with Testament, Death Ange
6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1
House of Blues
When Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax went to Cleveland in 2009 to help Metallica celebrate its induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, they didn’t expect it to be a life-altering event.
The big moment came when guitarist Ian and drummer Benante were having drinks with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
“We were just bullshitting about stuff, and then Lars just said to us, ‘You know, what do you think about doing the Big 4?’” Benante says. “We were just like ‘What?’ It came out of left field. We just were like, ‘That would be awesome. That would really be an amazing thing to do for these fans, to put these four bands together. People have never seen this before. It would be such a great event.’”
Ulrich proposed a bill that would include the quartet of bands that ushered in modern metal – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. The only problem was that Anthrax was in disarray at the time. Benante and Ian had been trying to push the band forward after what turned out to be a less-than-successful reunion tour in 2005 with original singer Joey Belladonna, who had split with Anthrax in 1992.
After that financially motivated shotgun marriage failed, Anthrax suffered a further setback when John Bush, who had been the group’s singer leading up to the Belladonna tour, quit the group.
The band turned to Dan Nelson to fill the vacated singer’s slot, and tried to push forward by recording a new CD called Worship Music. According to Benante, the band actually reached the recording phase. But that project had to go on hold unexpectedly when the band suffered another setback right before it was set to tour Europe. At the 11th hour, Nelson bailed.
“He said he couldn’t get on a plane,” Benante says. “He was so sick. He couldn’t physically move and that’s it. And meanwhile, our crew guys were already in the air on their way to Europe. We tried our best to get in touch with [Nelson]. He wouldn’t answer the phone, wouldn’t do anything. That was it. That was it for us.”
It was around this time that Ulrich floated the Big 4 notion. Benante says it forced the band into action. Although there have been rumors that they approached Bush as well as Corey Taylor (vocalist of Slipknot and Stone Sour) about the singing vacancy, Benante said they quickly zeroed in on Belladonna, whose duties on early albums like Spreading the Disease and Among the Living established Anthrax as a Big 4 group in the first place.
“I had, like, a bunch of songs that just didn’t fit the Anthrax mold,” Benante says. “I really wanted to do something on the side with different vocalists. And Joey was one I thought of. We started talking about stuff like that and just about music. Then one thing led to another and we took the opportunity to ask him if he would be interested in possibly doing [Anthrax] again.”
The renewed partnership clicked. The Big 4 shows began last year and most recently included a September show at Yankee Stadium in Anthrax’s home borough of the Bronx, New York.
“We were the band that had the most to prove and the most to win,” Benante says. “I really think it helped us recapture what we had been missing. It has a huge effect on us personally as well.”
Anthrax returned to work on Worship Music, this time with Belladonna on vocals, and it was released in September to rave reviews and their second-highest Billboard placement ever.
“It became a classic album,” Benante says. “Before, it was just an Anthrax record. And I think it became a fucking diamond.”
As for the Big 4 shows, Benante has nothing but great memories, particularly the New York City stop.
“It was a special week, I should say, because we were presented with our own day (Sept. 14) in the Bronx,” Benante says. “Then we played Yankee Stadium and it was everything I thought it would be. You try to grasp as much as you could in those 60 minutes, but it’s never enough. It’s never enough.”