Anthrax Gets Classic Rock with Anthems

You can't go wrong with a healthy dose of Anthrax in the morning.

At least, that's what I thought as I listened to their new EP Anthems, released on Tuesday, March 19. Add that to the fact that these thrash metal legends are coming through town this Sunday on the Metal Alliance tour --alongside Exodus, High on Fire, Municipal Waste and Shadows Fall--and you've got yourself one hell of a biological weapon.

Anthems is a compilation of covers from Anthrax's favorite bands, spiked with a bit of their own style. It was recorded all over the world in 2012: At drummer Charlie Benante's home studio; in a New York studio; on the band's tour bus while on the Mayhem Tour last summer; in hotel rooms, and backstage at their Berlin show last December.

The eight-track EP pays tribute to some truly classic songs, such as Rush's "Anthem," Thing Lizzy's "Jailbreak," "TNT" by AC/DC, Boston's "Smokin'," "Big Eyes," by Cheap Trick, Journey's "Keep on Runnin," as well as the album version and special remix of Anthrax's own "Crawl" from the band's critically-acclaimed 2011 album Worship Music.

"These were some of the bands that really influenced us all growing up. Without even realizing it, they were all songs from the '70s. The title of the EP...these are like, 'anthems.' These songs, and these bands, were so influential to us, and so many others afterwards."

It really is a throwback in more ways than one. When Joey [Belladona, singer] first auditioned for Anthrax back in 1984, he sang some Steve Perry stuff, and 28 years later he is still bringing it big to crowds. And on Boston's "Smokin'," the band brought in Fred Mandel, who has played with Alice Cooper, Queen, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Supertramp and on Pink Floyd's The Wall. He played keyboards.

"If there was ever a perfect first album, it's Boston's first album," claims Benante. "The harmony leads they did would later be heard by Iron Maiden, which of course would lead to thrash metal." On the Metal Alliance tour, Anthrax is performing a set list unlike anything fans have ever seen. While the covers from Anthem will be thrown in here and there, they are also playing their renowned 1987 album Among The Living from start to finish, a beloved album with a title track narrated by Randall Flagg, a main character from Stephen King's The Stand (Scott Ian and Benante are both huge King fans), and other tracks based off of comic book hero Judge Dredd and John Belushi.

"There's this song called "One World" that we've never performed before from Among The Living that I'm looking forward to playing," says Benante. "While others like 'Caught in a Mosh' and 'I Am The Law,' I don't think those have ever left the set since we put them in there."

"They were all really exciting to record though, because I was personally putting myself in that band, you know? The Rush track, I paid close attention to it, because he played certain fills, certain parts, so I really wanted to match what he was doing but still throw in a bit of myself. And of course, Rush is one of my favorite bands and [Neil] Peart one of my favorite drummers. I wanted to make them proud."

And that they did; Anthrax has received a lot of feedback from practically all the bands they covered. AC/DC even put their "TNT" cover on their Web site and Facebook page. And Rush told the band that they couldn't of played the song any better.

"Hearing that from them was like...what??" laughs Benante.

All the positive feedback has to be a nice departure from the negative energy associate with guitarist Rob Caggiano's abrupt departure a few weeks ago, as well as his quickness to step into the line-up of Volbeat. (A week later, it was announced that Jon Donais of Shadows Fall would be filling in for the tour.)

"At the time I was really bummed and hurt," says Benante. "I don't know... you get mad, you get over it, you move on. If he's happy, I'm happy, you know?" Anthrax is scheduled to perform Sunday, March 24 at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

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