Among The Living: Anthrax look back at their classic album 30 years on

Hail the Kings: Anthrax in 2016, featuring newest member Jon Donais, far left
Hail the Kings: Anthrax in 2016, featuring newest member Jon Donais, far left
(Image: © George Bodnar Archive\/IconicPix)

It’s December 1987. Anthrax are starting a major US headlining tour with a show at Chicago’s prestigious, 5,000-capacity Aragon Ballroom. Support act Celtic Frost are onstage and the venue is rammed already. Anthrax founder and guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante are standing at the side of the stage when the penny drops.

“I looked at Charlie and pointed at the crowd and said, ‘Where did all these people come from? How did this happen?’” Scott recalls. “Just a few months before, we were stoked to be playing to 500 people. It was like I’d blinked and suddenly there were 5,000 people coming to our shows.”

Nearly 30 years on, Anthrax have long since secured their reputation as one of the best-loved and respected metal bands of all time. One of thrash’s Big 4, the New Yorkers are simply part of the furniture at this point, but it was the extraordinary and life-changing success of their third album, Among The Living, that was the catalyst for the glories that followed. Stuffed to the gills with freshly minted anthems like Caught In A Mosh, Indians and I Am The Law, it remains one of the classic 80s metal records. As they prepare to hit the UK for their first headlining tour in several years, during which they will play that classic album in its entirety, Scott and Charlie have vivid memories of the moment their lives altered forever.

“We were already playing I Am The Law and Indians live on the Spreading The Disease tour the year before,” Scott recalls. “We knew we had those songs in our pocket going into the making of that record, and we felt that those songs were better than anything else we had at that point. I remember Charlie coming in with some of the riffs for I Am The Law and Indians, and we put those songs together and I was thinking, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got something really good going here!’ We were just in a really good place as a band. Our first two records put us on the map and we got to travel the world on Spreading The Disease. We made ourselves known to people all around the planet, and obviously things were going in the right direction for us when we made Among… People were really excited about Anthrax and we were excited because people were excited about Anthrax! Haha!”

“We were caught in a whirlwind and just went with it”: James Hetfield joins Anthrax for a photocall at Monsters Of Rock, 1987

“We were caught in a whirlwind and just went with it”: James Hetfield joins Anthrax for a photocall at Monsters Of Rock, 1987
(Image: © George Chin/IconicPix)

Among The Living was released on March 22, 1987. The band’s second album for Island Records, it was recorded in Miami, Florida, and mixed at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, where Iron Maiden had recorded Powerslave and Somewhere In Time. Bigger, bolder and heavier than the vast majority of likeminded records released at that time, it was instantly embraced by metalheads everywhere, turning Anthrax from well-rated contenders to bona fide world- beaters. If you were a metal fan in 1987, you owned a copy of Among The Living and knew all the words to Caught In A Mosh. It was that simple. As the near-universal positive reaction to the new record gained momentum, Anthrax found themselves playing to much bigger audiences than they had ever anticipated when Scott and former bassist Dan Lilker started the band back in 1981.

“In May, we started that tour playing to 500 kids, and by December we were playing to 7,000 or 8,000 people every night in the States,” says Scott. “That’s how fast things connected with that record. When that wave of thrash metal bands exploded, we were right at the forefront of it, riding our board so to speak, and in just a few months in 1987 things got really big, really fast, all around the planet. It was crazy. It was head-spinning. It’s not like we were on the radio or getting major love from MTV. It was just building and building, through word of mouth, and it spread far and wide, very fast, like, ‘This is the new shit! We’ve got to go check out Anthrax!’”

“We were caught up in a whirlwind and we just went with it!” adds Charlie. “We didn’t know any better. The Beatles said something like, ‘We were all part of the madness and we just had to live it, but we were glad we had each other…’, and that’s how we were going about it. The first 18 or 20 years of your life have been a certain way but suddenly you’re thrust into this whole other world. It’s so foreign but if it’s what you want to do with your life, you just hold on and enjoy the ride as much as you can.”

Cheerfully clinging to the rollercoaster, Anthrax spent the next few years almost permanently on the road. Two further albums, State Of Euphoria and Persistence Of Time, cemented their status as members of the metal elite, while a collaboration with fellow New Yorkers Public Enemy on a new version of the hip-hop crew’s Bring The Noise ensured that history would recall Anthrax as thrash legends and rap-rock pioneers. Of course, the 90s were as troublesome and awkward to negotiate for Anthrax as they were for nearly everyone else. In 1992, Joey Belladonna was replaced with Armored Saint vocalist John Bush and, with a sound that incorporated more alternative rock influences, Anthrax released a further four studio records, culminating in the widely hailed We’ve Come For You All in 2003. John departed in 2005, replaced by newcomer Dan Nelson, before returning in 2009 when Dan himself departed amid much acrimony and confusion. Finally, in 2010, Joey Belladonna returned to the fold, just in time for the completion of long-awaited 10th album Worship Music: a joyous recalibration of the classic Anthrax sound that earned them some of the best reviews of their career.

