Given the band's track record -- commercial success, stagnation, and then record company abandonment -- one can't blame Benante for being so emotional. Like the other members of Anthrax (guitarist Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello, and singer John Bush), Benante is a stubborn sonofabitch who convinces himself that he's moving forward despite the fact that he's had to start his career all over again.
As the drummer and songwriter in Anthrax for over 15 years, he has watched its audience grow in size -- the band started playing clubs in New York in the early '80s and was filling arenas across the world by the end of the decade. Like Metallica and Megadeth, Anthrax found an audience that latched onto its speed metal formula because it provided the perfect soundtrack for mosh pit exercises. Unlike the epic arrangements and social rants of its speed metal brethren, Anthrax was at least smart enough to not take itself so seriously. Additionally, the band was one of the first heavy metal acts to incorporate hardcore and rap -- it was a natural outgrowth for a group with roots in the Bronx and Queens.
Aerosmith may get all the credit, but Run DMC was responsible for bringing Steven Tyler and crew on board in 1986 after sampling the main riff from "Walk This Way." A year later, Anthrax took its turn at combining rap and hard rock with "I'm the Man." Based on a line from the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Easy Money, the rowdy song sounded a lot like the Beastie Boys (initially, it was even written to include the Beastie Boys, but the collaboration never happened). Four years later, Anthrax honed its rap/metal chops further by reworking Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" in a version that featured PE's Chuck D and Flavor Flav.
Little did anyone at that time know that, by the end of the '90s, a new genre that combined rap and heavy metal would be at the forefront of the rock scene. For Benante, the mixing of styles seems natural, but, with the exception of Rage Against the Machine, he sees little within the rock and rap metal community that's currently exciting and calls the majority of the new metal bands "Korn-fed."
"I think a lot of these bands are more interested in being down with the actual rap artist," he says. "They're trying to make a heavier version of a Method Man record, if you will. I think they are totally losing what it was about and what it is about. You've got a bunch of white guys up there playing guitars. It's like nothing is impressing me. It's just the same, same, same, same, same, same thing. It's sickening. It really makes me sick. Why are these bands so popular these days? I just don't get it."
Is it possible that Benante, 36, is just out of touch with the current scene? Surprisingly, he doesn't bristle at the suggestion.
"I don't think it's that, because there are some things that appeal to younger people that I like," he says. "I love the Foo Fighters, even though their record is poppy and soft. But I'm not going to tell you that other stuff is good, because it's not. These bands have exhausted that one idea they had, and now they're beating it to death. Get some new ideas already."
Benante wishes he could do just that. Instead, he's currently on a tour promoting Return of the Killer A's, a greatest hits compilation that he says he wasn't enthusiastic about in the first place. It's a follow-up of sorts to the band's 1991 album Attack of the Killer B's, a collection of rarities and covers. "The only way I wanted to do [Return] was if it was different for me -- not just songs off each album," he explains. "I wanted to have B-sides and other little things to make it special. It came out like that, too. The original had at least two more obscure B-sides on it. We took those off to make room for "I Am the Law' and one other song.''
Benante admits that revisiting the past within the context of Anthrax isn't very inspiring. He says a recent tour that brought the Anthrax offshoot project S.O.D. back to life put him in a "creative mode" that made him want to return to the studio. For now, though, he's willing to play along with the interests of his new record label, Beyond.
To add a little extra interest for the die-hard Anthrax fans, the tour was initially supposed to feature former vocalist Joey Belladonna as well as John Bush (Belladonna and Bush perform together on a cover of "Ball of Confusion," which appears on Return), and the sets would span the band's entire career. But less than two weeks prior to the tour's first stop in Springfield, Virginia, Belladonna pulled out due to what a press release described as "the inability to come to a financial agreement." In an accompanying statement, Benante responded with vehemence.
"We asked Joey to do this because we thought it would be something really cool for the fans, and they could enter a new millennium with a special Anthrax event," he says. "However, Joey has decided that he doesn't want to take part in the festivities with us. He's the one who's going to miss out in seeing all those happy faces in the crowd that have been waiting for something like this for years, but we don't intend to let our fans down. We are going to give them the best fuckin' Anthrax show they ever saw."