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Anthrax talk Among The Living, the 80s thrash scene and Iron Maiden

At this year's Sonisphere Anthrax played not once, but twice. They played Among The Living in full and hit up the main stage for a balls-out greatest hits set. We caught up with Scott Ian to talk about the album and what thrash was like back in the day...

You’re revisiting Among The Living at Sonisphere, an album that originally came out in 1987, at that time thrash was hitting critical mass. Did you have a sense of something special happening?

“Not at first, let’s put it that way. When the record came out we were in a place where we were certainly excited about things because we recorded our third album, who ever thought we would get to do that? We didn’t. Back in those days you just went day by day, week by week, month by month – we would just hope we get to make another record, we get to play another show, we see another kid wearing a t-shirt. But still, we weren’t making money, nothing had broke yet. Metallica had just started to really make some noise because they supported Ozzy in the States, that was a huge deal, so they were the first band to really break down that door of the Big Four. But still we were nobody yet when that record came out. Actually, that tour started in May of 1987 and we were playing small clubs. We started that tour at the Penny Arcade in Rochester, New York, sold-out to 500 people. Cut to December of 1987 and we’re playing to average between five and ten thousand people a night. So, it’s crazy in the space of seven or eight months shit just blew up. I could actually pinpoint it. When we played Donington in summer of 1987, and you had us and Metallica on that bill with Bon Jovi and Dio, and you really felt it that day. We walked onstage in front of 70-80,000 people and we had never seen anything like it before, we had never played anything close to that.”

It’s easy to look back and assume thrash was a community, was it really a community back then? Did you know everyone in the Bay Area? Or is it a historical misinterpretation that suggests that everybody was mates?

“If you mean by everyone; Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica, Exodus, Testament, then yeah, of course. We all knew each other, we all met each other. Our history with Metallica, that’s an old story, we’ve known each other since the day they got to New York. We met Slayer very early on too, I could be completely wrong but my first memory of meeting Slayer was at a Mercyful Fate show at L’Amour in Brooklyn. They were all in town, and we were all at this Mercyful Fate show, and I remember having drinks with those guys at the back bar. Maybe I’d met them before that, but that’s my first memory of hanging out with those dudes, and that had to be in 1985 or something like that. Obviously I knew Mustaine while he was still in Metallica, met Ellison right after Megadeth started, we knew the Testament guys even when they were still in Legacy, knew Exodus from pretty much day one as well. We did all know each other yeah, it really was a community and the thing is we were all friends. One of the questions I get asked so much is ‘what was the rivalry like back then?’, but for us, as Anthrax, there was no rivalry. I always looked at it as anything any of us accomplished is only helping the others. So every time Metallica did something it broke down another wall that the rest of us could jump over, or any time we did something it helped everybody.”

Playing with bands like Dio, Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, did you feel accepted in that fraternity as part of this newly budding thrash scene?

“I can’t really think of anybody that wasn’t cool. I mean even heroes like Ronnie, or Tony Iommi, the guys in Kiss, Ozzy, Maiden, Priest. Case in point, Maiden started taking us out – it’s insane to think I first met the Maiden guys as a fan knocking on their tour bus door when they were opening for Priest in 1981 at the Palladium with Paul Di’Anno and the band, on the Killers tour, and I’m in the back banging on a bus. I didn’t know whose bus it was, I just wanted a guitar pick and an autograph maybe. It turned out it was Maiden’s bus. To think that was 1981 and seven years later we’re opening for them all across Europe on the Monsters Of Rock tour. Sometimes I think about that and it blows my fucking mind. They treated us like you treat your kids, I mean they just treated us amazing.”

This interview originally aired on the Metal Hammer Radio Show. Find out more here.

And you can find out what happened when Anthrax visited the set of Game Of Thrones in the new issue of Metal Hammer. Pick it up here.