Charlie Benante discusses Anthrax's Anthems EP track-by-track
On their forthcoming EP, Anthems, thrash metal kings Anthrax travel back to the late '70s, a time when FM radio ruled and what was to become classic rock blared from killer 8-track tape systems in bitchin' GTOs. "That was a great period for music," says drummer Charlie Benante. "The songs we do on Anthems are ones that we all appreciate; they might have helped shape the band in some ways."
Anthems sees Benante and his Anthrax mates (singer Joey Belladonna, guitarist Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello and guitarist Rob Caggiano – the latter of whom recently announced his departure from the band) tackling songs popularized by the likes of Rush, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Boston, Cheap Trick and Journey with what the drummer calls a ratio of "75 percent the original and 25 percent our take on it. You can’t change things around too much or else you’re not really playing the song."
Anthrax are no strangers to the covers game – the band has released dozens of tribute tracks in the past. Benante recalls mixing in covers with originals with one of his earliest bands: "I was 16 and playing in bars," he says. "We had to do four sets a night, and that could make our song choices a little crazy. We’d go from Zeppelin, The Who and Pink Floyd into The Cars, Devo and a band called UK. But it was fun. To me, playing covers is a normal thing for a band to do."
According to Benante, Anthrax frequently, sometimes spontaneously, slip in the odd cover during soundchecks. "They a great way to loosen up," he says. "No pressure – you just play." But he also sees a more important artistic side benefit to performing songs from the canons of his heroes: "Covers can spark something inside of you as a musician; they make you think differently. You’ll incorporate something into one of your own songs that came from one of your all-time favorites. It’s always cool when you play a lick, and you go, ‘Now, where did that come from?’”
On the following pages, Benante discusses the songs and bands covered on Anthems (due out 22 March), as well as Anthrax's own cut, Crawl – the album version from Worship Music and a special remix are featured on the EP.
Anthem (Rush cover)
“When you talk about Rush, you’re talking about a band that was never on the radio until the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. When The Spirit Of Radio broke, that was a really great moment because people were discovering a very important band.
“I’ve always been a Rush fan. I remember going to parties in my friend’s basement. I’d be sitting next to my friend as he spun records, and I was so absorbed by the album packages. During one of these parties, I heard Rush for the first time. I was impressed right away.
“Rush’s live album, Exit… Stage Left, was the thing that convinced me that Neil Peart was way ahead of other drummers. At that point, I wanted to know everything I possible could about him. But, of course, Rush had great songs, too. Bastille Day, Fly By Night, Anthem – so many amazing tracks. I remember when they were hitting with Hemispheres Permanent Waves. At that point, for me, they were the band that could do no wrong.
“There were bands coming up at the same time as us – Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica – and some of those guys really appreciated Rush, too. I used to talk with Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton about them. Rush was like our common denominator.
“It was always intriguing to me how Rush could be a three piece but sound so big and heavy. They didn’t go heavy on pop sounds – they were just Rush. There’s no other way to describe them.
“For the EP, I didn’t want to go into the latter part of Rush. It would have been very easy to pick something from Moving Pictures or Permanent Waves, but that, to me, would have been obvious. Anthem could have been a song that we played on our first album. It has that kind of vibe; it’s got all the elements. To me, it stood out as the right choice.”
Jailbreak (Thin Lizzy cover)
“Like Boston, they had the twin-harmony guitars. That kind of approach influenced Iron Maiden, and then Maiden influenced us and the whole thrash metal thing. That’s why I went back to Thin Lizzy and Boston – if it weren’t for them, you might not have had Iron Maiden and all the bands that came after them.
“Phil Lynott is one of those people who is a god in the UK and Europe, but I don’t know if he’s fully appreciated in the rest of the world like he should be. Some artists just don't get their due.
“I don’t know how you can begin to pick between Thin Lizzy songs. Jailbreak is probably an obvious choice for a cover. I might have gone for something more obscure, but when I hear the lyrics to this one – ‘Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak somewhere in this town’ – I can’t deny how cool they are.”
