In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference
Though they’re often remembered for being one of the Big Four thrash bands of metal’s heyday, Anthrax have been conducting the business of shredding for now 35 years. Thanks to the foundation laid by founder and goatee enthusiast Scott Ian and longtime members Charlie Benante and Frank Bello, the NYC thrashers have survived three and a half decades of constantly changing labels (five to date) and vocalists (four in all). But through the thick and thin, they have persisted, and managed to release 11 studio albums without ever hanging up their custom-made Jacksons.
Alongside the rest of the Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer), Anthrax helped popularize thrash metal in the mid-1980s, becoming favorites of MTV’s Headbangers Ball with their own style of shit-eating-grinned heaviness that spawned genre classics like “Caught In The Mosh,” “I Am The Law” and “Bring The Noise,” their proto-rap rock collaboration with Public Enemy. Like so many metal bands in the 90s, Anthrax struggled to remain relevant during the alternative age, but despite experiencing some of their biggest creative lows, they chugged on.
In 2011, the band released what was considered by many to be a bonafide comeback album in Worship Music, which not only saw them reunite with their original label Megaforce, but also their classic lineup’s singer, Joey Belladonna. It’s been a five-year wait, but now they’ve returned with their 11th full-length, For All Kings. It was a long delay, but Benante says it was important for their fans to wait. “We did over 300 shows and I had carpal tunnel issues,” he says. “So there were reasons why we took so long. But we just wanted to make the right record and not rush something. There was no reason to rush anything. Let people miss you. Let them want to hear another record. Let them want to see you play. Don’t just be available all the time. You want a bit of absence so people get excited by something new. We don’t sell as many records now, so we have to think of alternative ways to sell an album. I just think it’s good to go away for a while.”
Charlie Benante rose to the challenge of ranking the band’s ten records. We could’ve made it that much harder and thrown in the five live albums, seven compilations and six EPs, but we took it easy on him this time.
10. Fistful of Metal (1984)
Noisey: Why is this your least favorite?
Charlie Benante: Because I don’t think that record sounds like Anthrax. About half of that album was written before I came to the band. Songs like “Deathrider” and “Metal Thrashing Mad” started to come about after. So half of that record was already old and dated stuff. We’ll still throw “Deathrider” into a set every once in a while. In fact, we did this show in L.A. a few months back for the closing of House of Blues – they asked us to be one of the last metal bands to play – and during that show we pulled out “Across the River,” which was on that record. So yeah, that was fun.
There were some major things that happened with this album. Neil on vocals; Neil fired Danny; Neil was then fired. I would just think that the correct pieces of the puzzle weren’t in place then. We were still moving them around and then I really believe that once Joey came into the band the puzzle was pretty much set.
9. Stomp 442 (1995)
It was a very weird time for the band, and it will carry over to the next album I talk about. But at this point in our career, we were on Elektra Records. This is the second album we made for them; the first was Sound of White Noise, which did really well. At the end of the cycle for Sound of White Noise, Elektra Records went through a whole big change. There was a coup, and basically the regime that signed us was pushed out, and they brought in a bunch of new people. They did not want to inherit a lot of the Elektra acts. We were one of those acts, but contractually they had to put this record out. So we knew that going into this record the people that signed us to Elektra were no longer there. We felt like this stepchild. So we did our best to make the best record we could. But it didn’t matter if it was the greatest record of all time. They just weren’t going to do anything with it. So it was a very tough time for us, and I think that’s why I have dark views about that record. The good side is that [Dimebag] Darrell played on that record and really brightened it up. That’s the one good thing abut that record.
One thing I remember about this record is that it didn’t use the Anthrax logo. Why was that?
That was a whole thing going on where we were being influenced by what the record company was saying. You have to remember that this was a real tough time. Heavy metal was not looked at like it was in 1989 or 1990. This was post-grunge, when the "alternative" word was being thrown around a lot. And the label was like, “Maybe it’s not such a good idea to use that logo.” And we just say okay, we’ll try it. So it was a difficult period.
8. Volume 8: The Threat Is Real (1998)
The reason I’m putting this is here is because I do have fond memories of making this record, but we had record company problems as well. And this was still part of the alternative period and “what do we do with a heavy metal band?” We moved to Ignition, and the week the record came out, if not the day of, the record company went under. So we were just like, “What the fuck, man?” It was the worst of times. But we really felt strongly about a lot of the stuff on the record. So we just kept moving on. To this day I still think, “Man, if only that record got enough attention.” And it sucked for John Bush, because he comes into the band and the first album does really well and everything after that just tanks. So the momentum wasn’t so great at that time.
You guys took some real creative risks with this album. “Bare” and “Celebrated Summer” sounded pretty different.
Absolutely. I think that record was very much, “Fuck it! We’re just gonna make these songs that we have and not be afraid to do it.” We were still under this umbrella where we had to be metal. But we just tried something if we liked it. I think that was the vibe at that point.
There was a lot of confusion for metal bands in the mid-90s.
It was a very weird time.
