Anthrax - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Along with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, Anthrax is often credited for inventing and popularizing thrash and speed metal. Anthrax, still going strong after nearly 30 years, is centered around founding guitarist Scott Ian and longtime drummer Charlie Benante. Though not always as serious in tone as Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, Anthrax has proven to be more versatile in their musical output.
Anthrax was formed in 1981 when guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Lilker met and shared a common interest in heavy metal (especially the bands coming out of England), hardcore punk, skateboarding, and comic books. The two picked the name Anthrax out of a biology textbook because they thought it sounded suitably threatening. The early years of the band were marked by a head-spinning amount of personnel changes. Originally, Ian and Lilker recruited drummer Dave Weiss and bassist Kenny Kushner to round out the band, but Kushner couldn’t quite cut it and so he was replaced by Paul Kahn. When Kahn didn’t work out either, Lilker moved to bass and the band recruited Greg Walls as their lead guitarist. Soon Neil Turbin was added as their singer, but then the group lost Weiss, who was replaced by drummer Greg D’Angelo. The band started to play gigs around New York and New Jersey, and then recorded a demo tape that was heavily influenced by Iron Maiden and British heavy metal. Walls then left the band and was replaced by guitarist Bob Berry. After Berry left the band, Dan Spitz joined as lead guitarist. This lineup recorded a second demo, and then D’Angelo left the band. He was replaced by drummer Charlie Benante. With a somewhat stable lineup, the group continued to play live shows with both metal and hardcore punk bands, and released a debut 7” single titled “Soldiers of Metal” in 1983.
Based on the strength of their second demo and 7” single, the group signed with Megaforce Records in 1983 and recorded their debut album, Fistful of Metal (Megaforce), released in 1984. The album got them noticed in the metal scene, especially in the UK where it managed to chart. The group toured the US in support of the album, but tensions were growing in the band towards Lilker. When the band returned from the tour, Lilker was fired from the group and was replaced by Charlie Benante’s nephew, bassist Frank Bello. (Lilker later went on to form the thrash metal group Nuclear Assault). Turbin was also let go by the band in late 1984 and the group did a few gigs as a four-piece hardcore punk cover band called The Diseased, with Ian providing vocals. In early 1985, the group recruited vocalist Joey Belladonna to be their new singer, and soon after recorded and released the EP Armed and Dangerous (1985 Megaforce), which features a mixture of new and old material, along with a cover of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen.” Later in the year, Benante, Ian, and Lilker worked together again on the side project Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.) with vocalist Billy Milano, using extra studio time left over from Anthrax sessions to record a quick album of hardcore influenced songs called Speak English or Die (1985 Megaforce). That same year, Anthrax’s second album, Spreading the Disease (1985 Megaforce/Island), was released. The success of the album was helped along by the new distribution deal Megaforce had signed with Island Records. The album raised the profile of the band in both Europe and the US.
In 1987, Anthrax released their third album, Among the Living (Megaforce/Island), which contains Anthrax anthems “I Am the Law,” “Indians,” and “Caught in a Mosh.” The album also makes many references to the group’s favorite writer, novelist Stephen King. The group continued to tour and broke with the tradition of metal bands wearing black leather and jeans. Instead they preferred bright colors and skateboarding shorts, looking more like a renegade band of skaters than a thrash metal group. Anthrax also released the EP I’m the Man (1987 Megaforce/Island) that same year, which features one of the first instances of metal crossing with Hip-Hop. The group’s next album was 1988’s State of Euphoria (Megaforce/Island), which features the band covering the French metal band Trust’s song “Antisocial.” The song became a hit and the video had regular rotation on MTV. The group eased back from their more silly side to make their next album, 1990’s Persistence of Time (Megaforce/Island). A much darker and more musically intricate album than their previous forays, Persistence of Time featured a cover of the classic Joe Jackson tune “Got the Time,” and re-established the band with metal fans who wanted something more serious from the group. The members of Anthrax had diverse musical tastes and were known as supporters of punk, hardcore, and Hip-Hop. In 1987, they appeared on a track by Hip-Hop act U.T.F.O., and then took the idea of a metal/Hip-Hop fusion one step further by collaborating with Public Enemy on the song “Bring the Noise” in 1991. Later that year, Anthrax embarked on a groundbreaking tour with Public Enemy. The group also released the compilation album Attack of the Killer B’s (1991 Megaforce/Island), which included live tracks, rarities, covers, b-sides, and “Bring the Noise.”
1992 brought about many changes for Anthrax. The band fired vocalist Belladonna and replaced him with ex-Armored Saint vocalist John Bush. They also left Megaforce Records to sign with Elektra. In 1993, they released the album Sound of White Noise (Elektra). Bush gave the band a heavier, more serious sound and the group scored a major hit with the song “Only.” Longtime guitarist Spitz decided to leave Anthrax after Sound of White Noise, and went on to a career as a watchmaker. The band continued as a quartet. Even though Sound of White Noise was both a commercial and critical success for Anthrax and Elektra, the band’s follow-up album, 1995’s Stomp 442 (Elektra), didn’t receive support from Elektra and quickly sank after debuting at number 47 on the Billboard 200. Anthrax blamed Elektra and left the label soon after. The next few years were trying for Anthrax, as they seemed to go from one bad situation to another. The group signed with independent label Ignition Records in 1998 and released the album Volume 8: The Threat is Real that same year. The album's sound was a return to the band’s early, much harder sound, but Ignition went bankrupt soon after its release and the album virtually disappeared. The group then signed with another independent label, Beyond Records, and released the greatest hits collection Return of the Killer A’s in 1999, which features a cover of the old Temptations classic “Ball of Confusion” with dual lead vocals from Bush and former lead singer Belladonna. The group planned to tour with both lead vocalists, but Belladonna pulled out. Not long after the release of Return of the Killer A’s, Beyond went out of business and the band was without a label once again.
The 2001 anthrax virus attacks on the US could have been another blow to the band, but the group took it all in stride, refusing to change their name. They even provided information about the virus on their website for people who came across their site by mistake. Despite all of the bad luck, the group carried on and gained another lead guitarist, Rob Caggiano, in 2002. The new five-piece lineup signed with Sanctuary Records, and issued the album We’ve Come for You All in 2003, which was celebrated by critics and fans. Anthrax followed up the next year with The Greater of Two Evils (2004 Sanctuary), featuring new versions of their own earlier material. Around this time, Frank Bello left to join Helmet and was replaced by former Fates Warning and Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera. Later that year, the group released a live recording titled Music of Mass Destruction: Live From Chicago (2004 Sanctuary).
In 2005, it was announced on the Anthrax website that the Among the Living lineup of Ian, Benante, Spitz, Belladonna, and Bello would reform and tour. The tour was a massive success, spawning the CD/DVD retrospective Anthrology: No Hit Wonders 1985-1991 (2005 Island) and a live recording from the tour called Alive 2: The Music (2005 Sanctuary). Originally, the reunited lineup made plans to record another album together, but Belladonna decided he didn’t want to move forward with the project. After Belladonna dropped out, Spitz also left and, though the band briefly considered bringing Bush back as their vocalist, they later decided to go with former Devilsize vocalist Dan Nelson. Former lead guitarist Caggiano returned to the band in 2007 and then Bush rejoined in 2009. The new lineup of Anthrax has done some limited touring, but spent most of the latter part of 2008 crafting a new album, reportedly titled Worship Music.