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TURN THE BEAT AROUNDANTHRAX PUTS THE MOVES BACK INTO METAL

Coming soon to your favorite cable-TV dance show: Anthrax?
Don't be too surprised if you see New York's greasiest headbangers on Club MTV in the next few months. Anthrax is about to release a dance remix of its rap/speed-metal hit, "I'm the Man," which the band is hoping will shoot straight to the top of club playlists. It's a song Club MTV hostess "Downtown" Julie Brown may just flip her wig over.

There are very few places that this street-tough band is afraid to venture, but you'd think that under a giant, mirrored disco ball would be one of them. Not so, says Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. He hopes "I'm the Man," the centerpiece of the group's upcoming EP Attack of the Killer B's, challenges the axiom that metalheads don't shake booty.

"I don't see why a band like Anthrax couldn't be played in a dance club," argues Ian in a recent telephone interview. "I mean, compared to what's considered dance music these days, I think `I'm the Man' stands up."

But who's going to believe a deejay would stick an Anthrax song between tracks by Vanilla Ice and Deee-lite? Ian claims he doesn't think of the revamped "I'm the Man" as dance music in the "Ice Ice Baby" sense of the term anyway. Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" is more of what Anthrax is aiming for with the cut: hard-edged hip-hop with a groove muscular enough to lure you onto the dance floor.

Attack of the Killer B's, due out in April, contains several other thrashed-up rap cuts like "Startin' Up a Posse," "Protest and Survive" and a cover of Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise." Anthrax even managed to enlist the Enemy's estimable Chuck D as guest rapper on "Bring the Noise." Ian says the presence of Mr. D, whom he considers to be rap's heaviest hitter, was like divine inspiration. "Thanks to [Chuck D], I think `Bring the Noise' is one of the best things we've ever done," he boasts.

"Bring the Noise" continues the Anthrax tradition of melding rap and metal. Ian, who became a rap fan when he first heard the Sugarhill Gang over a decade ago, says he always recognized the commercial compatibility of hip-hop and heavy-metal. He's proud of the fact that Anthrax's first rap/speed-metal experiment, 1987's "I'm the Man," did more to popularize the hybrid than any other track, with the exception of Run-D.M.C.'s "Walk This Way."

Lately, bands like Faith No More and Scatterbrain have gotten in on this genre-splicing. But Ian isn't particularly encouraged by the trend. He thinks many of these rap-metal mutations are just too glib, lacking proper respect for the black art form. Of course, people have slammed Anthrax for the same reasons.

"We love rap music, but when we first did `I'm the Man,' people thought we were just joking," he recalls. "They assumed a metal band doing a rap song had to be some kind of send-up."

On its full-length album from last year, Persistence of Time, Anthrax eschewed hip-hop in favor of straightahead, megadecibel speed-metal crunch. The record has some of the earmarks of tradition-minded heavy-metal: corrosive melodies, raw vocals and pummeling rhythms. But what sets the disc apart is the unique changes in tempo and the complex guitar orchestrations--not to mention the ingenious, triple-time cover of the Joe Jackson chestnut "Got the Time."

Unlike much of the lyrics from metal brethren, Anthrax's lyrics have never reflected the vapid concerns of white suburbia. Persistence of Time has Anthrax railing passionately against more pertinent subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre ("One Man Stands") and the racial tumult in Bensonhurst ("Keep It in the Family"). A couple of songs even eerily foreshadow the war in the Persian Gulf with lines like, "The public enemy's not the man who speaks his mind/The public enemy's the man that goes and acts blind."

Protest songs? Rap covers? Dance singles? Anthrax's habit of nose-thumbing heavy-metal conventions is a reason many consider the band to be one of speed-metal's few risk-takers. Ian shrugs off that opinion.

"I don't see what we're doing as risk-taking," he claims. "Maybe if we were more worried about losing listeners, then there would be some kind of risk involved. But we're writing music for ourselves, not some imagined audience. I can't see doing it any other way."

Anthrax will perform at Compton Terrace on Saturday, February 23. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

"People assumed a metal band doing a rap song had to be some kind of send-up."

Many consider Anthrax to be one of speed-metal's few risk-takers.

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John Blanco