Anthrax: Slammers on the Shore

HOWARD JOHNSON gets among the living Dredd in the Bahamas and discovers ANTHRAX whipping up a sounds-storm with legendary rock producer Eddie Kramer at Nassau’s Compass Point Studios. Paradise by the Mosh-board light? You betcha…

AM I IN heaven or am I in Hell? Well, don’t ask me brother, cos I just can’t tell!

So this is it, huh? Jet-lagged to within an inch of my life and suffering from a glass of the most offensive Bahamasair coconut drink, this is not quite the ideal start that I had in mind!

Ha, sucker that I am, I still forget all the hassles entailed in this globe-roaming reporting s**t that I’m kooked up in. I still forget about the baggage losses (only on the return journey this time — they’re improving!) and the 20 minute hold-up at every country’s immigration control owing to the heinous crime of owning an ample head of hair!

“Is it really worth the aggro,” I ponder, “when all you are is a spectator at somebody else’s ball game? When all you get to see is the inside of another room where the mini-bar’s so damned expensive even a sniff of bourbon could lead to the loss of a limb in payment?!”

Yeah bubba, it’s a tough and lonely road, this globetrotting -bit — AND I’M CRYING BLOODY CROCODILE TEARS ALL THE WAY on the drive to Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas!

Yeah suckers, forget the Mick Wallian prose, cos this is my good self alongside Paparazzi Palmer cruising past those seas with consummate ease, a sight made to please.

And don’tcha all feel sorry for me now? Especially sorry for me when I tell you that we’re here in the Bahamas for a rendezvous with those Noo Yawk boyz with one muthaf**ker of a noize! Anthrax!

ANTHRAX! NOT only has the name made millions of sturdy Fresians go weak at the knees, it’s also reduced otherwise calm and rational human beings to gibbering, blubbering idiots, throwing themselves around any place where they’re in contact with Anthrax and having precious little regard for personal safety! It’s a madhouse? TF right!

And why shouldn’t I blow my own trumpet? Yeah, I lay claim to being one of the first to set store by this here five-piece. Check for yourselves and read back over my first scribblings on ’em a coupla years back when band managerial mentor Johnny Z threw them my way riding on the back of Raven.

Since giving some positive pen-age to the Armed and Dangerous EP, it’s been nothing short of miraculous to see Danny, Scott, Joey, Frank and Charlie winging their way up every Metal chart available and straight into line as the only serious Hardcore challengers to Metallica.

And in case you’re wondering why it’s happened, maybe I’d better spell it out. Purely and simply, Anthrax are pretty well without blemish. They have plenty of depth to their claim that they’re the hardest ever, they still write tunes that you can sing (but your mother wouldn’t want to!) and they’ve got the best singer in Hardcore in Joey Belladonna.

Three good reasons why Anthrax are so chill! Oh, four, if you count Scott’s Beastie Boys T-shirt!

Yeah, the Anthrax spiral is ever upward and they’re motoring to hit the heights sharpish. A long way from watching guitarist Danny Spitz driving through the New Jersey smog, barely able to see over the dashboard, just another face on the highway!

Yeah, Anthrax are on top and still on the rise. No longer the barren chill of upstate New York for their recording. Nah, now it’s the sun and surf of Miami’s Quad Radial Studio (sounds like a tyre shop!) for recording and Nassau’s Compass Point for mixing.

Now it’s time to wheel in the big guns, with legendary rock production mentor Eddie Kramer at the helm. Yeah, Anthrax have arrived and, finally, so have I, which leads me to the beginning of this piece again! How convenient.

IT’S THE big Bear Johnny Z and guitarist Scott ‘NOT’ Ian who greet the totally nackito Raymond and myself at the airport, still one over the eight and giggling at the thought of a Bahamian president named Lynton Pindling.

Both guys seem to be in the pink, Johnny more so than Scott, having exposed his lobsterised frame to the mercy of the sun. “I do NOT like the sun”, laughs Scott, which is quite extraordinary for a guy who seems to spend half his waking life in the most hideous Bermuda shorts he can lay his mitts on! Then again, if there’s one thing you should have garnered from the burble by now, it’s that Anthrax are one extraordinary bunch of guys.

Come to think of it, Bermuda shorts play a major part in the Anthrax make-up (and that’s the only make-up that’s anything to do with this band!). Aside from the music that these five geezers put together, of which more, later, there’s an ingredient in the Anthrax party cake that rarely finds its way into the heaviest of rock ‘n’ roll. Humour!

