When Slayer's farewell tour kicks off this May, Anthrax will be in tow to send their old friends off in style. During their supporting set, Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Joey Belladonna and Jonathan Donais will be repping their most recent album, 2016's For All Kings, as well as their new DVD, Kings Among Scotland (which came out April 27th). While the DVD, which was shot early last year before a sold-out crowd at Glasgow's Barrowland Ballroom, includes a few newer songs — such as "Breathing Lightning," "Evil Twin" and "Blood Eagle Wings" — most of it is a full performance of the band's 1987 thrash classic, Among the Living.
"That's a really hard album to play from front to back, but it's such a thrill to be able to do it," Benante says. "And everyone in the crowd just went crazy."
As excited as Benante is about the DVD, he's almost as stoked about the cover art, which he designed with Steve Thompson. A natural artist from a very young age, Benante's love for the discipline has rivaled his obsession with music and he has helped design every Anthrax album since their second release, 1985's Spreading the Disease, and is the creator of their iconic mascot Notman.
For Kings Among Scotland, Benante and Thompson lovingly created an homage to Kiss' 1976 album Rock and Roll Over, one of Benante's favorite records. And they did so with the full blessings of the Hall of Fame rockers. "I always wanted to do a version of that cover and I finally got to," Benante says. "Gene [Simmons] loved it, and his comment was, 'You guys promote Kiss more than Kiss promotes Kiss.'"
In addition to working on Anthrax album art and merch, Benante has created for Disney and contributed specialty apparel and accessory designs for the company Creature from the Living.
Between hanging out with his kids and working on riffs in his home studio, Benante made some time to talk about his background in visual art, his favorite painters and what the Among the Living cover has to do with Homeland and Star Wars.
ARTIST MICHAEL DORET DESIGNED ONE OF ROCK'S MOST ICONIC COVERS WITH ROCK AND ROLL OVER. WAS IT CHALLENGING TO PAY HOMAGE TO ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE KISS ALBUMS?
CHARLIE BENANTE I just wanted to make sure we put certain things in there that only true Kiss fans would get. There was a version of Rock and Roll Over that was discontinued. I think the only edition that came out was the Columbia House Records version. Paul [Stanley] has a teardrop in his eye. So on ours, there's a teardrop. Plus, I wanted to make Scott [Ian's] beard look like Gene's tongue. And, if you look at my crown you'll see a coffee mug and a drum. I wanted the colors to be really vibrant, and they needed to reflect the For All Kings colors since it's part of that same cycle.
THE DESIGNS FOR WORSHIP MUSIC AND FOR ALL KINGS ARE COMPATIBLE, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE THEY BOTH FEATURE A PENTAGRAM.
I did those two with Alex Ross, and there's almost a story within a story in the covers that's still in my head. I want to adapt it to a graphic novel. For some reason, that's the one thing I just can't seem to get off the ground.
WHAT'S THE CONCEPT FOR THE GRAPHIC NOVEL?
It takes place in a world that, of course, is not our world. Music is completely gone — taken away. The story has a superhero-type vibe, where these characters are there to bring music back or find out where it went. But then, how do you get back to the world where it exists because now it's in a world where it doesn't exist?
The other [visual element] I want to draw from would be [Anthrax's 2003 album] We've Come for You All, where you have the fans reaching down, either pulling these guys up … or are they pushing them down? It's something in my head that I'm still trying to organize. I have the first act and some of the second, but I need that third act to really tie it up.
HOW DID YOU GET TURNED ON TO ART?
When I was growing up I was really big on comic books and Disney. My mom would take me to see all the Disney movies in the theater and it always struck me that these are cartoons, but the characters in these movies are moving with such grace and they had a different feel than a normal cartoon did. They looked like real people but done in a cartoon way.
Fantasia mesmerized me. My mom took me to see it quite a few times and there was the "Night on Bald Mountain" section with the demon [set to the music of classical composer Modest Mussorgsky]. It was scary, but I loved it. From that moment on, I kind of knew I want to do something in this field. So I would always draw as a kid. That's all I did besides playing instruments.
YOU'RE REALLY INTO THE UNIVERSAL MONSTERS. DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE FIRST EXPOSED TO THEM?
I was actually introduced to them from comedy movies when I was really young. One day my cousins were watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and I thought that creature was amazing. I discovered Chiller Theatre and monsters were it. I could tell you who was in what movie and who directed. I was a big fan of Ray Harryhausen, who did stop-motion monster effects. I used to make Super-8 movies of my own. One that I did was Ace Frehley's smoking guitar, in that style of stop-animation.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FORMAL TRAINING IN ART?
