“Oh God, I don’t even want to think about that. No way.”
Did I just ask Anthrax’s Charlie Benante when he’ll start working on their next album? Yep, I sure did.
Benante is flying high right now. Known as the drummer for Anthrax, he’s also an accomplished guitarist and has written a majority of the band’s music. Their latest, ‘For All Kings,’ was released at the end of February to critical and fan acclaim. It entered Billboard’s charts at #9, the band’s first time entering the top 10 since 1993’s ‘Sound of White Noise.’ It’s a bit ballsy of me to jump their train and try to get him to comment on what’s coming next. But, in my defense, ‘For All Kings’ is so good that I can’t wait to see (and hear) what comes out of all this forward momentum. So, for now, we’re focusing on the new album.
“My mindset was different when I was writing the record,” Benante said. “It was a little different than what it was in the past because I had Joey’s (Belladonna) voice in mind, which made it a lot easier to craft these songs. I would do demos and send them to the guys and Scott (Ian) would call right back and he was very enthused with what he was hearing and that gave me more fire. Personally speaking, I just wanted to be better. I really wanted to write 15-20 great songs and that was the goal I set out to do and that was the goal I think I achieved.”
Better. He wanted to be better.
We talked about what “better” means to Benante, whether it’s better than what Anthrax has done in the past or better than what’s currently out there musically. Benante was insightful in his response.
“It’s a bit of both of what you’ve just outlined,” Benante explained. “If you don’t hear something that you like the best thing to do is try to create it yourself. I took that stance on a lot of things. Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot of music coming out these days that I would consider to be original or even really all that good. I don’t feel people strive to be better any more. I think people strive to be, ‘ah, it’s good enough.’ I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to listen to the songs and go, ‘yeah, I think this is fuckin’ really good.’ The thing is you can sit with this stuff as long as you want. But, it’s not until it gets to the ears of the fans that you know if you’ve created something good. You can think it’s great until people hear it and go, ‘eh, it’s alright.’ When you get a great response and you can say, ‘they’re with me on it’ … that’s the thing.”
And that is the thing with ‘For All Kings.’ Music fans are with Anthrax on it. One might say it’s the crowning achievement of their career. I might be the very one to insist on that very point. It’s amazing to learn that the album came together almost effortlessly.
“Over a period of a few months it came together,” Benante said. “I was constantly writing, writing, writing … compiling stuff, doing demos. Then, the three of us (Benante, bassist Frank Bello, and guitarist Scott Ian) got together in L.A. to start working on it and the first song I had was “You Gotta Believe.” I was in a thrash state of mind at that time. The first four songs written – “You Gotta Believe;” “Evil Twin;” “Zero Tolerance;” and “For All Kings” – were all on the thrashier side of things. I think those songs had to come out. They were just screaming to get written.”
It’s great to hear that Benante and the band had inkling in the studio that what they were creating was special.
“I was definitely excited about it and recording it was exciting,” Benante said. “When Jay (Ruston, producer) started to send me pieces of it with vocals mixed in that’s when I started to get really excited about it and it really took on another life. That’s when I started to get really, really excited. And then putting it together, sequence wise; the flow of the record. I wanted it to have a really good flow so that it just kept moving, like when something would end, boom, something else would come on and you couldn’t leave the record. You had to stay for the whole entire thing.”
He makes a good point. The flow of ‘For All Kings’ is spectacular and allows the songs to exist as an entire project and not as singles/filler. On the first few listens the flow tricks you into thinking it’s a concept album, which it is not.
“It does flow well,” Benante agrees, “the way they will intertwine with something else. We didn’t want the record to be front loaded. We wanted the first five or six songs to really go well together but then have another five or six songs that were just as good as those.”
Benante joined Anthrax in 1983, prior to the recording of the band’s debut album ‘Fistful of Metal.’ He pioneered the use of double-bass and has a reputation for having the fastest double kick technique in the business, in addition to being one of the best thrash guitarists out there.
