Over the past three decades, Anthrax have carved out a name for themselves with blazing riffs and an aggressive thirst to push boundaries. Known as one of the ‘Big Four’ who shaped thrash metal into the genre it is today, the band has continuously exceeded expectations from selling well over 10 million records worldwide to touring with the likes of Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Metallica. Now Anthrax is back with their eleventh studio album For All Kings, a collection of 13 songs that show these thrash legends show no sign of slowing down.
In the midst of another killer US tour supporting Lamb of God, frontman Joey Belladonna took some time out to talk to us about the creation of For All Kings, taking risks in music and what makes a successful band line-up.
Debbie Carr: Hey Joey, where do we find you in the world at the moment? What are you up to?
Joey Belladonna: Right now we’re in Dallas, Texas, show day, we’re on the Lamb of God tour now.
JB: Oh relatively the same, the only difference this time around was with the music: Jay Ruston was there from the beginning. So that was one of the bigger differences where we could start off fresh with him from the start.
DC: So Jay was working to co-produce the album. Did he make any significant changes that made the album different to past releases?
JB: I wasn’t there for a lot of the musical part of it as far as the actual writing from the start. I would assume he had a hand in on it. We worked vocally where it was just me and him, we worked together like we did on Worship Music. Each song we were trading thoughts and I’d do something, He’d then tell me if he liked it, or I’d tell him if I didn’t like it. You know just normal banter back and forth. Jays got some great insight, a really good ear, but it’s not abrasive in any way that you can’t agree on things. It’s really a nice working process.
DC: Sounds like it would make it a lot easier when you’re working with someone you’re comfortable with, throwing around ideas and they’ll be brutally honest with you as well.
JB: No doubt!
DC: So with this album what makes it different to the past ten studio albums Anthrax has recorded?
JB: I think production has well surpassed anything we’ve been doing lately. Whereas with the old albums, for me actually, it’s tough. We’ve had way too many people in there, which puts you in a position to sing something in a certain way, or you may not even have a chance to try something different, or knocking you down while you’re doing it. There’s too many people picking and pawing at you at all times. There’s always somebody in the room. It was almost slightly distracting at times and maybe even a bit demeaning at times. So it was hard for me early on to really do what I’m doing now – which is way better. I’m on my own, I get to try stuff, and bottom line, I can do a lot. Just let me do it; let me have a chance. I just think some people are cautious like ‘you can’t be the one to decide, we’ll be the one to decide for you,’ you know, just let me show you. It’s that kind of stuff that isn’t there anymore, so I’m happy to have that be a lot more real and adventurous for me. It’s just a lot more fun.
DC: And that way you get to keep things fresh and more interesting by taking risks on it. Do you think there’s anything on For All Kings that makes it more ambitious than other albums?
JB: Shit you know, obviously we’re at a point where we’re doing records that people are digging and we’re back doing it again. You’re just trying to get the best you can get, be real about it, have some versatility, take chances and do things and just be great. Have great songs if you can. We really take pride in what we’re putting out, so we take time to get it right. You can’t take too long where you’re overthinking anything either.
DC: You’ve got a lot of variety on this album – there’s a good mixture of thrashing classic Anthrax and then a few more modern metal songs. Did you go into this album with a clear vision of what you wanted it to sound like in the end?
JB: Not that I can think of. I don’t think anybody can do that really. I think that it almost seems too predictable to try to do that kind of thing. I just think just people come up with ideas and then they just take people off in their own way, your own inspiration. Everybody’s got all these actual influences and everybody’s got all kinds of sporadic ideas and we collected them. We just know how to make it work together. It turns out when you’ve got the right line up of people that know how to put things together, everybody participates in their own way to make it cool the way it is. It’s really not well thought out in a way where you’re predicting things; it just happens because you naturally can do things in a way that some people can’t. For instance, you can put any line-up you want together but that don’t mean you can mix and match the right chemistry, and that’s one thing about Anthrax, we have our own little way of making it ‘me’ and different, our own approach.
DC: I feel like that’s definitely something we can see in Anthrax since you’ve been so successful over decades, even with different band formations over the years. It must be something to do with that collaborative nature that you all share together.