After high school, I went to a private drafting/graphic arts and design place in Queens, New York, for a few months. But I had just started working with the band, so I was focusing a lot of my attention on that and going to school during the day.
We were rehearsing five to seven nights a week. We would go to Jamaica, Queens, and practice all the time. Before I knew it, we were going on tour. I thought, Alright, I can always return to school. But I never did. So I pretty much got my art education through record company art departments.
DID THEY TAKE YOU UNDER THEIR WINGS, OR WAS IT MORE ABOUT JUST SOAKING IN EVERYTHING AROUND YOU?
I soaked in everything. I worked closely with the Island art department, and later, when we signed to Elektra, I got to work with their artists, too. That taught me so much about what colors work well on a cover, what will hit people first when they walk into a store and see all these records — things like that.
WERE THERE KEY ARTISTS THAT SPARKED YOUR CREATIVITY?
I went through a big Salvador Dalí phase, and you can see that on the Persistence of Time cover [created with Don Brautigam]. From 1987 to the Nineties I was so into Dalí, if there was a museum that had some of his art in it and we had a day off, I would go spend hours at the museum staring at the paintings.
He's one of those artists that comes from a different fucking planet. Every time I look at his stuff I think, How did this man create that piece of art? What was he using back in the day that makes it look so vibrant? It doesn't look like anything else. The way he put things with other things that they don't really work but yet they do.
ANY OTHER PAINTERS INSPIRE YOU?
I'm still always intrigued by Alex Ross' art. After I see what he's doing I just want to stop doing everything. He did a series of the Beatles, in which he brought the Yellow Submarine art into real life. And his Universal Monsters art is unreal to me. I just can't say enough about him.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE ANTHRAX ART DESIGN?
I love Spreading the Disease and Among the Living. But I also really loved the last two albums, which we did with Alex Ross.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO CREATE ALBUM ART FOR ANY OTHER KINDS OF MUSIC?
The best thing about playing metal is you can take the art you create to an eerie place that works well with the music. But Anthrax can only take it so far. Me, being a sci-fi and monster fan since I was younger, I'm actually envious of, like, black metal bands, who have this look that lends itself more to extreme art than we can do. There's no such thing as going too far with that art, which I think is really cool.
AMONG THE LIVING IS A PRETTY CLASSIC, OMINOUS ALBUM COVER. WITH A FEW EMBELLISHMENTS MAYBE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN A SATYRICON COVER.
It's creepy. It has an eerie element to it. You know what's funny about the cover for Among the Living is I've seen it duplicated in an ad for the show Homeland. Claire Danes' [character Carrie Mathison] was in the center surrounded by these red hooded figures. And then I saw a Star Wars episode where they had a white Stormtrooper surrounded by all black Stormtroopers. I was like, "Hey, that looks really familiar."
DID YOU CALL YOUR LAWYERS?
No, each time I saw it and I was like, "Oh, wow, that's pretty cool." I mean, the cover of Among the Living was inspired by Stephen King so we have our influences, too.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL ART GIG OUTSIDE OF ANTHRAX?
A good friend of mine, Dominick Deluca, owns a clothing place in L.A. called Brooklyn Projects and he became friendly with someone at Disney. The company wanted artists to create something with Mickey Mouse dolls. So, in about 2010 [product developers Hilli McHugh and Donald Ferro] sent me these dolls and asked me to do something with them. So I did a series of different types of Mickeys and the one they loved was this Mickey mummy. I wrapped him in gauze and airbrushed it. We did 12 versions of them and they sold out really quick. But before that, they photographed one of them at the Haunted Mansion, which was really cool.
DID THE DISNEY WORK LEAD TO OTHER PROJECTS?
A friend of mine in Japan [Kenichi Kinoshita] had a toy line and he wanted to do a clothing line, too. So me and him grouped up about 10 years ago [to do Creature from the Living]. I do a lot of the designs and the art for his projects, like limited-edition, high-end shirts. We started with a vinyl doll and that spawned other things. That's a real labor of love and it's a lot of fun.
DO YOU HAVE ASPIRATIONS TO MAKE ART YOUR FULL-TIME CAREER WHEN ANTHRAX EVENTUALLY RETIRES?
I always want to do both. I'll do art and I'll play music as long as I love doing it. I know a lot of guys like Slayer are retiring. But I don't see that happening anytime soon for us. I don't think it's drum 'til you drop, it's enjoy it until you drop. As long as we can still play with that intensity and that passion, then we'll do it as long as we want, and as long as people are coming to the shows.