Tales from a Metalhead: Chapter 34: RETPAHCNIKUFESIN

Tales from a Metalhead logo

This chapter is part of a book called Tales from a Metalhead written by Metal Express Radio’s President Stig G. Nordahl. The chapters will be posted one at the time and you can find them all here.

ANTHRAX (Live at the City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., October 1, 2022)
Photo: Mick Burgess

The Big Four! It’s an unavoidable chapter, and there was really no question about covering these mastodons of Thrash Metal. Well, most of them that is. You see, I was never a big fan of Slayer. I don’t really know why. Maybe they just are too thrashy or maybe it is Tom Araya’s vocals? That being said, they have some absolutely killer tracks and they totally blew me away the first time I saw them live in 1994. I was actually there for the support band, a new band called Machine Head. As opposed to the other three bands, I never did a Slayer interview. The closest I got was hanging out with Tom Araya backstage at Oslo Spektrum when I was there for another interview. I had him record a station ID, but he spoke so fast it’s hard to hear what he actually says: “Hi, this is Tom from Slayer and you are listening to Metal Express Radio duuuude!” I put some very recognizable Slayer riffs in the background so that the listeners get the picture. He is a really nice guy! That often goes for musicians that are “bad guys” onstage. The undeniable credit Slayer deserves for the important role they played in the Thrash Metal genre shall of course not be taken away from them. I just never put on a Slayer album like I do with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. It’s a bit funny that I have some friends who aren’t big fans of Thrash Metal in general but really dig Slayer. I don’t though.

To me, Metallica is an obvious numero uno among the Big Four, especially when it comes to the five first albums (yes, “The Black Album” included). My immediate thought was that Megadeth is an obvious number two. Thinking about it, I am actually not 100% sure. Megadeth is of course a bigger band and their best albums are close to unbeatable, but they have had some weak releases too through the years. Their latest albums are brilliant though.

I first discovered Anthrax through Spreading the Disease from 1985, which was Joey Belladonna’s first album with the band. At the time I hadn’t heard the debut album, Fistful of Metal, which was released the year before with Neil Turbin singing on it.

The first time I heard the band, as far as I know, was the first part of the track “Madhouse”. It was used as the intro for one of the weekly Hard Rock shows on FM radio that I listened to regularly. “It’s time for your medication Mr. Brown… uuuuuaaaaahahahah”, followed by an insanely cool guitar riff. It took quite some time before I got to know who played that part, probably not until I bought the Spreading the Disease album: “Wow, it was Anthrax!”. It’s funny that the video for the song was banned on MTV at the time because they felt it was “degrading” to the mentally ill. The whole track is definitely kicking ass which goes for most songs on the album. Still, I didn’t connect with Anthrax’s music right away though (so maybe I should listen more to Slayer too?). Even though the music was powerful I thought the production suffered from a lack of punch compared to, let’s say, Metallica (I will get back to the production in a bit). Another element was Joey Belladonna’s vocals. He doesn’t have the typical raspy sound that most vocalists in the genre have, which was kind of expected from that kind of band. Well, you have Mustaine’s squeaky vocals, but it still sounds heavy somehow. That doesn’t always work out live though… Belladonna has of course become an integral part of the band’s classic trademark sound and I wouldn’t be without it now. One thing that made Anthrax stand out is their obvious sense of humor that is present in some of their music and image. You didn’t see too much of that among the other early Thrash Metal bands.

Spreading the Disease was followed by Among the Living in 1987. I cannot recall ever receiving a promo for it, but I actually ended up with a copy on cassette, which is kinda odd because I was a vinyl kinda guy and rarely bought any cassettes. The vinyl is on my shelf now of course. I still feel the lack of rawness in the production, even though the album was produced by the legendary Eddie Kramer. On the other hand Kramer is known for producing more standard Hard Rock acts. I thought the dry sound became sort of their trademark and that it sounded like that on purpose. Still, they didn’t go wrong with future classics like “I Am the Law” and “Indians”, but today I listen more to Spreading the Disease.

The first promo LP I got was for State of Euphoria in 1988. I listened to that one a lot. I Just love the cello that starts the ball before the heavy doomy guitars take over. On the State of Euphoria tour the band visited Norway for the third  time and second as headliner in 1989. Their very first show over here in Norway was when they were supporting Metallica in 1986. That’s one show I regret not going to! This one I didn’t have a ticket for either, for some strange reason. Maybe I was short on cash or it was sold out? Why didn’t I ask for a spot on the guest list? I don’t know, but I would soon come to regret that.

This was Anthrax’ second appearance at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo, and the label asked if I wanted to do an interview with the band backstage before the show. This was cool because I was really on a roll now having started doing interviews with international acts only the year before, some of which were press conferences. Now I was alone which made it even more exciting. I was as prepared as I could be. As I entered the venue the stage was set up and the crew had started the initial soundchecks. It felt cool to see that big stage set before doors opened. This was pre internet so usually one had no idea what the stage would look like before entering the venue, unless it was a big band on a long tour. Then you could have been lucky enough to see pics in magazines. The stage set was all yellow with other elements from the album cover, and stairs up to the drum riser. I probably remember the rig as much bigger than it really was because Rockefeller Music Hall is not THAT big of a venue. It would have been even cooler to see the soundcheck with the band of course. I hoped the interview was delayed due to a late soundcheck so that I could witness that, but initially someone from the label picked me up and took me to see bassist Frank Bello backstage. I am not sure if I knew who I was going to interview when I was preparing, but I had a note with a lot of questions written on a piece of paper. We did the interview, took a photo and then I had to return through the venue again, where the band finally was getting ready for the soundcheck. At least I remember Scott Ian riffing intensely as I left. It felt bad knowing I couldn’t stay for the show. Through the years I have done tons of interviews at Rockefeller Music Hall and I’ve learned some tricks. Why go out just to come back one hour later? I don’t know how many times I have snuck up on the gallery after an interview, watched the soundcheck, and occupied the best seats for the show. Many of my friends have been really grateful for me holding those seats after interviews. Well, in 1989 I never gave it a thought. I learned quick enough though.

