As a bass player, it’s only normal for me to gravitate towards the bass players in my favorite bands. Frank Bello was no exception! While growing up in the ‘80s in North Jersey, idolizing Anthrax was almost a birthright since they were as local as local can get. For us, they were this big metal band that came from across the Hudson River. I was sold the minute I heard “Madhouse” off of Spreading The Disease, but then they released Among The Living and it was all over.
In early 2010, singer Joey Belladonna would return to Anthrax after three years away from the band. Upon his return, Anthrax would join Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth on stage in Warsaw, Poland, for the first time ever in an event that would come to be named The Big Four, which would culminate at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Anthrax’s hometown. In 2011, they released Worship Music, the first studio album with Belladonna on vocals in 22 years. This CD proved that Anthrax were back, and they were for real.
Last month, the band released Anthems, an EP of cover songs including Rush’s “Anthem,” AC/DC’s “T.N.T.,” Boston’s “Smokin’,” Journey’s “Keep On Runnin’,” Cheap Trick’s “Big Eyes,” Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” and a remix of their own song, “Crawl,” off of Worship Music. The CD blew me away! Or should I say Joey Belladonna blew me away! His vocals on these cover songs are almost exact to a tee like the original singers of these songs. I was impressed!
With the release of Anthems, Anthrax kicked off the Metal Alliance Tour consisting of Exodus, High On Fire, Municipal Waste and Holy Grail, which ends with two sold-out nights here in NYC at Irving Plaza on April 20 and 21. Here’s the best part: They’re performing Among The Living in its entirety! Why would any metalhead want to miss this show?
I recently got the chance to chat with one of the most charismatic bass players in metal, Frank Bello. Frank, who is drummer Charlie Benante’s nephew, joined Anthrax soon after the release of their debut CD, Fistful Of Metal, when original bassist and founding member Dan Lilker left the band. In 2004, Bello left Anthrax for a year to play bass for another NYC band, Helmet. Now that Anthrax are back in full force, Frank Bello is as giddy as a kid in a candy store again. Here’s what we talked about:
First off, Frank, congrats on an amazing comeback record with Worship Music! It made my “Top 10” last year!
Thank you so much for that! We feel really good about it. We’re in a good place. They said we haven’t been back in years and that Anthrax is back with a vengeance, and to be quite honest, that’s exactly what it is. You got a very hungry, angry band here, and the good thing about it [is] that means the next album will be even angrier. I just think that we know what we’re doing now. We have a good rhythm to the way we write now. I think we know what we’re doing.
You guys sound better than ever! I’ve felt Anthrax have always been there, but for some reason, the band seems to be firing on all cylinders right now.
Thanks! I think for metal in general, let’s face it, the Anthems thing we just did, that’s what we’re influenced by—these great rock songs! It’s rock in general. I don’t think there is a lid to where you can stop. There shouldn’t be an age or anything like that. Yeah, the band is 30 years old, whatever! Alright, we put out Worship. Thankfully, people took to it as we did, because we’re still fans of this stuff. We think that if we relate to it and we get it, we’re just one of you. That’s the way I feel about it. I don’t think anybody’s different. We’re all fans of this music.
Is that what sparked the idea to do a cover EP like Anthems?
The reason why that happened, if you ever came to an Anthrax sound check, you’d probably hear every other song but an Anthrax song. It’s only when we have to go over a part or something didn’t sound right or something—it’s a very rare occurrence that we’ll play an Anthrax song. But the fun part, “Anthem,” Charlie and I used to jam “Anthem.” It’s just an extension of where we were. That’s where we came from. Think about it: AC/DC, Rush, Journey… We just released the Boston thing on the classic website and people are freaking on that, which is great to hear because that is what we wanted to do. We just wanted to say this is where we also came from. That gave us our start and that is what sparked us.
Can I just tell you that I’ve found a new respect for Joey Belladonna on Anthems. He sounds absolutely amazing on these cover songs! It’s like he became Geddy Lee or Bon Scott or Steve Perry. I have a newfound respect for him…
Yeah, I agree with you. I’ve always known Joey is a freak of nature with his voice. I’m kind of jealous as a backup Anthrax singer because he’s so talented that he doesn’t have to warm up. The dude doesn’t warm up. It’s just a God-given talent! I’m being facetious when I say that I’m jealous, but I definitely admire him. He stepped up in a big way—not only on Worship, but also this Anthems thing.