Comic connection: Charlie Benante, Dan Spitz, Scott Ian, Frank Bello and Joey Belladonna in 1986

Comic connection: Charlie Benante, Dan Spitz, Scott Ian, Frank Bello and Joey Belladonna in 1986
(Image: © Ray Palmer Archive/IconicPix)

In truth, Anthrax’s journey from Among The Living to the present day has been far from smooth, and yet their allure has never been more potent. Having steered the ship for 35 years, Scott Ian has to admit that being a stubborn bastard has been essential.

“Oh, absolutely!” he laughs. “People ask all the time, going back to the early 80s, ‘How did you do it? What’s the secret?’ and there is no secret! If there was, I would’ve put it in my book and sold a lot more copies. But one thing I can pinpoint is that I’ve always been a tenacious motherfucker. I refuse to take no for an answer. It’s still that way. You have to make hard decisions all the time, for the sake and the future of the band, and you have to listen to your heart and what your gut is telling you. Clearly it’s worked, and it’s obviously worked for any band that has survived for 30 years.”

“We still have that New York mindset, that we’ll never crack,” adds Charlie. “We’ll never break. We’ve had so much thrown at us and we’ve always bounced back. A lot of bands seem to lose their hunger or they’ve lost the path they once followed. We found the path and we stuck with it. We know what we want, we know what the audience wants and we still have fun!”

If you’ve seen Anthrax live over the last few years, you must surely have noticed the almost celebratory vibe the band are generating now. With a seemingly secure lineup of Scott, Charlie, Joey Belladonna, long-time bassist Frank Bello and most recent recruit, guitarist Jon Donais, the turbulence and vexed progress of the past is but a distant memory. Recent album For All Kings was widely praised as one of the band’s best, and tickets for the forthcoming UK tour are selling like hot thrash metal cakes. Things could hardly be going better for these stoic veterans, and given the state of the world in 2017, it’s great to be able to celebrate with them as they bring Among The Living to life in its full glory. Meanwhile, Scott Ian has some reassuring words about the future of the metal scene.

“I think there’s gonna be a lot of great heavy music being made in the next four years,” he avows. “Political unrest is great for art. The Big 4 came out of the Reagan era in the States. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal came out of the Thatcher era, if I’m not mistaken. So with Trump and the political climate in the world right now, it should definitely be great for heavy music. There are tons of creative bands and the scene is strong and healthy. Will there ever be another Iron Maiden or Metallica? Maybe not in our lifetimes, but I remember people having the same conversation 10 years ago, and then over those 10 years a bunch of cool new bands have come out. I think we’ll all be fine.”

As for the future prospects of his own band, Scott is similarly optimistic and, it has to be said, every bit the tenacious motherfucker he always was.

“This is still what I love to do,” he grins. “We get to play in a band and make records and go on tour, and that’s what we love to do. If I didn’t still have that fire in me, and I hate to use that cliché, it would be easy to stop. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of time away from our families, but it really does still burn fucking strong and I love being out there onstage with my band, showing the world what we do.”

Day of the Dredd: the Judge celebrates his 40th birthday among the living in our 2000AD tribute to Anthrax

Day of the Dredd: the Judge celebrates his 40th birthday among the living in our 2000AD tribute to Anthrax
(Image: © Patrick Goddard)

He Is The Law

2000AD illustrator Patrick Goddard talks us through his exclusive Anthrax piece

HOW DID YOU GET INTO COMIC ILLUSTRATION?

“I was one of the lucky ones: you hear stories of people trying for years to get into comics, but I left art university with no idea how to make a living as an illustrator, saw 2000AD were using different styles, had a crack at them and, fortunately, they gave me a job on my first submission!”

HAD YOU HEARD OF ANTHRAX BEFORE YOU DID THIS PIECE?

“Oh, yes! Many of my mates are huge heavy metal fans so I knew of them, plus Scott Ian appears in the 2000AD documentary [2014’s Future Shock!], so I knew he was a big Dredd fan. A lot of my friends feel this is the most important artwork I have ever produced!”

WHY DO METAL AND 2000AD GO SO WELL TOGETHER?

“I think it’s the rebellious, ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude that much of the comic aspires to be. Much like the music, if it connects and you feel it, you just let yourself go.”

TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF THIS BAD BOY

“I submitted a few thumbnail sketches of what had been asked, and Hammer picked the one that worked best. Then it was a matter of gathering decent references of the band and getting down to pencilling it. Once that was done, I inked it by hand. At one point, there was a change to the final image, so I redrew Dredd – bigger!”

WHAT DO YOU LOVE THE MOST ABOUT DRAWING CHARACTERS LIKE DREDD?

“Dredd is a great character visually, but I also like the world he lives in. Mega-City One can have anything appear in it – something current and topical, or a long epic storyline that runs for weeks. Other times there’s just a good, old-fashioned action story.”

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