Anthrax Worship MusicJoey Belladonna isn’t Anthrax’s first lead singer. Well, not officially.
Anthrax formed in New Jersey in 1981 and after juggling a few different members, they settled on Neil Turbin as lead vocalist in 1982. Turbin stuck around just long enough to record the band’s debut album, Fistful of Metal. Soon, he was out and Belladonna was in. That was 1985.
Belladonna is considered to be one of the preeminent metal vocalists and part of the classic line-up of Anthrax. His original tenure lasted until 1992. He helped put Anthrax on the map and established them as one of the big four of thrash metal, along with Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica.
“(Anthrax) heard of me through some floating demos,” Belladonna remembers. “Somehow my name came up … they got ahold of my connection and I flew out to meet with them.”
It’s a memory that Belladonna holds dear, still to this day.
“What was pretty amazing was to walk in a room and shake each one of those guys’ hands and go … ‘Hi, I’m Joe and who are you? Oh, you guys are Anthrax,’ then hearing the music and I was like ‘wow,’ Belladonna exclaims. “Looking at that day and knowing how we evolved, not knowing who they were and not hearing that music before. Thinking about that day is pretty awesome when you consider how far we’ve come.”
Over the next seven years, Belladonna and the boys released four albums, sold 8 million copies worldwide and received three Grammy nominations. They also furthered the cause of thrash by touring incessantly in the U.S. and Europe. The band expanded its horizons by partnering and touring with Living Colour and Public Enemy, and even starred in an episode of “Married … with Children.”
But by 1992, Belladonna was out and John Bush was in. Belladonna went on to front a new band aptly named “Belladonna.” That group released three albums over the years to mixed reviews.
Anthrax, fronted by Bush, remained busy as well. However, it was Among the Living, Anthrax’s third album (released in March 1987, with Belladonna on vocals), that fans held sacred. It was a complete departure from their previous albums and showcased the band’s whimsical side.
The New York City thug look was gone and replaced by brightly-colored shorts and shirts. The lyrics took on a new flavor as well, zeroing in on band members’ own personal tastes (movies, novels, comic books, dedications). Among the Living contained their classic tracks “Indians” and “Caught in a Mosh.”
On April 1, 2005, Anthrax announced that the Among the Living line-up of the band, with Belladonna, was reuniting. Over the next two years the band toured and trotted out Among the Living in its entirety. Fans were overjoyed.
When asked about his thoughts on being considered part of the classic line-up, Belladonna is incredibly gracious. “I never really considered it because I always felt like I was the guy in it,” he says. “I never felt I was out of it even though I was not in the band.”
But the reunion didn’t last long. In 2007, vocalist Dan Nelson joined the band for a two-year stint before John Bush returned to the mic for a short time in 2009. In early 2010, it was announced that Belladonna was rejoining the band and that Anthrax would be recording a new album and participating in a few monumental tour dates with some pretty famous friends.
The turn of events is not lost on Belladonna, who approaches it all with humility and appreciation. “It’s been quite good,” said Belladonna. ”I’ve got to thank everybody for welcoming me into the whole thing again … just the whole warm reception of making a great record and making everyone happy about hearing good music from us again. It’s an honor, you know. I appreciate that.”
According to Belladonna, the transition back into the band was pretty painless. A call from management gauging his interest was all it took. Belladonna says he had no reservations about yet again rejoining the band.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to be in the band again and to make it right. I’m always open-minded to all that,” he says. “I thought that anything we were going to do was going to be done with the best intentions. You always look for a good start and everybody wanted it done correctly so we could proceed.”
They’ve definitely done it correctly.
In June 2010, just months after reforming with Belladonna, Anthrax, along with Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica played for the first time on the same stage in a series of shows billed as “The Big 4.”
Initial dates were overseas, but in summer 2011, the tour played the U.S. coasts and wrapped up with a now legendary concert at Yankee Stadium.
“You can’t top being in Yankee Stadium,” says Belladonna. “They don’t really run metal shows there. So, to be in a hometown setting like Yankee Stadium and to have just an awesome day of metal was a treat. And, to have a new record out at the time, it was just nice to be able to do it.”
Anthrax started writing the material that would eventually become Worship Music a couple years back with Dan Nelson in mind. But with Belladonna back in the saddle, the songs started to take on a new feel. In May and June 2011, over a 15-day period, Belladonna laid down his vocal tracks … his first with the band since 1990’s Persistence of Time.
“I did a song a day,” says Belladonna. “Everything was positive as far as I was concerned. I don’t ever go in with any negative thoughts, you can’t. I had something I had to do as far as working on a record and I wanted to make sure that what I had to do was done well. Everything else kind of took care of itself.”
Worship Music was released on September 13, 2011 and entered the Billboard 200 chart at number 12, the second highest of their career. It is the band’s first album of original material in eight years. The album has been met with critical praise and is being referenced as the best in their discography.
Belladonna knew that he was working on something special and in his modest way he expressed it succinctly. “When you finish something up like that, you’re looking for feedback. It’s being received really well and we appreciate that.”
Anthrax hit the road to support Worship Music on October 14 with Testament and Death Angel. The tour wraps up November 19 in Milwaukee.
What’s next for the group? There are rumors of The Big 4 shows continuing stateside. And, according to Belladonna, he’s looking forward to another Anthrax album.
“We’ve started writing,” he says. “Now that the record’s done, I’m ready to move on, keep playing the songs live, and introduce new stuff. I think the ideas are there. I think I could have done more on this one. I’ll save it for next time.”
He’ll also keep busy in his down time with his cover band, Chief Big Way. Focusing on the “classics,” Belladonna is happy to trot out radio friendly and deep cuts by Deep Purple, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Foreigner, Journey and more.
“Yeah, we play every weekend,” Belladonna enthuses, “Whenever I have time open. I’m drumming and singing and keeping busy doing that. I don’t relax … Belladonna (the band) was playing a lot, too, but I put that on hold because that’s traveling a lot and it’s a little more involved. The cover thing allows me to stay local and I really don’t have to go too far. I can come and go and when it’s time for Anthrax to head out I can put it aside for a bit.”
As for the band Belladonna, it’s still alive as well.
“I keep having ideas and I have songs that are unfinished,” says Belladonna. “Everybody’s schedule is busy and I’m not chomping at the bit to push it into play. I always want it to be there, but we’re very casual about getting it all going. It’s very time consuming.
“I like writing music and have kept doing it. But, once Anthrax started up, I’m busy doing this. It’s my main focus.”