T.N.T. (AC/DC cover)
“This was Joey’s track. We already had Whole Lotta Rosie recorded, but he wanted T.N.T. I can see why: his voice totally lends itself to this track.
“AC/DC is probably one of the greatest bands ever. The came in with a certain sound, and they’ll end with that same exact sound. They never altered it; they just stayed true to what they were. To me, that’s an honest-to-goodness rock ‘n’ roll band.
“It would have been obvious to pick something off of Highway To Hell or Back In Black, and so we didn’t. [Laughs] I studied every Phil Rudd lick, and I did not go overboard with anything. I played exactly what he played on T.N.T. You can’t do a fast drum fill on the song – it’ll stand out as being out of place. I laid it down, pulled it back, and that was that.”
Smokin' (Boston cover)
“You’ll always hear Boston blasting out of our dressing rooms or our bus. It’s one of those timeless records that doesn't have a bad track on it. It’s almost like a greatest hits album. When I hear it, I think back to being young, it’s the summertime, and people are driving by in their cars crankin’ Boston.
“I love the band, I love the album, and I love the guitar playing. The way they mixed it, the fucking guitars are so loud! It’s pretty incredible. You can’t help but sit back and go nuts when you hear that guitar sound.
“The original idea was for Rob to learn the keyboard part note-for-note on the guitar, but he didn’t get around to doing it. None of us can really play keyboards, so Jay Ruston, who mixed the record, got Fred Mandel to come in and do it. Jay really pushed for it to be a keyboard part, like on the original. And thank God he did, ‘cause Fred just nailed it! I got goosebumps when Jay first sent it to me – it was so awesome.”
Big Eyes (Cheap Trick cover)
“One of my favorite bands. We’ve recorded Cheap Trick before – we did Auf Wiedersehen. Big Eyes was recorded long ago, and we just kept it. I’m so glad we saved it for this release. I ended up playing lead guitar on it, too. Actually, I play guitar on a lot of this record.
“One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Cheap Trick is the way they incorporated the British sound into something that was very American. They took The Beatles and Slade and The Move and made it Cheap Trick.
“I don’t want to get goofy, but certain Cheap Trick songs almost bring a tear to my eye. They can be so heavy – songs like Downed – but they can have this pop feel at the same time. They’re a great, great rock ‘n’ roll band.”
Keep On Runnin' (Journey cover)
“I’ve always had a thing for Journey. Some of the older records are total fucking blues jams all the way. I have to say, I didn’t like the latter part of their career – they just got too much with the ballads, and the sound and vibe that they had was missing.
“When Steve Perry joined the band, they went to a whole new level. I love the Escape record. One of my favorite songs on it has always been Keep On Runnin’. I just told Joey, ‘I’m going to record it.’ He got pretty excited about it, and he nailed it on the vocals.
“Neal Schon is an incredibly tasteful guitarist. Every time he plays a solo, it’s like he’s composing a song within a song. He’s got such a cool style, the way he draws you in with the melody, and then he just goes off and lets loose. I love him.”
Crawl (Anthrax original - album version and special remix)
“Originally, this EP was going to be attached to a rerelease of Worship Music, but we started to feel that it would be wrong to ask our fans to buy the album again. So we decided to put Crawl and the remix on this record as a way of tying it to Worship Music.
“Crawl is different from some of the other songs on that album; it kind of came out of nowhere. I had these cool parts, and it came together. There wasn't a big plan to it. If we felt like it was too poppy or whatever, we would have shelved it. But we all liked it.
“On the record Sound Of White Noise is a song called Black Lodge. Angelo Badalamenti did a remix of it, then somebody else did a remix of it, and we thought it was really cool. We wanted to do the same thing with Crawl. Jay Ruston had one done, and he put some orchestration on it. It turned out to be a really cool piece.”