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You Gotta Believe: An Exclusive Interview With ANTHRAX Bassist FRANK BELLO

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, March 28, 2017 @ 6:38 AM

“It's a good time for metal. A lot of people want to dog it, but it's a good time for metal, it's a good time for all of us. At the end of the day, I want to see everybody do well because it's our thing, it's all of us together.“

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Photos Courtesy Of ANTHRAX And HER PR

As ANTHRAX marks the 30th anniversary of its breakthrough album Among The Living, it's experiencing a career upswing not unlike what it had back in the day. Granted, its fortunes had to take a rather long and precipitous fall – marked by almost comical turnover at the frontman position, ill-fated reunions, label turmoil, spotty albums and dwindling crowds - before things took their recent turn for the better, but ANTHRAX is once again a band with some buzz behind it.

Among The Living, with now classic tracks like “I Am The Law”, Indians” and "Caught In A Mosh” brought the band its first real taste of a mainstream audience and helped cement its place among thrash metal's Big Four alongside METALLICA, SLAYER and MEGADETH. Last year's For All Kings built on the creative and commercial momentum of 2011's comeback album Worship Music - which was buoyed by a series of Big Four shows - and landed ANTHRAX in the Top 10 for the first time since 1993's Sound Of White Noise.

Bigger and better tours have kept the band plenty busy and enthusiasm running high. And the now seemingly stable lineup - with on-again/off-again vocalist Joey Belladonna having been “on-again” for six years fronting the longtime core of guitarist Scott Ian, drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello and newish lead guitarist Jon Donais - is as formidable a live act as it's been in quite some time. All that looks likely to continue well into 2017.

As ANTHRAX was winding down a headline tour of Europe that showcased Among The Living and readying for a run through the states as part of the “KillThrax” tour with KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – and the release of a special For All Kings 7-Inch Vinyl Box Set with a bunch of bonus material - Bello spoke about the band's long, if somewhat bumpy, career path, the enduring legacy of thrash metal, the prospect of more Big Four shows – or not – and the launch of ANTHRAX's new craft beer, Wardance Pale Ale.

KNAC.COM: Just in the nick of time, I was right about to hang up and ring the tour manager.

BELLO: Yeah, sorry to keep you hanging, it's hard to get a good connection here and there's a lot of noise, so I'm trying to find someplace more quiet. I think this will work if I close the door.

KNAC.COM: No worries, the hold music was kind of a drag but I know how these things go when you are on tour. If I'm reading the itinerary right, you are in Germany?

BELLO: (Laughs) Yes, we're in Hamburg.

KNAC.COM: A ha. And how is it in Hamburg?

BELLO: It's cold and rainy. The last two weeks have been pretty much the same, cold and rainy. We had a great beginning, the first three weeks were great weather-wise and then it just got into this.

KNAC.COM: Well here it's Spring already, at least this week, so you got that to come home to.

BELLO: Yeah, I talked to my wife in New York, she was telling me how it's been going back and forth, one day it was 72 degrees the next it was 23 degrees. We get back next Friday, which will be good, it will be good to see my family.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, you guys have been out for a while.

BELLO: We have been. This tour is six weeks, tonight will be the second night of five shows in a row. Then we'll be home for nine days, and then we'll be out in the states for another six weeks. We've been nonstop for the whole year, really since last year, which is the norm at this point. But nobody's complaining, we're very happy to be doing what we're doing. When you're on the road and you're touring, that means you're successful, so it's going well.

KNAC.COM: Since you guys have been on the upswing that past few years, does it feel at all like it did back in the day when Among The Living came out and there was that initial surge of excitement going on?

BELLO: It's the same and different, because it is a different time and we have been through a lot over years, ups and downs. You're never going to capture the feeling of that initial success again, that was really special because it's so new and exciting. But it's definitely a nice feeling to have things going well now and seeing the audience grow. It's great seeing the generations crossover.

I'd say this started from the Big Four. METALLICA was great enough to bring us out on the Big Four thing and that crossed us over to a lot of people who had maybe heard of ANTHRAX but had never seen us before, so that really put a new fan base in touch with ANTHRAX and we see it with the shows now. You have anyone from like 12 years old up into the 60s coming to our shows, so it's a great thing that's happening and we're really excited. The upswing is real and we've been playing to packed houses, which is always great.

KNAC.COM: It seems to be reflected in the performance, too. I saw you last year with LAMB OF GOD and it was the most ferocious I'd seen the band probably since all the way back to the Clash Of The Titans show I saw at Madison Square Garden.

BELLO: Holy shit, that is a long way back (laughs). There's a lot of energy going on and there's always been that, but at the end of the day it's all about the songs, the songs get you going, and that's what we wanna do, we wanna keep going like that. We've found ourselves in a good writing vein right now. I guess we know who we are at this point in our lives (laughs). At least better, anyway, and it comes across.

We are still fans writing songs to connect with other fans, that's what it's always been. That's what we do as songwriters. And we've been lucky enough to have been on a good roll in that regard over these past two albums at the same time that we've had these opportunities to play for a lot of potential new fans. So one thing has built on the other.

KNAC.COM: I'm still amazed you guys survived the whole Worship Music episode?

BELLO: All of the drama and uncertainty and waiting and wondering if the album was ever going to actually come out, it could have killed the band, for sure. Eight years is a long time, and we shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way. But we ended up with a great album that really connected with the fans, the lineup situation finally got settled and we welcomed Joey back and we got hooked with some great tours, like the Big Four, and really turned things around. I guess things happen for a reason, and I think we came out stronger in the end because of it.

