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A Conversation With Anthrax Drummer Charlie Benante

Anthrax (from Left to Right): Frank Bello, Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Joey Belladonna and Jonathan Donais (Photo Credit: Jimmy Hubbard).

As a once young and angsty teen, I went through a phase (and am still in that phase, to a lesser degree) where long hair and metal music was extremely palatable. Therefore, I am extremely familiar with New York-based thrash metal band Anthrax. The foursome is often considered to be one of the pioneering bands in the genre. This distinction has put them into a grouping referred to as “The Big Four.” Obviously, this includes four bands, who are considered to be the most popular and influential groups in thrash metal. Anthrax is placed alongside Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica in the “Big Four.”

Anthrax did not waltz their way into this high-class metal society, though. They are not the commercial juggernaut that Metallica is, nor are they as politically vocal as a band like Megadeth is. Instead, they have carved out their niche as the most polished and hard-working group out of the four iconic bands. They have experimented with sounds that make them a unicorn of heavy metal. Their song “Bring The Noise,” an alliance with rap’s Public Enemy was the first of its kind outside of Aerosmith and Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way.” One could even argue that this collaboration paved the way for an entire genre (Nu-metal).

It’s these qualities that makes Anthrax the legends they are today. They have no doubt earned and deserve to be crowned as metal royalty. Now, as they join Slayer on their Farewell World Tour, they will make a pitstop in Fargo on May 23 while Slayer is on a day off. Anthrax will be joined at the Sanctuary Events Center by Testament, another metal trailblazer.

Fargo Monthly had the outstanding opportunity to talk with Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante in advance of the show. Outside of bassist and founder Scott Ian, Benante is the longest-serving member in the band. We talked with him about the longevity of the metal titans, his favorite horror characters and the upcoming show in Fargo.

Now, Anthrax has been one of the most long-standing metal groups in the genre. How have you guys been able to stay around for so long? What’s the key to longevity?

Charlie Benante: When you’re trying to keep it together I would say it is important that you love what you’re doing. Throughout the years we can see other forms of music take form and become popular. We are living in a time where the climate is telling you that rock music is done and that you need to make way for other genres. We’re like “no,” everyone is still here and you can see that. Just look at AC/DC or Iron Maiden, they stuck to their guns and they’re still relevant, that’s what we are too.

So Slayer, your colleagues in the “Big Four,” are going on their Final World Tour, and you’re going on it with them. What does that feel like, being on a band’s “final” tour?

Benante: For me, being the same age, playing the same form of music, we were outsiders back in the day. We were different and we choose a form of music that you have to love if you’re going to do it because it’s not music that is played on the radio, it’s not friendly. Watching all of this play out with them is really bittersweet. It’s like retiring a player’s jersey.

Obviously, each band within the “Big Four” has their own specific brand/sound. How would you define Anthrax’s brand/sound compared to that of Slayer, Metallica or Megadeth?

Benante: The thing about us is we call ourselves a heavy metal band but we also love rock and roll. We enjoy different forms, like, I love funk, especially as a drummer, that type of music is very primal. When rap hit I was one of the first to bring it into what we were doing. Then, we ended up working it into a song with Public Enemy, which was one the highlights of my career. I think that’s what makes us different, we are not afraid to push boundaries with different forms of music.

It’s so interesting to me to see these heavy metal bands like you and Metallica stick with the same core for so many years. Honestly, how did you guys keep from driving each other insane over the years?

Benante: The hardest part of being in a band is that. When you’re with your family and you interact with your siblings, you do that because that is what you’re born into. A band is a lot like that, but different because you didn’t spend your formative years with these people. You all have to love music, you want to do what your idols did. For us, when we don’t see each other a lot, it’s like reacquainting with one another, then it’s just like the next day and the next show and so on.

Now, when you come to Fargo you’ll be playing with Testament as it will be a day when you are not on the Slayer tour. What should people expect from the show here in Fargo on the 23rd?

Benante: Fargo is my favorite [television] show and my favorite movie, so I’m excited about this one even if it isn’t in the dead of winter. These shows are on Slayer’s off days, which means we will be playing a longer set and we’ll be adding some other tunes. That way, people can’t go online and complain that “they didn’t play this or that.” However, when you add other songs, you have to drop other ones too.

I guess I’m unsure if Anthrax has ever been to Fargo before. Regardless, what are you looking forward to the most about coming here?

Benante: We haven’t been there in a while. We just want the fans to come out and see the show. Shows become more special for us when we haven’t been to the city in a while and that is the case with Fargo.

Coming out of an era in the 80s where heavy metal bands were a dime a dozen, how did you guys gain momentum as a band in the early going? Especially in a musical hotbed like New York City.

Benante: In the early days, we would rehearse sometimes seven days a week. If not seven, for sure five days a week. I really think we built up a show sort of thing with all the rehearsing.

One thing about you that I didn’t know was how involved you are in artwork and the artwork the band uses. How did you cultivate this interest in artwork?

Benante: It’s something that I was doing before the band. It was a passion of mine, and it still is. Before the band I was going to art school then we got busy and things kinda went from there in terms of the band. Now with doing the band artwork, I’m still getting an education in a way. Rather than school, I’m getting it from the record companies who have spent years and years doing artwork.

I actually got a look at some of your own paintings, specifically the “Famous Monsters” series with Pennywise and The Wolfman (which are amazing, by the way). I know you’re a big horror movie fan, so the question is: Who is the most deadly/badass monster in horror movie history?

Benante: I think the Boris Karloff Frankenstein. He was just put together, misunderstood and the visual of it was done perfectly. Whenever people see that image they know it’s Frankenstein. One of the scariest is still Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She was just this victim of this demonic possession and she just kept getting worse and worse as the movie went on. That character still scares me.

This is something I ask of every musician we interview. What record will never get old in your opinion? In other words, what is not coming off your turntable?

Benante: I would have to say a Beatles one. Now, people who hated The Beatles back in the day are saying they love them today, because they’re hip. That pisses me off, either you love them or you don’t. But I would probably say Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s, one of those two for me.

Listen to Anthrax’s groundbreaking collaboration with rap giants Public Enemy below.

You can also listen to Anthrax’s top tracks below.

Learn more about Charlie and the rest of the band here.

Tickets are $39.50 and can be purchased here. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the show beginning at 7:15 p.m.

Written by Nolan P. Schmidt

Nolan is the Editor of Fargo Monthly. Schmidt is also the Editor of Spotlight Media's Bison Illustrated and Future Farmer publications. He is originally from Bismarck, N.D. and is a proud graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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