7. State of Euphoria (1988)
This is a tough one, but I’d say State of Euphoria. It was a big record for us, but I always felt like it wasn’t finished. We were definitely rushed to make this record. There was a big tour booked and I felt rushed. I wish we had a little more time to sit with it for a bit, but we didn’t have that luxury. There are some really good songs on there but also others that I feel weren’t quite finished yet.
Basically in a year, you released two albums and an EP. That must have been stressful.
Yeah, it was going way too fast and we were in this whirlwind. I totally felt the pressure at the time to top the last record. And we needed more time but it just didn’t go that way. But we learned from those mistakes.
But at least you got Mort Drucker to draw your caricatures for the back of the record. How did that happen?
That was something I had an idea for, because I was such a big fan of MAD Magazine when I was younger, and I just always wanted to do something like that with him. And he agreed to do it. Things like that come together for a reason and you really have to embrace it. You have to say, “Yes! Awesome!” I was always a big fan of album covers like Aerosmith’s Draw The Lines that Al Hirschfeld did. I loved that cover. It always stood in the back of my mind, so when it came time to do this record I said, “Mort Drucker! Mort Drucker! He’s the one!” And then he did it.
6. We've Come for You All (2003)
At the time this was a turning point. I think getting back to our roots as a heavy metal band, but also writing some other types of songs that were more melodic. I think that record was the start of that. And it would be our last record with John, and probably my second favorite with him.
This was the longest wait between records at that point for the band.
Well, the business itself was in a mess. And then we were definitely more apprehensive about what we were going to do and who we were going to do it with. So that had a lot to do with seriously making a new record. And once we were sure I think we really went for it and made a really good metal record for the new millennium.
Was John’s departure his idea or the band’s?
I think it was maybe a combination of things. I think he was a little burned out after that whole cycle. And there were rumblings about doing some sort of reunion towards the end of that whole run. So the outlook started to look a little different.
What did it mean to have Roger Daltrey sing on your record?
It was awesome. Like, c’mon, the Who? I think Scott worked that out with Roger, so that was pretty cool.
5. Sound of White Noise (1993)
That record was kind of a watershed moment. How do you start over again with a different singer and make it work? And I really think the songs on that record are really, really good. Like “Only” is a killer song and it was the first one written. It was such a great time for us. I felt like we were a new band again and we had this kind of attitude that whatever we do will work. Making a singer change is a very big thing. Only a handful of bands have done it successfully. So we had that type of arrogance, but we made a really good record. That was really important. It was all about the music, and I think that record shows. And it did really well for us too.
Do you think it helped that John was already recognizable to your fans from being in Armored Saint?
Yeah, I think that helped. And his voice really suited the songs that were coming out. So I think it all worked out.
The band’s sound definitely changed on this record. Some feel there was a grunge influence. Was there?
I’ve heard that and the reason why I think people said that was because the producer Dave Jerden had also produced Alice In Chains and Jane’s Addiction. So I think his stamp on it gave the record that sound.
4. Persistence of Time (1990)
That record to me was a record that after all that happened with State of Euphoria, this was back to reality. It was a bit darker, because what we went through with the last album, people were starting to take some shots at us over absurd things. Like we would get questions like, “Why do you smile in photos?” I just think the backlash was starting to happen with the shorts and the whole look. I really think we regrouped and said, “Okay, we’re going to stop all of that stuff for a bit.” And it was just a darker tone. The whole time factor was something that made us think a lot too. We came out with our first record in 1984, and in six years we had gone around the world a few times. To this day time is such a factor. It gets away from you. I just think this record, more so than the others, we really put our heads into. It was such a conscious effort to make a really strong Anthrax record. The tone was totally different.
Yeah, but at the same time, you guys delivered a classic guest appearance on Married… With Children that reminded people of your comedic chops.
That was one of the best experiences I’ve had being in the band. We spent a week in L.A. on the lot there at Paramount. The first day we did a table read and met everyone. But we knew some of them prior because we played softball against Christina [Applegate] and the others for charity. It was such a great experience to be a part of this thing. Every day was a new experience. I remember the second or third day there, we took Bud, David Faustino, to see Metallica, and he got shitfaced and showed up late to work the next day. And the producers came into our dressing room and said, “We’d appreciate it if you don’t take David out anymore.”
I have to ask: What was in Peggy Bundy’s “mystery pack”?
That whole thing that they made was a concoction of green Jello, other bits of Jello, and cream stuff. That’s all it was basically. I didn’t want to eat it.
This was the last album with Joey but he was on Married… With Children. How long after did he leave?
Very soon. It was the band’s choice. We took some time to find another singer. We just reflected on the whole thing and then went to L.A. and tried some people we liked. That’s how we found John.
I know “Bring the Noise” wasn’t on the album, but it came out shortly after. That song broke down barriers and really influenced the rap and metal crossover. What did that song mean for the band’s career?