KNAC.COM: I imagine it must have been a bit easier to put things together for For All Kings than it was for Worship Music since you were writing with Joey's voice in mind again from the start?

BELLO: It was definitely easier. Songwriting is always a challenge, but it was a great thing to know that this is ANTHRAX, this is the band intact. That alone makes things easier, knowing where we're going. It's never easy writing an ANTHRAX record because there is a lot of back and forth, but I think that's where the intensity comes from, that's where the energy comes from. It's a necessary evil, which I love, the intensity of writing, you're bumping heads a little bit, but that's part of it.

KNAC.COM: You did you DVD shoot not long ago in Glasgow, how did that go? It sounded like quite a production with so many camera and GoPros and what not.

BELLO: Yeah, it was at the Barrowlands in Scotland, it was awesome. There's always technical things that go wrong when you have cameras around. But the energy of that place is infectious. You'll see. At least I hope so. It will be interesting to see if that comes through. You always wonder if they actually capture it. I was asking the director if he got the actual show that came off onstage, and he goes “Oh, I got it.” We'll see.

I know it was a great show and that crowd was insane, they really went off. We had some problems with our in-ears right when the show started, but we've been around the block a few times (laughs), that stuff happens and you play through it.

KNAC.COM: How was your 70000 Tons Of Metal experience, playing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean?

BELLO: I never thought I'd like cruise ships, but we've done a few of them now and they've been surprisingly fun. 70000 Tons, they treated us great, from soup to nuts, it was just a great time. A lot of good friends on that cruise, we hung out, we played some great shows, got to see some great shows, it was all positive. I had a great time and it worked out really well.

It's funny because that seems so long ago already because we've been on this same tour ever since. That was the beginning, that started this and it seems so long ago, even though it really wasn't. But we went from there to traveling all over Europe, so we've put a lot of miles behind us since then.

KNAC.COM: Last year at this time I spoke with Nergal from BEHEMOTH and they did the same thing, only they toured the states after 70000 Tons and he was saying it might have been better if the cruise had been the last stop, like some kind of reward for finishing a long tour.

BELLO: That's actually a smart way to look at it, that's very accurate, but all I'm looking forward to is next Friday I'm on a plane from Paris to my house to see my wife and my 10-year-old son and just hang out for the nine days that I have and bring him to school and just enjoy being a dad before I have to go back out and do this all over again.

KNAC.COM: Are you enjoying doing the Among The Living set every night?

BELLO: We are. It's great. And from this side of it, the reaction's insane, just watching what people are doing is amazing. In our fan base, you see younger kids who've never seen it, who maybe weren't even born when the album came out, and then people who were there from the start who want to relive it again, it's so fun to see that and we feed off that, the shows have been really intense.

KNAC.COM: It's amazing how that album still connects, you guys really caught lightning in a bottle with it.

BELLO: Totally. There's not greater compliment than standing the test of time and see it passed on to new generations who are becoming ANTHRAX fans. It's a great thing to see. And it goes back to what I was saying about, it all comes down to the songs. They still hold up. That was a great time for thrash in general and we were fortunate enough to be able to ride that wave. And it's great to be able to not only still represent that, but do it when we're at the top of our game.

KNAC.COM: All of the Big Four bands have newish albums out and you're all going to be out on tour, might there be more Big Four shows on the way? Or even a tour?

BELLO: Talk to METALLICA, we're ready. All the other bands that were involved will tell you it was one of the best things that ever happened for them. Just the camaraderie, and for the fans, that was a good value for your buck to see the four bands that grew up together in the scene.

I think that was a great idea by METALLICA. We're all friends and we all get along really well, I think METALLICA knows that we would all be in on it again because it was such a great experience. So many people are asking for it and every interview asks about it. They want to see it and we'd love to be part of it.

KNAC.COM: The renaissance you mentioned ANTHRAX having since that time seems to have happened to all the bands involved, not just commercially but musically. Even METALLICA put out arguably their best album in years after that. It really seems to have lit a fire.

BELLO: It's a good time for metal. A lot of people want to dog it, but it's a good time for metal, it's a good time for all of us. At the end of the day, I want to see everybody do well because it's our thing, it's all of us together. When someone's out there doing well, it's good for all of us.

KNAC.COM: At the same time, you've been out with , you're going out with KILLSWITCH, so you're connecting with everyone along the food chain.

BELLO: Yeah, that's the idea. The more people you're in front of the better, that's the way I look at it. We've always been open to playing with everybody, so that's what we're doing. It's going to be a crazy tour, the tickets are selling really well apparently, so it sounds like a good idea to me. I'm looking forward to it.

KNAC.COM: Have you played with KILLSWITCH before, do you know them? Or does just Jon know them from his days with SHADOWS FALL?

BELLO: Oh yeah, they're good friends. We've know those guys forever. They're great dudes. It will be a very easy tour because we all get it. It's great touring with people you know and you like and it makes sense. You get two crowds to come in, a little bit of a different vibe, and it's a win-win for everyone. It'll be cool.

KNAC.COM: When you guys are back in the states, you'll be releasing your Wardance beer [brewed by Butternuts Beer & Ale], have you been able to sample it before hand, or will it be a surprise for you to?

BELLO: We have sampled it and then some (laughs). It wouldn't go out if we didn't like it. I'll tell you something, that beer comes directly straight from the band with a lot of taste testing at all of our houses and making sure it was right. It's the right beer now, the beer we're putting out. We've been known to like our beer and a lot of deliveries were made to our houses for taste testing and a lot of notes were made and now it's right and now it's ready. So we're very psyched about that.

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