Humour runs through Anthraxian philosophy like Blackpool runs through rock, and although the guys might look towards the giants of Metal such as Rush and Sabbath for musical inspiration, there’s certainly a greater affinity with the likes of the Pistols and the Damned in terms of attitude.

Let’s face it, those spiky-topped ragamuffins only used the strains of political angst in order to have a bloody great piss-up at somebody else’s expense.

“There’s no doubt about the fact that this band’s humour is what sets it apart from the rest of the Hardcore/Thrash field,” claims Scott. “You look at pictures of a lot of these Hardcore acts and they look like they’re standing there with a stick up their asses! There’s always a real major effort to put forward some kind of an image, but where the audience identify with us is that we are ourselves 100%.”

Not that I’m making claims that Anthrax is all fun, fun, fun and boogie, boogie, boogie. After four days spent mooching around Compass Point in the band’s company I’d say that the lads are five regular guys, no more funny or sharp than yer mates at home.

Admittedly the clock was against the five as they rushed to finish mixing their new album but there seemed to be no urgent desire to whoop it up and take full advantage of the beautiful surroundings for full rage potential. Nah, it was down to Palmer and I to do a Macc Ladds and ‘get the ale in’ while the boys in the band stayed quiet.

The big difference between bands like Anthrax and the likes of Motley Crüe and Ratt, who freely admit to swigging and swearing at all times, is that Anthrax leave egos locked in the closet both on and off stage.

Whilst this may not lead to as much excitement behind the scenes, it does mean that the emphasis in performance is on genuine, honest fun rather than the cheesy corn which most US rockers dish up. Anthraxian philosophy definitely sits easier on my palate!

“The stage is just an extension of reality,” says Scott. “When we get up there are no airs and graces, no pretensions and no image. The fun things that happen are just an extension of what happens offstage. It may be exaggerated cos it’s got to reach out to people, but it’s basically the same thing.

“If we feel like wearing shorts onstage then we will, if I wanna skateboard about and fall on my ass then I’ll do it! We don’t have the posey Heavy Metal look and yet, without sounding stupid, we do more rocking than any of those cheesy acts!”

THE EGO can really get in the way” states Danny. “We’ve got this thing going where Joey and I like to wrestle with each other on stage. In most bands the singer f**king with the guitarist when he’s doing a solo would lead to a fist-fight, but I love it! I tell Joey: ‘That’s cool man, do it on the next song, too!'”

Yeah, these boys love to get up the noses of the pompous assholes! Irreverence is back in style and Anthrax are loving every minute of it. No-one’s safe!

“We don’t like the Dave Lee Roth ‘party animal’ bit, but equally we hate the macho bulls**t,” claims Scott. “The B-side of our ‘I Am The Law’ single features ‘Bud E. Luv Bomb And Satan’s Lounge Band’, which is a complete rag on all that Death Metal bulls**t.

“Yeah, we’ve got a section that takes the piss out of the most over-used Death Metal lyrics. We just scream, ‘Hell, death, pentagram, bestial, sacrifice, sodom, Antichrist, Satan’ and die laughing. We hope Death Metal fans get pissed off cos to us it’s just something to laugh at! By the way, who farted?”

In case you haven’t sussed by now, respect is a word that doesn’t feature too highly in the Anthrax vocabulary. Their overwhelming confidence in fundamental correctness in what they do makes ’em a neat, tight unit winning its way to the top through dogged determination and a touch of sheer, bloody-minded arrogance. Anthrax don’t need you to tell ’em they’re good! Shoot, they know that already!

And if you guys out there don’t know it, where the hell have you been? The band’s second, fully-fledged album Spreading The Disease, their first for major label Island, turned heads a-plenty, mine included, through the fact, that regardless of musical labels, this was a brilliant rock LP.

It was hard and fast, yet covered in melodies like candy, raw yet refined. It didn’t actually take much intelligence to suss that Anthrax had put the final piece in the jigsaw by adding Joey and ousting the rather mundane Metal voice and attitude of Neil Turbin… they were on their way.

Riding through Europe on a handy support slot with Metallica things seemed to be getting better and better. If it was a long way to the top, then somebody somewhere was doing his damnedest to smooth out the bumps in the road. And then…

And then you all know what happened. Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a coach crash and the progress of not one, but two bands ground to an unwelcome halt.

“That was a terrible time for us so we really feel for what Metallica must have gone through. We’d already arrived at our hotel in Stockholm and I think Lars (Ulrich) and James (Hetfield) came and told us what had happened,” recounts Scott.

