so with all that it’s a pretty full day, each day,” he says cheerfully.
It probably isn’t likely to settle down very soon either, with both expectations and excitement running high for the follow up to 2011’s Worship Music. Fans and critics agreed that album was a glorious return for Anthrax after a long streak of patchy releases and several years where the band’s career appeared to be nose-diving. Bello himself left Anthrax for a short time in 2004 to tour with Helmet and a tour by the classic 80s format of the band left other members like guitarist Rob Caggiano and singer John Bush out in the cold. Bush’s on-again, off-again relationship with Anthrax and the legal dispute surrounding the hiring and then departure of vocalist Dan Nelson made the success of Worship Music – eventually recorded with Joey Belladonna’s vocals – all the more surprising. After that sort of shenanigans, the two years it took to work on For All Kings was small fry.
“All of us knowing who the band is and knowing that we are Anthrax again made it a whole lot easier to write a record,” Bello says, adding that the length of time they took on it was beneficial. “We’re really happy with the record. We feel that it’s the best thing we’ve done, the heaviest record… all of the above. It’s why we took so long writing it. We lived with it. We really took our time with it to ensure everything was right… every piece of the record, we took them apart and put them back together and made sure they really were the right thing to let out. We weren’t in a rush.”
For All Kings is the Anthrax debut for lead guitarist Jon Donais, who originally joined the band in a touring capacity when Rob Caggiano left for Volbeat in 2013. His first tour of duty was that year’s Soundwave Festival, and soon afterward he was given a full-time role in the band.
“People know Jon’s work from Shadows Fall but I think that on this Anthrax record, Jon’s really stepped up on his leads,” the bassist says of the guy he calls a ‘hidden gem’. “People are gonna be really surprised about the calibre of player that he is. He’s really taken a step up. He’s just incredible. He tells stories with his leads, which is what I always like about lead players – when they tell a story. He really, really fits us well.”
The style of the new album is closely aligned to the one taken on Worship Music, a blend of chugging grooves from the late John Bush era and the thrash moves of their 80s period. It’s a combination that seems to be working for them. Bello puts it down to Anthrax growing comfortable in their skin and finally being aware of themselves.
“I think we have a really good thing going on with the writing of the songs. We actually know who we are. We know who Anthrax is as songwriters. And that should happen after all these years! I think we know if we like it.”
Songs are the key, he explains.
“All we wanna do, dude, is write the best song possible,” he says sagely. “Really. The best song possible, that’s all it’s about. Everything else takes care of itself. If you make a great song and that’s followed by another great song, it’s a great record. Touring all comes into play, people are happy and at the end of the day, we’re entertainers. Music has always taken me away from the daily stresses of life. That’s the way I feel about music and that’s why I feel very passionate about music. So that’s why I work very hard to take people away from their daily stresses. It’s an escape for them.”
More than thirty years as a band, and many are suggesting that Anthrax are making some of their best music yet. Frank Bello is enormously pleased about that kind of feedback, and he believes he knows why it’s coming their way.
“At the end of the day, you have to care. I care. The band Anthrax, we care about our songs. Because this is how we live! This is our name, the fibre of our being. Why would you let out anything that wasn’t ready? That wasn’t exactly the way you wanted it, that didn’t make you feel that fire in your belly, that straight from the heart..? We could never let that happen, especially at this stage of our career. My whole thing is: just be honest. Just be honest with it and follow it through.”