Anthrax's Charlie Benante on Worship Music and the Band's Name

Worship Music, the new record from thrash kings Anthrax, is slated for release on September 13, but the record wasn't easy for the band to get out. Plagued by problems with vocalists, the record was delayed time and time again, with the band cycling through a selection of vocalists before settling on the guy who fronted Anthrax through what many fans consider the band's golden years: Joey Belladona.

The completed record is the work of a band that sounds remarkably heavy and fresh. The songs often make reference to the band's musical heroes: Dio, Dimebag Darrell of Pantera, and Judas Priest.

Drummer Charlie Benante spoke with Up on the Sun to discuss the recording process, and the complications involving the band's name following 9/11.

Anthrax is scheduled to perform Saturday, September 10, as part of KUPD's Red, White, and UFest, at Firebird International Raceway.

Up on the Sun: Your publicist told me that Worship Music almost didn't happen.

Charlie Benante: Took a long time to finish. There were a few minor obstacles. But the end of the day, it came out exactly the way we wanted it, if not better.

You have a lot to do with the songs on this record, and not just as far as playing drums.

Most of the music came from out of my head. We would get together to make this record, Scott [Ian] would come here to Chicago, Frankie [Bello] would come too, and I would have some ideas and I would convey it to them...add to it, modify a riff...

So when you finally settled on a vocalist, Joey Belladona, how much of the record was finished?

When Joey came in a lot of it was, musically, it was ready to go. Some lyrics, too, of course, were done. [But] when Joey came in, things started to change a bit. Last year, we were tour, it was us, Slayer, and Megadeth, and everyday on that tour we would set up a studio in the dressing room, in the back of the buss, and really work on the material. Musically, lyrically, vocally...that's when it really started to shape. It started to sound like Anthrax at that point. That's when I think we all got excited about it.

It wasn't like, 'You've gotta sing it this way, don't change it.' We weren't a jury. We weren't even there when he was doing the vocals...

I heard you guys at the Big 4 show in Indio. You guys seemed like the talk of the festival, as far as a lot of the people I spoke with. You seemed like a rejuvenated band.

Well, believe me. You get up there, and it was extremely hot when we were on. That took a little of the energy out of us, but we were so pumped up to be up there, you just kind of get lost in the excitement of it all. It's not a show, it's for real, you know?

This record pays tribute, lyrically and musically, to Judas Priest, Dimebag, and Dio, but you also included a song from Swedish hardcore band Refused. What lead to that cover?

I remember when that record [The Shape of Punk to Come] first came out in 1998. It was immediately one of my favorite records. I never stopped playing it. Sometimes at sound-check we would joke around playing that song. Just bits and pieces of it...I said, 'We should cover that song when it comes time to make a record.' We finally got around to it.

How has the new material felt live?

We've been playing the same stuff for a long time. To get a chance to finally play some new fresh material, it's like 'Oh my god.'

You guys are playing a September 10 show here at Firebird International Raceway, which obviously is near the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Your name was controversial to say the least in the wake of those terrorist attacks and the anthrax scares that followed.

The weird thing about that, that whole anthrax scare that happened, real quick, right after 9/11 happened. You know, we watched that pretty closely. Thank god it didn't go on to hurt or kill [anyone.] How can I say this? You know, the name of the band, whenever people heard it before 9/11, would always say, 'Oh, that's Anthrax the band,' and it would bring that image to your mind. When that happened, it brought some ugliness to it, and fear, and I remember all of us saying, 'Man, if this thing does what we hope it doesn't do, our name is done. It's finished.' Because now it just has negative connotations, and we can't do anything to prevent that from happening. We have to hope it doesn't happen. We were freaked out. I guess [that's always a risk] when you take on the name of something like that.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.