“I remember being so shocked that I was just walking around in a daze for three days at this hotel cos we were stuck. We couldn’t go anywhere until we knew whether the tour would carry on. I remember seeing the movie 48 Hours over and over again on the hotel TV channel. It was a nightmare, but in a way it made us value what we do all the more cos a band is such a fragile thing.

“The fun aspect of Anthrax is vital, because we have to get as much out of this as we possibly can. That’s why there’s no musical compromise. What would be the point when it could all be taken away from us so quickly?”

NO COMPROMISE, NO COMPROMISE in great thumping, steaming capitals. You’ve already had a taster of this with the knuckle-whitening rawness of ‘I Am The Law’ but, boy oh boy, wait until you hear what these boys have been up to!

OK, so they’ve been soaking up the rays in Miami and the Bahamas and Joey in particular has got the rawest sun-tan to prove it, but there’s been no let-up in the music. No acoustic mumbo-jumbo, no duets with Robert Palmer just cos he lives opposite Compass Point! No way!

If you haven’t got to grips with this new Among The Living LP then you’re in for one hell of a treat. If you believed that Spreading The Disease was just about as raw as a band could get, then just get yer lugs round this monster!

Just how do you describe an opus such as this? It’s NOT a word of a lie to say that I’ve never encountered anything remotely like this before. Metallica’s Master Of Puppets is rightly deemed the yardstick by which all Hardcore music is judged, but in my opinion Among The Living jumps right over that particular precipice flying headlong into the abyss.

The quality of Hardcore stands or falls on its musicianship. There are all kinds of great music that require only a competent level of playing but by the very nature of this stuff nothing less than brilliance is required. No doubt about it, brilliance is what you get — great big bucketloads of the stuff, making Among The Living a true masterpiece.

The melodies are there, time-changes to make your head spin, playing to force lesser mortals to give up, variety a-plenty… and speed? Is there speed? IS THERE f**kin’ SPEED? Do bears s**t in woods? Let me state without fear of contradiction that this here long-playing record comes complete with some of the craziest, zaniest speedhem ever.

Try ‘Imitation Of Life’ for example, with its invitation to ‘CUT THROUGH THEIR BULLS**T WITH A KNIFE’, or my personal Walkman rave ‘Caught In A Mosh’, featuring bamboozling bass and positively lethal lead! Lumme, poor old Geoff Barton’s gonna have to make sure his pacemaker’s WELL IN ORDER!

Yup, and that’s only one fifth of the story. There are real treats in store with the band’s collective fave, ‘Indians’, an almost Alternative plea for the forgotten tribes of America that kicks butt like you wouldn’t believe, and the kryptically titled ‘Efilnikufesin’ (work it out, smarties!). Just great, great stuff!

I’m not kidding when I say it’s a Metal milestone. Possibly closer in spirit to Anthrax’s bastard SOD offspring than Spreading The Disease, this is Metal’s most heartfelt embracing of hardcore Punk acts such as GBH and Discharge.

However, Anthrax will succeed where those bands failed, because of their previously mentioned musicianship and attention to vocal melody. That, along with Scott’s keen eye for a lyrical sense of humour and adventure!

TOO OFTEN in the past Metal punters have been forced to accept lyrics that are unquestionably second rate. Now I’m not making any great claims for Lord Byron at the helm when it’s plain old rock ‘n’ roll we’re talking about, but I do believe that intelligent human beings deserve better than ‘Burning Up’, ‘Face To Face’, ‘Restless Gypsy’, ‘Love Hunter’ and all the other tripe that has indelibly marred the face of Metal over the years. Why shouldn’t hard-edged bands have something to say as well as play?

Now obviously Scott’s no poet, but he is possessed of a certain streetwise vernacular that captures the feel of the band. The language is choice and the PMRC will be having kittens when they hear it, but it doesn’t come across as gratuitous:

“How many times have you heard this today?
Some bogus piss-on saying,
‘Let’s do lunch babe’
For them this bull****it’s their life

Cut through their bulls**t with a knife!” (‘Imitation Of Life’).

Scott’s also got a real fascination with cult horror novelist Stephen King, in my opinion one of the few horror writers with something worth saying. ‘A Skeleton In The Closet’ is based on one of King’s best short stories, ‘Apt Pupil’, and the album’s title track, more by accident than design, takes the epic King novel The Stand as its theme.

