Interview: Anthrax

Hometown heroes hit the Bronx with something to prove.

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Anthrax

Anthrax Photograph: Matthew Rodgers

"When you form a band, the thing that you think about as being the height...you can't get any bigger than playing Madison Square Garden," says Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante about rock-star aspirations. "That was the goal, and we did that in '91, I think it was." Two decades later, the seminal metal band is poised to reach a peak its native-son members never even imagined. On Wednesday 14, Anthrax takes the stage at Yankee Stadium to kick off a bash by the Big 4, an epic tour also featuring the California thrash trifecta of Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer.

"People keep asking me, 'What are you feeling?'" says Benante by phone from his home in Chicago. "You know, I don't know what I'm feeling. It's like a dream, actually. And I don't know if someone's going to pinch us and we're going to wake up." Performing at the stadium is especially meaningful to the Bronx-born Benante, whose father was a gifted outfielder and power hitter scouted by the majors.

Guitarist Scott Ian, a lifelong Yankees fan despite being a Queens native, shares Benante's disbelief about playing in so hallowed a New York institution. "About the only hope I ever had for that to happen was the pipe dream of becoming a professional baseball player, because I played through junior high and even into high school," he says by phone from Los Angeles, where he recently became a first-time father. A change of career didn't sway his view: "Never in a million years did I ever think I'd be able to say the words Anthrax is playing Yankee Stadium."

What makes this homecoming especially sweet for Ian, Benante and their bandmates—singer Joey Belladonna, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Frank Bello, all still New Yorkers—is that it comes a day after the release of a new studio album, Worship Music. The disc is the first since 1990's Persistence of Time to feature Belladonna, whose original stint in the band, from 1985 to 1992, was for many fans the definitive Anthrax era.

Initially started in 2006, Worship Music was sidetracked repeatedly by the comings and goings of vocalists old and new, finally resolved with Belladonna's return. Says Ian, everyone waited in suspense as the singer worked on tracks with Worship Music producer Jay Ruston.

"All of us were probably at home doing the same thing, sitting around watching TV," Ian recalls. "An MP3 comes in an e-mail. Six minutes later, all these e-mails were, like, reply all: 'Holy shit!' We were all just blown away, because we hadn't heard it since 1990, Joey singing on a record with us." Benante concurs. "For a while there, I didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel," he says. "When I started seeing the light was when Joey started singing the songs. As soon as I heard it, I was like, That's Anthrax. That sounds like us."

Not just a return to vintage form, Worship Music shows a band at its apex: brash, assertive and filled with a never-say-die attitude expressed in the leadoff single, "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't." New York heavy-metal DJ and television personality Eddie Trunk has already called the album the best of Anthrax's career—a declaration Ian takes in stride. "I won't say I'm surprised because I think it's a great fuckin' record," he says. "I bled into this album. I know what went into this record to get it to where it is now. Songwise, it's the best thing we've ever done, and I'm just glad people are hearing it the way I hear it."

Positive early response to the album has fueled Anthrax's performances throughout the Big 4 trek. "There was one band that had something to prove with these shows, and that's us," says Benante. "We've had some peaks and valleys. We've had some downtime. So here we were, thrown into the mix, and we really had to show up. We had everything to win."

Each show has been better than the one before it, Ian reports. But he has strong advice for New York headbangers: Be punctual, because Anthrax plays at 4pm sharp. "Take the day off from work, don't go to school, just get to the stadium, and start tailgating early," he says. "You don't want to get caught in traffic, show up three fourths of the way through Megadeth and realize you went to the Big 4 and only got to see two bands."

The Big 4 plays Yankee Stadium Wed 14.

Exclusive! Win tickets to see an invitation-only Anthrax show at Best Buy Theater on Mon 12 (Entry deadline Fri 9 at noon)

Buy Worship Music on iTunes

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