Latest release: Worship Music (Nuclear Blast/Riot!)
Following a merry-go-round of vocalists and publically played out drama since 2005, pioneering US metallers Anthrax have answered their critics in the best possible way – with a brilliant new album, Worship Music. The record is their first containing original material in eight years and first in 21 years featuring Joey Belladonna on vocals. Loud met up with guitarist Scott Ian during his stay in Sydney while on tour with supergroup The Damned Things to talk about Worship Music, Belladonna’s vocal performance, the recent Big Four shows and also answered some entertaining reader questions.
Q: There have been plenty of dramas, lineup changes, extensive media scrutiny and fan debate during the past few years, but the end result is a great record. Do you more or less feel like the end justifies the means then?
A: I think the record speaks for itself, sure. It’s all we ever give a shit about, is the music we make and whatever it takes to get there, that’s what happens, you know? And the record absolutely speaks for itself. It’s nice to let that happen now, ‘cause before the record was out, even as we were finishing it from let’s say from January of this year through June, and hearing what we had, we could talk about it all day long and tell people how great it is. But it’s finally nice for people to get to hear it for themselves and whether they like it or not, at least we can shut the fuck up about it now (laughs) and just let it be out there, you know?
Q: Indeed. When it came to reworking the material (after the dismissal of Dan Nelson in 2009, who had already laid down vocals on Worship Music), how many songs had to be re-written, how many had to be written from scratch, etc?
A: I don’t know. We spent two months last year on tour with Slayer and Megadeth, and every day we just sat and worked on stuff, and turned it into what it’s turned into. There was a lot more material at that point; a lot of it got focused down, some got thrown in the garbage, some got re-written, some got re-recorded earlier this year. It was just a process of making it the best record it could be. I wasn’t taking notes on, “what are we doing? 30 per cent of the record is different and 15 per cent was this, and 18 per cent was this”. Who gives a fuck? The record is the record. If we wrote it in 1983 and released it now, who cares? It’s this record, you know what I mean? I get asked that question a lot and really, I don’t understand… My attitude towards that is, I’m in the band and I don’t care. So it’s kind of like, what does it matter? This is the record we wrote and we finished, we made and whether it was the same or different or completely changed. I don’t really understand why it matters.
Q: Fair enough. Joey’s performance on this album is fantastic. I’m sure you knew what he was capable of, but were you at all surprised just how good the finished product was?
A: Surprised? No. Happy? Yes (laughs). I mean, he’s Joey, he’s a great singer and we left it in his hands. None of us were even in the studio with him when he sang this record. So we basically just said, “dude, go do your thing, just send us MP3s as you go”. So him and the producer would do that and I don’t barely think we ever had a note back to him, as far as, just everything they sent was great. So it’s an amazing performance and what’s crazy is, the same fucking thing happened in 1985. Joey joined this band and came in and sang on Spreading the Disease on a record that was completely written and finished, and he came in, learned those songs and sang them and sounded like he’d been singing songs for ten years. And it’s the same thing on this record. It’s amazing that the same thing has happened within this band, so far apart (laughs). It’s kind of mind-blowing to me.
Q: Is there one vocal performance on this record that you’re especially blown away by?
A: ‘Crawl’, because there’s dynamics in that song that we never really did anything like from Spreading the Disease through Persistence of Time. You can’t listen on any of those records and hear a song like that on any of those albums. I just really had no way to know what Joey’s take or approach or dynamically how he was going to do it. And he fucking nailed it; it’s like he read my mind. It’s like he went inside my brain and sang it exactly how I heard it in my head.
Q: What’s your favourite riff on Worship Music?
A: (Pauses) I don’t know, maybe the middle section of ‘The Constant’. It’s just hard to pick out one riff, but that part’s kinda cool.
Q: We’ve Come For You All was a great record. Was there any concern that with such a long wait and lineup changes, with Dan leaving, John Bush briefly returning and Joey coming back into the fold, that in the eyes of the fans this might hurt your momentum? Or that fans might lose faith in the band’s ability to deliver great music?
A: You can’t think about that stuff. You can only think about stuff that you have a hand in and what other people are going to think, what other people are going to say, all those other people aren’t in the band. They have no idea of the true inner workings and what we go through to keep this thing on track on a day-in, day-out basis. So you can only go to the other people that you’re fucking in the trenches with. We learned that back in 1983, so it’s the way we’ve always done things and we never take for granted our audience, and what they mean to this band. Without an audience, there is no band. It’s a privilege that we get to do this. But we can only be a band that is… We don’t put things up for committee. Decisions are made by us, not external, it’s all internal. It’s the only way we’ve ever done things and we’ll either live or die by that.
Q: Have you kept in touch with John since his departure?
A: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: Will the Dan Nelson version of the album ever be heard by the public?
A: We will never release it, but that doesn’t mean… We have a thing called the Internet, so it doesn’t mean it’s never gonna come out, because obviously there’s people who have copies of it. But it’s something we’ll never officially release, no.
Q: There’s also a cover of Refused’s ‘New Noise’ as a bonus track. Probably not a selection many would have predicted.