“It was just an idea I had for the album cover,” claims Charlie Benante, the band’s drummer, main songwriter and artist, “of this guy who’s kinda like an Antichrist figure and who comes down among the living. I told Scott about it and he just knew that it was The Stand to a tee, so he wrote the lyrics for the song around that theme. We even got the guy who designed the artwork for Stephen King’s book to do our album cover.”

Bit Satanic for you boys though, ain’t it?!

“God, no,” urges Charlie. “We don’t want no Satanic bulls**t coming down on us for this. People will see that the guy on the cover has a real wry smile on his face and they’ll see that it’s to be taken as very tongue-in-cheek.”

So they might avoid the Satanic stuff, but they certainly won’t avoid the flak from the poutin’ and posin’ brigade! Not that they’re bothered in the slightest! Having been ragging on the likes of Cinderella off tape, though, Scott suddenly becomes remarkably reticent when the little red light’s flashing!

“Any band can do whatever it likes and that’s just fine by us. What other bands do has absolutely no bearing on us, let ’em go for it!”

Ah, but come on, that’s a wicked cop-out after all that you’ve been saying!

“No it isn’t! What do I care if some asshole wants to walk around with f**kin* women’s clothes hanging off his body and more make-up than my f**kin’ mother! What do I care? Years from now he’s gonna have to live with that and when he goes round the comer to the deli to buy a bagel he’d better still look like that!”

“IT’S LIKE WE say in ‘Imitation Of Life’. We’d pass an image law saying that bands would have to wear their stage gear 24 hours a day. That would put a lot of groups in trouble. These people aren’t being themselves, so how can you take them seriously? It’s false!”

Bet you wouldn’t be averse to opening some arena shows for these bands, though!

“Sure. That’s all we need over here in the States to break us. We don’t give a s**t who we open for,” says bassist Frank Bello. “Audiences equal exposure, whoever they are. It’s a fact that you have to support here, it’s not the same as in Europe, so as soon as we get a decent shot this album will take off like you wouldn’t believe!”

“The thing is,” claims Danny, “it’s only in places like New York, LA, ‘Frisco, Chicago and Texas that people make a distinction between the various types of Metal. The rest of the country is kinda clueless as far as a band like us goes. If we opened for Motley Crüe, say, people would see that we’re heavy and they’d love it! To those people we’d be the same as Motley Crüe.

“I mean, Metallica have already proved that’s possible with the Ozzy tour. They’ve sold half-a-million albums, so that’s half-a-million more people who’ve been exposed to this kind of stuff.”

No refuting the logic of that one — and, as I’ve said, Among The Living certainly possesses the quality to succeed. My one major qualm about it, however, is the drum sound, presumably produced by Eddie Kramer and approved by the band. To these ears (and there’s an old chestnut!) it doesn’t kick with anywhere near enough clout to match the guitar sounds from hell! Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but I wouldn’t mind placing a little wager that come the next album the boys will be confessing that this time around the production wasn’t all it could have been. Time will tell!

Still, drum sound or not, there’s no doubt in my mind that big things lie just around the corner for Anthrax. Scott believes that this LP could finally see the band making financial headway too (so far, he’s made most money from the SOD album due to the minimal outlay and sales in excess of 30,000) and it’s hard to argue with such an assessment.

In addition, Scott also has plans to produce a comic book following the adventures of the SOD Sergeant D. character with drummer Charlie providing the artwork. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ideas are well in keeping with the finest tradition of tacky yet groovy pulp trash! Should be cool!

And as for you guys… Well, if you missed the show at the Hammy O. recently then you’ll pave to wait until September for a full Odeon-sized tour. Start practicing those moshing moves now, kids! Which brings us to a point that Scott wants to clear up:

“Yeah, we see Geoff Barton credited in Kerrang! as ‘Slam Diver’ but that term just doesn’t exist! There’s Slam Dancing and Stage Diving, but not Slam Diving. Just thought he’d like to know. We call him Geoff ‘Mosh Hard’ Barton anyway!”

AND THAT JUST about wraps it up, folks. And for all those green with envy about the Bahamas… well, sure it was illin’, but poor old Ray and myself spent most of the time hanging around the studio, shooting pool and ruling the world at table football!

Thoughts of AIDS and lack of finance led to Nassau being less the debauched centre I’d heard about and more the restful haven. Just had to content ourselves with the fresh fruit on offer in our apartment, a few bites on the bum from some bastardly biddies and the sounds of Among The Living.

Yup, seems like there’s only rock ‘n’ roll to get high on these days, so thank the Lord for Anthrax!

© Howard JohnsonKerrang!, 19 March 1987

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