I think that some of us in the band were big on rap music at the time. It wasn’t a cash-in or anything like that. The only thing that had happened before was the Aerosmith and RUN-DMC thing and our song “I’m The Man.” “Bring The Noise” was going back and forth with Public Enemy, and we felt we wanted to do our version of the song with Chuck on it. And that was it. I don’t think we had any idea that it would break down doors. Most of the things we do we do just because we love it. You never know what’s gonna click. So I really think that there was a moment there where we were doing things in an organic way with Public Enemy without talking to the record company or the agents. We just said, “What do you think about this?” And Chuck just said, “Let’s do it!” And we did. That type of stuff. It was a different vibe back then. It was a world Public Enemy never went into. And it was a world that we never went into. But I think for the most part, that tour we did pre-dated things like Lollapalooza. I don’t think anybody gives it the credit it deserves, y’know?
3. Spreading the Disease (1985)
So this is the record where I took over writing more of the music, and Scott took over writing the lyrics. This to me was the album where we became Anthrax. That sound. That style. So I really think this is where the band really began to take shape.
Was there much of a discussion about changing the sound from what you did on Fistful of Metal?
There was no talk. It was just me coming up with certain songs. The style was already starting to happen with songs like “Lone Justice” and “Aftershock.” I think “Gung-Ho” was one of the songs that was carried over from the last record. We already had that song. The funny thing about that record is that it was done and mixed. And I remember going home and listening to the whole record and not being happy with it. As a whole I felt it was missing something. And I had this one song that was “A.I.R.” and I did a demo of it, sent it to the guys in Ithaca, and they all loved it. So I went back to Ithaca, set everything back up and recorded that song. And it ended up being the first song on the record. I feel like that song really set the stage for what would be the next record, which was Among the Living.
This seemed to be your breakthrough album.
It was. It was our major label debut and a lot of stuff started to happen. We started to get an identity. We started to see more of our T-shirts around, stuff like that. But it was still a struggle. It wasn’t easy by any means.
And around this time you guys started S.O.D. on the side.
Well yeah, but S.O.D came about as a side project we were doing up in Ithaca that we were calling the Disease. It was just me, Scott and Frankie fooling around. Scott started to draw this character he called Sargent D. We wanted to work with Danny Lilker again, because we were bummed about how he left the band. And that’s why he was asked to do it. And that whole thing just worked out. We did that record in a weekend.
Was the point of S.O.D. to do something you couldn’t do in Anthrax?
Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what the whole tone was at the time. We were just doing it for fun and I think it was satirical in a way. Y’know, Speak English or Die was a harmless thing, but nowadays that record could never be made. It was a very weird time, man. You could get away with anything back then because people had a sense of humor, and didn’t take it seriously the way they do today. Now you can’t say anything without someone labeling you a racist.
2. Worship Music (2011)
The reason why I chose that is because it gave us our second career. I think when people were counting us out for a while there, this record came and really changed the views of the band. People said, “Wow, okay. I think this band still has something to say.” And it really did well for us. More so for me, it re-established old relationships. The term “putting the band back together” really came true for us.
Is it fair to say this was a comeback album?
Correct. Without it being a comeback record because there were no expectations.
Was there ever a point during this period where the band could have ended?
There was some talk here and there. But I’m not gonna toot my own horn… I think I will. I swear, during that time Scott was off doing other things and people just weren’t around. I was writing these songs and keeping the band together. I know we had some really terrible moments during that whole period, but I think we persevered and we really got our shit together. The moment that happened was when Metallica were inducted into the Hall of Fame, they invited Scott and I out for it. Afterwards we were hanging out at this bar and me, Scott and Lars were talking and Lars said, “Hey, what do you think about doing a Big Four tour?” We didn’t expect to hear that and said it’d be fucking awesome. So then Scott and I decided to get our shit together. We didn’t look back.
How much fun was it doing the Big Four tour?
Oh, it was awesome. It was so much fun. It’s sad, but the last show we played at Yankee Stadium, and from the fan’s point of view those shows were fucking awesome. But I think some people couldn’t keep it together. We were 100 percent down for doing more of it. As you can see, Anthrax and Slayer still do tours together.
Anthrax had three vocalists in this period: Dan Nelson, John Bush and Joey Belladonna.
Yeah, but I think we all knew there was only one vocalist for us. And that’s what I meant when I said we had to get our shit together. As faith would have it, everything worked out.
1. Among the Living (1987)
So why is this your favorite?
It’s the record that really gave us our career. And I don’t take it too lightly. There is a reason why in 1986-1987 those bands put out their best and most signature records. I don’t know if it was something in the air, but each band put out these killer records. And they will play about four of those songs every time you see them. That means a lot. For us, it just worked out that way. That record was unstoppable.
There has been a lot of speculation about that album cover. Is that actually the creepy preacher character from Poltergeist II?
It was his look, I would say. It had such an effect on me, that I wanted him to look like a preacher. And yeah, I think I took his look and put it on our record. I think it is a good thing that it gives the creeps.
Cam Lindsay is a writer living in Canada. Follow him on Twitter.