I think we’re expanding and the great thing that I’m hearing about this is always expect the unexpected from Anthrax, and I think this leads to that. I don’t want to be pigeonholed and I don’t want to be held down. I think we’ve always done that and this is just another thing in saying that. We’re going to go for it, man. It doesn’t matter because it’s music!
Have you caught any flack from the hardcore Rush fans saying you didn’t pull it off? Because I felt you guys were great! I mean, you nailed those basslines!
Thank you, bro! I really appreciate that! The great thing about it is that Rush put it on their website, so there you go! (Laughs) The feedback has been absolutely amazing! Of course, because we’re Rush fans, remember that. We’re diehard Rush fans, plus the guys from Rush, they really like it. That’s the pat on the back we were always looking for. (Laughs) Rush!
We’re just like little kid fans with this stuff. We’re all giddy about it and we’re totally psyched about it. The Journey guys heard the Journey song. Everyone likes what we’re doing, so it’s really paying off. We just want to jam, man! We’re Anthrax and this is what we do. So this is just recording, what we do.
You’re in the middle of the Metal Alliance Tour with Exodus, High On Fire, etc., but the big treat is that you’re performing one my favorite CDs of all time, Among The Living, in its entirety! Are you guys insane? I wanted to cry when I heard this. That CD is a classic!
It’s funny because when you go through these songs like I have been going through them, you kind of have to relearn those little parts that you haven’t played in a while. You kind of relive it in the studio like recording it and stuff. It’s kind of cool. Going back when you listen to it, it’s like, “Wow!” You get a vision of where you were with the studio and that time. It’s a really cool vibe! We play a lot of these songs live already, but songs like “Horror Of It All” we haven’t played in years. So it has been a blast!
What was it like having to go back and relearn some of these songs that haven’t been touched in quite a few years? I mean, when was the last time you guys played “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)” or “Imitation Of Life?”
Anthrax always loves a challenge. That’s the best thing! We’re all crazy in our own right, without a doubt, but I think we like a challenge of doing it because… why not? People want to hear it. It’s fun to play! There are some sick fuckin’ riffs there. I think it’s just a blast! The bottom line is we’re getting to play these songs all together. Everybody wins!
You end the tour with two sold-out nights at Irving Plaza on April 20 and 21. How special is it to be able to end the tour at home?
First off, as a New Yorker, I love ending the tours in New York because then I don’t have to fly anywhere the next day (laughs). It’s a little bit selfish of me, but you know what? I’ve done my part. But yeah, I’m a New Yorker! So that will be a pleasure just going down to Irving Plaza in my own car and then coming home to my own bed that night.
Being such a huge Yankees fan, how did it feel to play a sold-out Yankee Stadium two years ago?
Well, if you ask me, Scott [Ian, guitarist], Charlie or Joey, who are all diehard Yankees fans, what was the biggest and best show you ever played, what do you think we point to right away? That is it! I mean, where do we go from Yankees Stadium? Because I thought when we headlined the Clash Of The Titans tour at Madison Square Garden, I thought that would be it. And the step up of Yankees Stadium is like, “Oh my God! What do you do?” It was just insane! I’m still kind of getting over it. I have some cards of Yankees executives who promised me tickets, so I’m totally going to try and use them (laughs).
Can I ask about the band’s recently departed guitarist, Rob Caggiano?
Yeah, sure! Rob is in Volbeat now. There is no animosity. It’s weird. I think that people think there is animosity. I like Volbeat. I wish him luck! Rob just felt the need to do something different. I get it. It’s all good.
We got Jon Donais from Shadows Fall playing with us. We are so locked and loaded. We just came back from the Soundwave Festival with Metallica and Slayer in Australia. That was insane! Jon played great! He fit right in, he clicked right in, so it’s just onward, man. You know Anthrax, we just keep going.
I’m glad to see Anthrax back in full force and full power again! Are there any plans for new Anthrax music just yet?
Absolutely! That’s the plan. Now, we have a couple of more tours. I think we’re touring the festivals in August again, and then we’ll get real about writing. I mean, we all have music written. You can feel it in the band. It’s getting to that time, which is cool. There’s a great energy about it, especially now, because the vibe is so good. We have our management lined up, the record company, and there’s a great new fanbase along with our regular fanbase. It’s just a really good time.
Anthrax bring their good time to Philadelphia, PA at the Theater Of Living Arts on April 18, and then come home to New York City’s Irving Plaza for two sold-out shows on April 20 and 21. For more info, go to anthrax.com.