JB: Yeah no doubt! I just do what I can, I don’t overthink it too much really. You just want it to be natural and feel good about it. Obviously it’s very challenging – Anthrax music is very different to a lot of stuff that I know of and that I listen to. It takes a little more attention to follow and it’s not really a user friendly music sometimes. For some people it takes a while to get what we’re doing.
DC: The first sample fans got to hear of the album was back in October last year, which was with Evil Twin. Coupled with the lyric video, it was just an incredibly strong socio-political statement. What inspired this kind of conviction and drive to write a song like this with lyrics like ‘you’re no martyrs’ and ‘ideology used as a weapon’?
JB: You just turn up the news and it’s all in your face all day long. So I think you can’t help but talking about it through a song you know. With any song you hear, you kind of go into your own fantasy thoughts and just kind of paint a picture – so if it’s four minutes, five minutes, you get very little time to really sell a story but it’s everyday situations you’re dealing with now. This world has changed and so many other crazy things are going on, you can’t help but write a few things about it. Maybe some people don’t find it interesting but it’s a different world man.
DC: I guess that goes back to taking risks again. What does ‘evil twin’ refer to? Where did the concept of an evil twin come from?
JB: I don’t know, honestly Scott wrote that in a particular way and he probably would put it in better words. I kind of leave that stuff alone because I almost don’t even go into it really so much. I leave that stuff alone because I have my own little thoughts when I do it. It doesn’t really mean that I’m thinking what I’m saying. I just sing it and I put as much conviction as I can into it and whether the meaning comes across in that short time, I don’t know. It’s kind of neat when people have their own interpretations about it where they just kind of stick with it and I don’t spoilt it for you.
DC: Well that’s the amazing thing about music, everyone can have their own interpretations about it. But this isn’t a first for Anthrax, you’ve had a long history of having social commentary in your songs. What do you think makes this kind of genre of thrash metal a good platform for social commentary?
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JB: It’s metal, it’s aggression, a lot of it’s very very dramatic, so maybe you can apply them together and you get this one big heavy mash of sound. I don’t ever really get that far into it. I’m just trying to make something really cool and something that you can sink your teeth into it and go wherever you want to take it, whether it puts you in a sleepy mode or it puts you in a crazy mode or whether it makes you put a big smile on your face or makes you bang your head, I don’t know.
DC: So how happy are you and the rest of the band with the final outcome of the album?
JB: Great! We’re really happy about it. I’m really happy about it and when every song came to a finishing point I was like ‘wow, okay great!’ I mean there’s nothing like having it come up where you didn’t anticipate it sounding a certain way and it came out better than you thought it would be, so you get that kind of excitement and that’s what I like about writing music and making songs come to life and recording overall.
DC: What’s one thing you hope people take away from For All Kings? Or one thing you would recommend to people who are hearing it for the first time?
JB: Just that you can see we really really have a great outlook on what we do, how we do it and how serious we take our songs. Just that to be able to play with great anticipation you know we really take pride in the songs. We sink our teeth into the range of them, how they flow and how they come out. It’s not easy to do, and this music’s not for everyone either, so it takes a little bit extra to get somebody involved in this kind of music – someone who may not have heard of us or who may have thought we were just some loud thrash shitty band I don’t know. I know people that are in little cover bands who may not have even heard of me and anthrax and they’re like woah shit I never heard of that before! May not even like it. So whatever we’re doing, it’s great that people dig it. It’s not for everyone obviously. Some people find it just too fast or too nutty you know.
DC: That’s the amazing thing, you’ve come to the eleventh studio album and you’re still gaining fans and momentum!
JB: Yeah that’s a good thing. It’s a neat progression that you don’t even know that you’re getting and that’s kind of rewarding because you get new fans that have never seen us before and are grabbing onto something extra new. It’s not like we’re just rehashing something. We’re always on the next roll to something new. Hopefully you just can’t get enough, just can’t wait. With some bands I don’t get anything new; it’s almost like they just throw something on the table and that’s it.
Anthrax’s eleventh studio album For All Kings is set to be released February 26.