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Like his bandmate Scott Ian, who was asked about it on the eve of his recent spoken word tour, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante won’t be drawn on giving his thoughts on the impending retirement of their friends in Slayer.
“I guess it will be,” is all he says when it is suggested that next year’s Download visit will be the last time the two bands will be in Australia together.
He’s much less reticent when the subject turns to their fourth album State of Euphoria, which was released thirty years ago in September. A lesser-regarded album than the others featuring the “classic” Anthrax line-up of Benante, Ian, bassist Frank Bello, singer Joey Belladonna and lead guitarist Dan Spitz, State of Euphoria is nevertheless remembered for tracks like ‘Be All, End All’, ‘Make Me Laugh’ and ‘Antisocial’. Originally by French band Trust, ‘Antisocial’ has since been associated more with Anthrax and is still part of their set to this day.
““The State of Euphoria period was a very strange period because we were on such a high from Among the Living,” Benante explains. “We had nothing to draw from from that point, so we were just experiencing this new life and just going with it, enjoying it and we really didn’t take it all that serious. After [Among the Living], we just started to assemble some things and say ‘Ok, this is what we learned, this is what we want to repeat and this is what we don’t want to repeat’. And I think we gained some experience, some wisdom, some knowledge and we took it to the next level.”
The band’s image at the time put them at odds with expectations of how metal bands – especially thrash bands – should look and behave. Instead of the spikes and leather or battle fatigues and stovepipe jeans of their contemporaries, State of Euphoria’s back cover featured a caricature of the band by Mad Magazine artist Mort Drucker dressed in shorts and trackpants. Instead of bullet belts and menacing glares, Anthrax hit the stage in baseball caps, Bermuda shorts and multi-coloured tanks. Fans and critics alike found it hard to warm to the idea that Anthrax was a serious band. Benante and Ian had, after all, participated in the parody act Stormtroopers of Death, a group whose deliberately offensive humour had alienated some sections of their audience.
“We were taking ourselves seriously, but when the State of Euphoria record and tour came out, I think we let things get a little out of our hands. We were almost being accused of being too happy – Why are you guys smiling so much? Why are you guys wearing all these coloured shorts? Why are you doing this? We were just living for the moment and then, I think, there was a little bit of a backlash after that record and I think that’s what made us get a little stern and I think that’s why the next record [Persistence of Time] was a bit darker.”
State of Euphoria was released in 1988, along with albums by Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. It was the first time all of them – later dubbed the Big Four – issued albums during the same year. Being included as part of that group, Benante says, was something they felt very positive about.
“I think the best thing that happened to us was that we were included in this club, that became the Big Four club, and that meant we were respected and looked upon as one of the bands that started this whole movement. We were being shown some respect. We felt good about that.”
That esteem probably helped Anthrax stay afloat as their fortunes changed into the 90s.
The latter part of that decade and most of the rest of the next one was a tough period for the group that saw them release only one album – 2003’s We’ve Come For You All – in 13 years. Anthrax struggled with collapsing record labels, revolving-door lead guitarists, on-again off-again relationships with vocalists John Bush and Joey Belladonna and drifting musical direction. In 2008, they began making an album with a third singer, Dan Nelson. After being all but scrapped, re-worked and re-recorded, that album became 2011’s Worship Music, a concerted effort n the band’s part to bring back the style of metal they had originally been known for.
“We know we kind of… how can I put this?” Benante begins, carefully. “We kind of experimented a little bit with different sounds and then one day if was like, ‘Hey man, let’s get out shit together. Let’s go back to what we do’. And since that happened we’ve never looked back. We’ve been making really good stuff.”
Warmly embraced by both their fanbase and the critics, Worship Music returned Anthrax to the US Billboard charts for the first time since 1993.
“One of the things I wanted to achieve with that album was putting us back on the map,” the drummer says. “That was my goal. I really didn’t have a ton of expectations about it, I just wanted to create the best batch of songs, I wanted it to be familiar to people again – the music and the vocals, to bring it back to what had been missing.”
Worship Music was the comeback album Anthrax had to have, but Benante concedes that if it hadn’t been for the tough times they had been through in the years leading up to it, it may not have been the record it became.
“If it wasn’t for the stuff that came prior to it, it wouldn’t have been as good as it was. The struggle, the obstacles prior to that… made us appreciate the good.”
He laughs as he admits he doesn’t want to face that again.
“Believe me man,” he says, sagely and a little wearily, “it wasn’t an easy ride for us at that point. Once that record was done and it was so well received, it started to change… I always use a metaphor that we were a large boat like the Titanic, that it would take a lot to turn that boat around. That record turned the boat around!”