A: Some of us are just big fans of that band and that record (1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come) and have been since, well I was a Refused fan even before that record. But like any other cover we’ve ever done, we just love playing it; it’s just so much fun to play.
Q: Are we likely to see Anthrax in Australia again in the near future?
A: Soon, I hope. Obviously we plan on touring this record until we can’t. So I would hope sometime early next year.
Q: What’s the latest with the Big Four situation – are there any more shows on the horizon?
A: You know as much as I do. I’m serious, we have no idea.
Q: It seems like if Metallica says yes, everyone else just goes with it.
A: We just wait for the phone to ring. We have the Big Four phone; they installed one in each band’s office and when the phone rings, you just ask when and where (laughs).
Q: (Laughs). To me the new album just works as a heavy metal album. You’ve been included as part of the Big Four of thrash metal and the like, but it’s just a great metal record.
A: That’s all we’ve ever been, we never called ourselves thrash metal. When we started this band, we were a metal band and that’s what we knew. That’s what the bands that came before us that we were influenced by were; therefore we thought we were a metal band. Then at some point in the 80s people started calling it speed metal and thrash metal and they started coming up with all these new terms for everything. I just call everything metal. I don’t care what it is; black metal, fucking death metal, all these different terms, it’s all metal to me. I don’t know why people have to dumb it down and categorise shit and be so anal about it. It’s all fucking heavy metal. Iron Maiden sounds different than Black Sabbath; so many bands from the late 70s and early 80s sound different, yet they were all just heavy metal bands. So why did they have to come up with a new name for us? I don’t give a fuck if people call us thrash metal; I just don’t consider us that. To me, Anthrax is just a heavy metal band.
Q: There’s been somewhat of a thrash revival in recent years, with a lot of new bands popping up. Are you aware of those acts at all?
A: No, well, you’d have to tell me who. It’s not like I sit around and pay attention… But if you name specific bands then I could tell or not if I’ve paid attention.
Q: Two that come immediately to mind would be Evile and Municipal Waste.
A: I’ve heard of Evile. Municipal Waste I actually own a record and I like it (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) Good to hear. Now, we’ve actually got some reader questions for you. Aaron asks via e-mail, what is your favourite memory of working with Dimebag Darrell?
A: Wow, to pick out one is kinda tough. I guess I would just say his work on our records, because obviously that’s eternal. He played on three albums, so getting to do that together with him lasts forever. My memories of him of course will last forever too, but that’s something physical that you could actually go pick up and listen to and the fact that he played on three Anthrax albums is just so amazing for me, that he was a part of my band.
Q: The same reader asks what you think is the most under-rated Anthrax album?
A: (Pauses) Ooh, that’s a tough one. I will say Volume 8: The Threat is Real. Completely under-rated; not so much that it’s under-rated, it’s just not even on the map, because the label that it was on quickly went out of business and you couldn’t even buy it in stores. The people that, they own the masters and they wouldn’t even license it to someone else. So it’s a record that, I think you can get it on iTunes and things like that, but I don’t even think a physical copy exists, like for years. I would say have to say Volume 8 probably, ‘cause I think it’s probably the least heard Anthrax record.
Q: Rod Sedgwick asks if we can expect any cool film clips for any of the singles from this album – perhaps even some inspired by Alex Ross’ art?
A: I wish. That would be amazing to do some kind of killer animated version of something that Alex would do. But that wouldn’t come out for about ten years by the time we’d be able to get something like that done. I don’t know if we’ll do a video clip or not on this record, I find videos to probably be kind of a huge waste of time and money these days.
Q: Rob Giles says he enjoyed Anthrax’s contributions to the soundtrack to John Carpenter’s film Ghosts of Mars. Have you had any more opportunities like that and is it something you’d like to pursue?
A: Absolutely, we would love to. We haven’t had any more opportunities along the lines of that; we’ve had songs be on soundtracks, but that was the first time we ever actually got to score a film. It was an amazing experience, especially working with John Carpenter and it’s something we would love to do again, for sure.
Q: Allen Rudd asks if Metallica ever re-paid you for the pizza, baloney and showers in 1983?
A: Absolutely (laughs). Yeah, I would say the Big Four shows are re-payment and more (laughs).
Q: A reader calling himself “Art Vandelay” asks, what was the more fun television show to work on – Married…With Children or NewsRadio?
A: I have to say Married…With Children. NewsRadio was fun, but Married…With Children was just a much better part. We were much more involved in the episode and just getting to hang out with Ed O’Neill that whole week was just amazing; we were all such massive Married…With Children fans and that was an incredible experience.
Q: I’m sure you’ve been asked this plenty of times before, but how did you come to appear on the show?
A: We were actually trying to get on The Simpsons, and it was a producer at FOX who called and said, “hey, there’s no Simpsons stuff going on at this point, but Married…With Children has a script where they’re looking for a heavy metal band, would Anthrax would be interested?” It’s like, ‘yeah, we fucking love that show,” so that’s how it happened.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Fight ‘em ‘til you can’t.