Mixing up the metal Anthrax pushes the heavy-metal envelope with new album

August 13, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic


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'Anthrax has always had a pretty heavy reputation. It wasn't just the manic intensity of its music, although the band's pedal-to-the-metal playing has kept it a mosh-pit favorite for almost a decade; what really made Anthrax matter was that it took chances and dealt with serious issues.

This was the band, remember, that teamed up with Public Enemy for a rap-meets-thrash rendition of "Bring the Noise" -- a move that was as daring culturally as it was commercially. And yet these guys made it seem like business as usual, something no more courageous than addressing run-of-the-mill issues like bigotry ("Keep It in the Family") or censorship ("Startin' Up a Posse").

Still, Anthrax had this image problem. As guitarist Scott Ian explains, "People sometimes had the idea of us as being, I don't know, like a comic-book band."

A comic-book band? Well, yeah -- that's what life on the road with singer Joey Belladonna seemed like to Ian. "People always saw this contradiction," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Montreal. "We have all these really heavy topics and subjects in our songs, but people came to see us live, and we'd have this singer who was like, 'Yeah, yeah, I can't hear you -- sing louder.' It was something that always bothered me, but there was no way around it, basically."

Ian doesn't really blame Belladonna for the situation. "He really wasn't a part of the songs," says Ian, who wrote all the band's lyrics. "So he had to find his own thing onstage, and he adapted that persona of being your typical type of frontman, doing a lot of audience pandering and all that kind of crap that really had nothing to do with what we were about."

Fortunately, that's not the case with the band's new singer, John Bush. For one thing, Bush took an active role in the band's songwriting.

"John contributed heavily to the lyrics and to the melody lines," says Ian. "Me and John knew each other before he was in the band, but when he joined Anthrax, he came to New York and me and him lived in an apartment together for six months while we were writing this record. Basically, all the ideas and opinions behind the lyrics was just from me and him becoming friends and really getting to know each other -- having discussions and whatnot. That's what it came out of.

"So the whole attitude of the band is different. Because we've got a singer who's a part of the songwriting. Now, the fun part of the band comes out in a much more natural way, rather than having to kind of be forced on the audience.

"It's like a real band now onstage, rather than just four guys with a frontman."

That sense of transformation isn't restricted to the band's stage show, either. In fact, Ian is particularly pleased with the way the stylistic range the group has managed on its current album, "White Noise."

"On our previous albums, something would stick out like a sore thumb if it was different," he explains. "Whereas on this album, things could be different from other songs that are on the album, but it all still works together."

Ian credits the band's last album, "Attack of the Killer B's" for some of the change. Although the album was something of a hash -- "All these B-sides and covers and different tracks that we had sitting around," he says -- he and his bandmates were surprised at how well its disparate strands wove together.

"We never considered it like a real album, because it was basically a lot of left-over material," he says. "But once we had these 12 tracks together, we said, 'Wow, this really makes sense as an Anthrax record!' Because even though there was a lot of diversity on the record, it all worked together.

"So the only conscious thing we had going when we started working on the 'White Noise' record was that it would be a great thing if we could have this same type of diversity, yet have it be all Anthrax material, and all work together."

That sort of ambition may seem foolhardy to those who believe that metal fans aren't interested in anything but headbanger music. But Ian knows better than that -- because his own tastes are broader than mere metal.

"I basically grew up on really hard rock and metal," he says. "The first music I started listening to was Kiss and Sabbath and AC/DC. Then, in the later '70s, I started getting into the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. '83, I guess, is when I first got into rap music.

"Sometimes I question myself and ask, how come I could listen to all these different types of music when so many of my friends at the time were still only listening to Kiss and Sabbath? I don't know why I loved disco in 1977 as a 13-year-old kid, when all my friends had 'Disco Sucks' T-shirts on. But it's something that I just got into.

"I think a lot of that is just me growing up and being interested in so many different types of music," he concludes, adding that drummer Charlie Benante and lead guitarist Frankie Bello are the same way.

"My attitude has always been that people should be able to be into whatever they want to be into," he says. "People should not have to worry about what their peer group is listening to, or if it's cool to like this or cool to like that.

"It's like, even though Anthrax is a heavy metal band, we were never worried about breaking out of that. We were never worried about changing. For us, we felt that we could do anything, and we'd still be a metal band.

"It'll still be Anthrax."

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