When I reached Charlie Benante by phone for The Aquarian’s latest Anthrax feature, he was enjoying some rare downtime during his day.
During a tour stop in Germany, the Anthrax drummer took time to chat with me about the group’s slew of current projects. Not surprisingly, even spare time for the always-on-the-go Anthrax members is spent doing press with stateside journalists.
Benante said he was thrilled about the fan response to Anthrax’s recent run of European gigs.
“The shows have been insane over here,” he said of the concerts. “The crowds are just amazing.”
It’s obvious why audiences would be so hyped up—the Europe dates saw the group performing its classic 1987 album Among the Living in its entirety. “It’s great to do it from start-to-finish. People have been going pretty nuts,” Benante said.
Anthrax’s shows in the U.K. were professionally filmed for a DVD release slated for late 2017.
Benante was also gearing up to return to the U.S. to launch a co-headlining tour with Killswitch Engage, beginning March 29 in New Jersey. Each band will alternate the closing slot over the course of the 27-show trek, which features support act The Devil Wears Prada on all dates.
Though one of the leading metalcore acts, Killswitch Engage isn’t necessarily the most obvious pairing for a double-bill with Anthrax.
“They’re a bit different from us,” Benante acknowledged. “But it’s good to tour with different types of bands. It pushes you.”
The past year has been a busy one for Anthrax.
A whirlwind of activity began in 2016—the band’s 35th year of existence—starting with the February release of the critically-acclaimed For All Kings, and including tours with Iron Maiden and Lamb of God, and a rare TV appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, where the band shared the stage with actor Robert De Niro.
In 2017, hardcore Anthrax fans might have thought that Christmas arrived in March, with the group’s recent unveiling of a limited edition For All Kings box set.
Released on March 24, the box set features a lenticular cover and 10 vinyl 7-inch discs containing all of the original album tracks, as well as two cover songs (The White Stripes’ “Black Math” and Kansas classic “Carry On”), six demos from the For All Kings sessions and unreleased track “Vice of the People.”
“We wanted to make something really special for the fans,” said Benante.
Each disc is pressed in a different color of vinyl and features striking, original artwork by Douglas Heusser and Stephen Thompson. For Benante, who has devised the art concept for Anthrax album covers since the band’s early days, creating elaborate visual pieces to accompany each disc was essential.
He harkened back to his younger days, when he was drawn to purchase records based on the cover art. “With those old Iron Maiden album covers, I would sit and stare at them for hours,” he said. “To me, the artwork meant as much as the music inside did.”
As for the newer tracks on the 7-inch box set, Benante said Anthrax had a different mindset for each cover song.
“I thought it was a cool song that was really rocking, and that we could do a good job with,” Benante said of the White Stripes tune. “I thought it was something that maybe our fans hadn’t heard before.”
While Anthrax gave “Black Math” a bit of a thrash-metal makeover, for “Carry On,” the band chose to remain true to the original, delivering a loving, note-for-note replication.
Benante remarked that he had long been a fan of the Kansas song, and frequently drummed to it as a teen. “I had to go back into the hard drive of my brain and remember how to play the song. We wanted to do it justice,” he said.
Benante also hinted that the band would spend time later this year working on a follow-up to For All Kings. To prepare for that record, Anthrax entered the studio with more songs than they had ever written in their career. Benante said there are still a few tracks remaining from those sessions that could serve as the launching pad for a new album.
“I think there are two or three that we could dust off and use as a starting point,” he commented. “I’d say maybe sometime this summer we could work on new material.”
Benante suggested the group is in no rush to finish another record, as Anthrax is still basking in the afterglow of the much-lauded For All Kings.
“I feel like we’re not done with that album yet,” he said. “We’re all so proud of it, and I feel like it still has some life to it.”
For Anthrax, the recent achievements mark a rebirth of sorts that began in earnest with their inclusion on the 2010 “Big Four” tour with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, continued with the 2011 release of comeback album Worship Music, and was reinforced by the success of For All Kings, which some critics have called Anthrax’s strongest album to date.
Benante said the “Big Four” came about while Anthrax was mired in an uninspired period, marked by lack of new material and brief flirtations with vocalists Jon Bush and Dan Nelson.
He recalled the day he first learned of Metallica’s plans to hatch the “Big Four” project. “Metallica had invited us to an event at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they told us about the idea to put a tour together with us and the other bands,” said Benante. “I remember saying to Scott [Ian], we’ve got to get our shit together and do this. It’s a big deal.”
Benante said the incredible reception Anthrax received from that tour helped inspire a new wave of creativity, and the band has not looked back since.
“It’s all about momentum,” he remarked. “There’s good momentum and bad momentum, and bands can experience periods of both. Right now, we have good momentum and I want to keep it going.”
Anthrax has even inspired its own line of craft beer, thanks to a partnership with New York-based Butternuts Brewery, which introduced a pale ale titled Wardance on March 27.
Benante explained that Butternuts owner Chuck Williamson is a longtime metalhead and Anthrax fan, so the band trusted the brewery to make a high-quality product, rather than one that reeked of a marketing ploy.
“We only wanted to put out the beer if it was done the right way,” Benante said. “We know this is made by metalheads for metalheads. We didn’t want to put something out just for the sake of having our name on it.”
In recent years, Anthrax have become beverage entrepreneurs of sorts. In addition to the beer, the band has introduced its own bourbon [“The Devil You Know,” made by Knob Creek] and is connected to a line of coffee [Benante launched “Benante’s Blend” in 2015].
How about releasing some food products to go with those drinks?
“I don’t know,” Benante said with a laugh. “I can make pizza, so maybe that’s next.”
Anthrax will perform at The Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ on March 29, the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on April 5, and The Paramount in Huntington, NY on May 5. The For All Kings 7-inch box set is available now on Megaforce Records. For more info, go to anthrax.com.