“I was drumming,” Benante explains, “that’s all I can remember since I was little. When I was well into my teens I couldn’t convey a song on the drums to someone else so I taught myself how to play guitar and that became a passion of mine, just guitar playing in general. I’ll just sit nowadays and play. It’s almost therapy for me. There are three guitars that are my go-to guitars for writing riffs. For some reason, the amount of riffs that are in these guitars is endless. I just find them and they come out. I’m very grateful for that. One guitar that I’ve had for a long time is a 1980 Charvel. That was the guitar that most of the Anthrax songs were written on. I have a guitar that was made for me that is a copy of an Eddie Van Halen guitar and that’s been my go-to guitar for this record. I wrote most of the songs on that guitar.”
Over the last three-plus decades Benante has seen a lot. Time passes, but his dedication and his hunger is intact. It drives him on.
“I really think every baseball club, every year, wants to get into the World Series,” Benante says metaphorically. “Similarly, every time we put out a record I have hopes and dreams that that record will take us further than we’ve ever been. It’s something to look forward to and it’s also nice to be looked at by your peers as having made a great record. It’s a nice pat on the back. We’ve gotten a good response from people … from our fans, our critics and our peers. It’s great to hear.”
The band just finished up introducing the new material from ‘For the Kings’ as the opener on Iron Maiden’s South American dates.
“It was unbelievable,” Benante said, “the passion, the love that those fans have over there. It’s not like any place you’ve gone before. And traveling with Maiden on the plane, just hanging out with them, talking about shit. Those guys wrote the book, as far as I’m concerned, in the heavy metal world. They took something and turned it into something even bigger that every band that came after modeled themselves after, or at least tried to. It was the ultimate package. You couldn’t ask for a better audience to play in front of than a Maiden audience. We went out there and fuckin’ killed it.”
More dates with Maiden are to come and then headlining American festivals. The European tour follows and then Anthrax will be back in the States in September or October. After that, Charlie Benante will finally be able to unwind.
“Sometimes me and my daughter will sit down and watch episodes of ridiculousness back-to-back and just crack up until our eyes are just watering,” Benante laughs. “That, to me, is unwinding.”
May 07 Carolina Rebellion Concord, NC
May 21 Rock’n Derby Schaghticoke, NY
May 28 Rock Im Revier w/ Iron Maiden, Slayer Dortmund, Germany
May 29 Rockavaria Festival Munchen, Germany
May 31 Sofia Winter Sports Palace w/ Slayer Sofia, Bulgaria
Jun 01 Zagrebački velesajam w/ Slayer Zagreb, Croatia
Jun 02 Majestic Music Club, Bratislava, Slovakia
Jun 03 Rock In Vienna Vienna, Austria
Jun 04 Sonisphere Festival Luzern, Switzerland
Jun 06 Zeltfestival / Maimarktgelande w/ Slayer Mannheim, Germany
Jun 07 Event Center w/ Amon Amarth Hohenems, Austria
Jun 08 L’Autre Canal Nancy, France
Jun 09 Den Atelier Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Jun 10 Download Festival 2016 Paris, France
Jun 11 SwedenRock Sölvesborg, Sweden
Jun 14 Olympia Theatre w/ Slayer Dublin, Ireland
Jun 15 Live At The Marquee w/ Slayer Cork, Ireland
Jun 17 Hellfest Clisson, France
Jun 18 Z7 Konzertfabrik Pratteln, Switzerland
Jun 19 Graspop Dessel, Belgium
Jun 25 Amnesia Rockfest Montebello, Canada
Jul 02 Tuska Open Air Helsinki, Finland
Jul 03 Wroclaw Stadium w/ Iron Maiden Wroclaw, Poland
Jul 09 Jalometalli Festival Oulu, Finland
Jul 15 Gefle Metal Festival Gavle, Sweden
Jul 16 Dynamo Metalfest Eindhoven, Netherlands
Jul 24 Rock in Roma Roma, Italy
Aug 14 Bloodstock Walton-On-Trent, United Kingdom
Aug 21 Pain In The Grass Auburn, WA