Charlie Benante on New Anthrax Music, Fatherhood, Thrash Metal in Trump's America | Revolver

Charlie Benante on New Anthrax Music, Fatherhood, Thrash Metal in Trump's America

Plus drummer-songwriter talks new 'Kings Among Scotland' DVD, forthcoming 'State of Euphoria' reissue, more
charlie-benante- anthrax getty-2016-miikka-skaffari, Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images
photograph by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

Don't count on Anthrax writing any new material while they're on the road this summer supporting Slayer's final tour. As much as he'd love to dive back into the follow-up to 2016's For All Kings, drummer and primary songwriter Charlie Benante says these days it has become nearly impossible to do anything on tour besides promote and play.

"It's really hard to find the time to write nowadays because there's so much else that you do during the day and night," he says. "Those days of getting fucked up the night before and then having time to get over your hangover so you can get back to doing the band the next day — that doesn't exist anymore. We tour longer and you gotta be on every fucking moment now because every show is important and it seems like with YouTube, everyone is watching everything. It's more about professionalism now than ever."

That doesn't mean Benante hasn't laid significant groundwork for the band's next album — when Anthrax's drummer isn't with his family or touring, he carves out time to work on news songs in his home studio.

"I have started demoing songs and sending the stuff to the guys," he says. "Everybody's amped up to dig back into it. And that'll probably happen towards the end of the year."

Part of the reason Benante is eager to get new music to the guys is that Anthrax have been on a fiery comeback since Joey Belladonna — who sang for the band between 1984 and 1992 and 2005 to 2007 — returned for good in 2010 following John Bush's decade-plus year tenure.

"One of the greatest things that happened to this band was when Joey's voice was back in the marriage," Benante says. "It really, really inspired me to come up with new ideas things and everything started to flow. That's how it is now. I have about seven or eight really strong ideas and some of it is just as good as anything off the last two records, if not better. I actually look at those albums for inspiration, to remind myself what we're still capable of doing."

The other factor driving Benante's eagerness to create is that it's an outlet for him to process the frustrations he feels toward American politics, the current administration, and the endless news cycles that surround it. "I know people who disagree with me about Trump's [policies], and sometimes I think, 'Am I the one that's mentally ill or are they the ones who are mentally ill and they just refuse to accept reality?'" he says. "The amount of hypocrisy that I've witnessed, where the Christian right comes down on Bill Clinton, but yet they won't come down on Trump, is astounding."

"Trump is this type of person that knows he's telling everyone bullshit, but he's hoping you'll believe it because then he'll believe it," he continues, gaining steam. "And once he's told you this and you're buying the story, then he's just going to keep selling it. And that's what he's doing with this fake news thing. He's made all of us go down this fuckin' hole, so when the truth comes out and the facts really are there, he's going to say to his side, 'This is all fake.' And I really think the Fox News organization are like terrorists. They're a propaganda machine that feed into everything he says. And I don't know if we're ever going to recover from this because you're going to have people who think they're completely right in what Trump has subjected us to — his lies, his hypocrisy, his amount of bullshit."

And how is Benante's frustration influencing the new Anthrax material? "There's a bit more aggression to the new stuff — a bit more anger," he says. "I think that's just a reflection of where we are in our lives and in this world. A lot of people are really angry at these things that are happening. And now that we're getting up there in age, we see it from a different set of eyes than I would have when I was in my 20s."

While he admits that he was never particularly interested in politics during Belladonna's first tenure with the band, over the past five years he's been consumed by the "Breaking News" chyrons that regularly splash across his TV screen.

"I used to be like, 'I don't give a fuck, I just wanna do my music,'" he says. "Now, I'm a dad and whatever happens is going to affect my daughter. So, I watch more news from around the world and here than I've ever done in my life. It almost consumes me because I'm so shocked by certain things every day. I thought yesterday was crazy. Today's even crazier."

None of the new Anthrax songs are completed, and they're all still without titles until Belladona starts laying down vocals, but Benante does have a clear vision of what he wants the finished songs to represent: "I want to make a record where at least I can say, 'Well, this is where I think music should be going.' Nothing really gets me going like a really good, fast song where it feels like you're on the fuckin' highway. That just drives me — that heavy, aggressive vibe."

In addition to the expected thrash-heavy material for which Anthrax are known, Benante has written some slower riffs that provide musical balance. "They're still really heavy, they're just not as fast…" Benante explains, "mid-paced, but with this sludgy groove. It's too early to tell. But I can tell you this: I think it could be one of our best albums and it will probably be ready for release towards the end of 2019."

Before Benante and Co. start working in earnest on the follow-up to For All Kings, they'll release two new projects. First up is the DVD Kings Among Scotland, which was recorded in February in Glasgow and features the band playing the 1987 classic Among the Living from front to back. For the DVD's cover art, Benante (who's also a visual artist and illustrator who has helped design every Anthrax album since their second release, 1985's  Spreading the Disease), teamed up with designer Steve Thompson to create an homage to Kiss' 1976 album Rock and Roll Over, one of Benante's favorite records. "I always wanted to do a version of that cover and I finally got to," he says. "Gene [Simmons] loved it, and his comment was, "You guys promote Kiss more than Kiss promotes Kiss."

Benante's also been busy diving into his archives and compiling material to be featured on the deluxe reissue of Anthrax's State of Euphoria in time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release this September.

"I worked on that for a year and a half trying to find cool things and compiling stuff that I had," Benante says of the reissue. "It'll include the album completely remastered and all of the B-sides are going to be on it. And it sounds so good, too. Then there's going to be little pieces of basic riffs that I had, which then went into a rehearsal, which then goes into a demo or a basic track and you can see the evolution of some of the songs."

In recent years, both Benante and guitarist Scott Ian have said they considered State of Euphoria a half-finished album. The drummer says the production on the reissue and the inclusion of the bonus material make the release far more of a complete package that he's extremely proud of.

"To this day, we felt that if we could have had a little more time with it we would have been 100-percent happy," he says of State of Euphoria. "We were in such a whirlwind at that time that it had to be finished because there was a tour booked. So we all said, 'Okay, it's done.' We couldn't do anymore because we didn't have any more time. If we said it wasn't done, it would have been shelved for a bit and that would have thrown our whole schedule, because back then it was just tour, album, tour, album. But now it sounds the way it was supposed to and it's basically now the album we wanted to make."