If thrash metal pioneers ANTHRAX weren't survivors, their career certainly would not have lasted 13 powerful years. They wouldn't have forged the speed metal bible Among the Living, created the highly influential metal rap crossover "I'm the Man" or recorded with Public Enemy. They wouldn't have lasted through metal's lean years in the '90s and revamped their sound to lash out anew with the firepower of Sound of White Noise or the criminally underrated Stomp 442. But it took more than survival instincts to grind their way through the past two years, and create VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL, one of the freshest, most emotional metal albums of the decade. It took patience, strength and exhaustive determination.
"We had so much adversity going into this record," says guitarist and songwriter Scott Ian. "We recorded it without a record deal, and there were all kinds of personal stuff I went through around the same time that really tore me apart inside."
"There was a lot of stuff that hurt us, but in the long run it was probably for the best," adds drummer and songwriter Charlie Benante. "The material on this album is so much better than anything we've ever done. It's so pissed off and real and emotional."
VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL covers all the bases: "Crush" explodes with thundering double bass drums and staccato guitar bursts, "Toast" echoes with vulnerable vocals and alt-country twang, "Inside Out" surges with blowtorch guitar grooves and "Hog Tied" tumbles with pulsing wah-wah guitar and an anthemic chorus. The only thing missing from the mix is electronica. "I actually recorded with Tricky on his new record," says Ian. "But Anthrax is all about power and volume and intensity. It didn't seem like the place for drum and bass and techno." "We wanted to tackle everything we could musically and put it on this record," says Benante. "I always thought it would be cool to take the best elements of our last three records and put it into one killer album. Also, I was listening to a lot of '70s stuff like Led Zeppelin and the Who, and I think that definitely had some sort of impact."
Ian, Benante, vocalist John Bush and bassist Frank Bello started working on VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL after they finished their 1996 tour for Stomp 442. The band had just parted ways with Elektra after two records, and was looking for a new label. Rather than wait until the red tape stopped unrolling, ANTHRAX pooled their finances and built their own studio in Yonkers. By November they started conveying their feelings of betrayal, disillusionment and rage into new songs, and for the next year, they finessed, and reshaped the material into different forms, experimenting with style and tone to find the sonic punch that would impact the hardest. "Having the luxury of owning our own studio turned out to be both a blessing and a curse," says Ian. "It enabled us to go back and do things 100 times over. But sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to stand back and let things go. From an experimental and creative point, Charlie was able to bring his Hammond organ in and sit there and fuck with it for three days. Whereas if we were in a place that was $1,500 a day, you can't do that. So that was cool. We were able to let the songs grow and evolve into what they wanted to become, but it was sometimes an agonizing process."
Throughout VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL, ANTHRAX toys with thrash, punk, funk, shitkicking rock and heartstring-tugging balladry, redefining and refining the concept of '90s metal. "We're still Anthrax, and we have a particular sound, but I think this record comes across as more of a diverse rock record than anything else we've done," says Ian. "But if you look at it, our guitars are heavier than most rock bands, but the songs aren't that far from something by a group like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin or the Foo Fighters. A lot of it was actually inspired by Bob Mould, who wrote brutal music that always had a poppy hook. This album has so much melody and so many hooks. The choruses are huge, but that doesn't take away from any of the heaviness." Aside from the contagious choruses and multifarious flavors, what really separates VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL from the morass of metal is its pulsing, pounding groove. "That's what I love about Pantera," says Ian. "As heavy as they are, they always have an amazing groove. Led Zeppelin had the same thing going, and it's something that's been missing from out past records. But this one is heavy and it swings." Bello adds, "I think we are a better band than we ever were. We are much stronger and cohesive as a band musically. Bottom line is we stayed current. Just because the music around us has changed, we didn't. We always step up to the plate, and get it done. METAL!!!"
And for every blowtorch riff or propulsive rhythm, Bush is front and center, singing in a voice powered by attitude and emotion. Whether howling in pure defiance or crooning a tuneful melody, his impressionistic voice belies that of they typical metal crooner. "There was actually a period when we were working on the record, where I was having a lot of trouble with my voice," says Bush. "But I kept working on it, and I overcame the difficulties. These are probably the best vocals I've ever done, and I think I'm singing better than ever these days. I'm really concentrating on the character and vibe of my vocals, and I think that's a lot more important than having a massive range."
In addition to capturing the musical transformation of ANTHRAX, VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL conveys the intense personal struggle the band endured after being dropped from Elektra. Despite the fact that their album Sound off White Noise went Gold, Elektra refused to promote the band or support them on tour. Regardless, the band's last album, Stomp 442, sold over 100,000 copies, an impressive amount considering many fans didn't even know the record was out. "That whole thing was totally devastating," says Benante. We put a lot of heart and soul into it and the record label just dropped the ball. It was like being hit in the face with the wrecking ball on the record cover." The turmoil that resulted, shook the band up. Ian became separted from his wife, and members of ANTHRAX embarked on a self - destructive rampage. The hedonistic revelry hit a peak in August, 1997 when Ian was arrested in Florida for breaking into the Yankee's Spring training stadium and stealing the mat for the on-deck-circle. "That's when I hit rock bottom," he says. "I've never been so low as I was when I was sitting in jail after doing that. What happened is really funny, and the press reported it with a sense of humor, but I really let myself get out of control. It was something I felt so horrible about doing, and I don't really want to be in that state of mind again." Recently, ANTHRAX supporter Howard Stern went to bat for the band and in an on-air broadcast, helped convince Yankee owner George Steinbrenner to drop the charges against Ian. "Now, I'm just trying to stay as far away from jail as possible," Ian says.
Like a member of Alcoholics' Anonymous who talks about addiction in order to cope with it, Ian has written about his recent personal demons in an attempt to exorcise them. "Writing about what's going on in my life is really cathartic," he says. "Gone are the days of writing about Indians and comic books and horror movies. I can never write a song like that anymore. I can only write from personal experience, and I think that makes the feelings in the songs much more real."
ANTHRAX are so happy VOLUME 8: THE THREAT IS REAL they're threatening to play the entire album on their upcoming world tour. Even after 13 years, the band is still hungry to defy convention and break new ground. "Seriously, there's not a song on this record that I don't want to play, and I can't say that about any record we've ever done," says Ian. "If we had to walk away from all of this after this record, I'd feel happy just knowing that we went out with a bang."