Stig meets Frank on the State of Euphoria tour

I actually thought the interview was long gone, but I found the tape not too long ago. I have posted a few of my Anthrax interviews on Metal Express Radio’s YouTube channel lately, but this one will never see the light of day. It’s a total disaster! One thing is that my English as a teenager wasn’t all that great, but you can hear me reading all the questions right from the piece of paper no matter what the previous answer was. Yeah, a rookie! There were some good questions about the band being a headliner and stuff, and some stupid questions like why they put some of the titles backwards like “Efilnikufesin”.

Why do you put some of your titles backwards…

Of course it’s just for fun! Well, the only thing I actually remembered from the interview before hearing it again recently, is that Frank asked if I had heard that Public Enemy broke up the very same day. He had just heard it on CNN the very same morning. That was after asking whether the band really was into rap or if “I’m the Man” was a joke on behalf of rap. They definitely liked rap and would of course record “Bring the Noise” with aforementioned Public Enemy just two years later. So if Public Enemy really broke up that day, it certainly didn’t last long! I also kind of remembered that Bello wasn’t very enthusiastic during the interview. When I hear it now, I can see why. He was quite patient with this rookie though. Thanks for the patience Frank! I am sure I aired the interview on my show and was proud about having interviewed Anthrax.

– Why do you put some of your titles backwards like “Nice Fucking Video” or “Nice Fucking EP”?
– It’s just something different to do. It just makes you think about it, remember it.

“On tour with Iron Maiden” sticker

After this tour Anthrax returned with Persistence of Time the following year. I was into the album after the release, but it has been too long since I last listened to it now. Without sneaking a peak, “Keep It In the Family” and the cover of “Got the Time” are the tracks I can remember from it at the moment of writing. Ah, and the song “Time” of course. Scott Ian says in the interview I did with him that he wrote that after Charlie came up with the album title.

The band returned to Norway, but this time as a support act again. Opening for Iron Maiden they obviously got to play for a much bigger audience. And what was even better for Anthrax; Iron Maiden had released their weakest album so far (No Prayer for the Dying), lost Adrian Smith and stripped down their stage to just a few backdrops. I thought the show was a huge disappointment compared to the previous gigantic Maiden shows. This was of course the first taste of the 90s. Anyway, Anthrax totally ruled that night. Drammenshallen hosted most of the bigger Hard Rock and Metal shows in Norway during the 80s. This was actually the last Heavy Metal concert that took place in that venue ever.

Serigraph #293 out of 950

So I got the opportunity to do another Anthrax interview and it turned out to be with Scott Ian this time. Even though the venue was some distance outside the city most bands stayed in Oslo hotels. Well, the bands actually thought they were playing their shows in Oslo as well: “Good evening Oslo!” Fair enough as it sounds cooler than “Good evening Drammen!” anyway. I caught up with Scott in the bar at Bristol Hotel downtown Oslo. When thinking back on the interview years later I thought Scott Ian was in a really bad mood that day. When I played it back now, it turned out that this was not the case. I actually think I confused this interview with a phoner I did with him later that turned out to be not so good. I haven’t located that interview yet. What I do remember is that I handed him one of my Ruff Stuff t-shirts (my FM show) after the interview. The t-shirt didn’t look Metal at all because it had too many colors. For some reason he thought I wanted him to wear it on stage that night, which he obviously wouldn’t. He said something about them having strict clothing rules or wearing the same outfit each night. I am convinced that the tee ended up in a trash can in his hotel room. Maybe some maid has it in her collection today. One can dream.

After the show the label handed me some signed copies of the new album and even some limited edition posters. Yeah, I kept one of each myself. I wonder if the poster has any value these days?

Scott also said in the interview that the production had always been an issue on their previous records. Now they spent more time in the studio focusing on getting a fatter sound. They succeeded!

– …and by far this is the best sounding record we’ve ever had.
– So do you think the change of producers from Mark Thompson to Thompson and Barbiero meant a lot to the result of the album?
– Well, Mark still engineered the album, but Thompson and Barbiero mixed it and that made all the difference in the world. Because we’ve never had a problem recording an album. It’s always been a problem with mixing it and getting the final mix that we want and Thompson and Barbiero, they did the right job. Real good.
– So you think you’ll use those guys later?
– Yeah, we know we’ll use them next time. Definitely! Probably the same, we’ll use Mark to engineer the tracks and then Thompson and Barbiero to mix again.

This album was the last with vocalist Joey Belladonna for a looong time. Enter John Bush from Armored Saint, a band I had been a fan of for some time. Especially their last album before Bush joined Anthrax, Symbol of Salvation, is dynamite! This was a very interesting lineup change and the band definitely got a great vocalist. If someone argues that Belladonna is the voice of Anthrax I don’t disagree though. Bush was different, but very good. When I got back from compulsory military service in 1992 and started my show Ruff Stuff on a new radio station, I had to make a new intro for the show. I picked the opening part from their new album Sound of White Noise: “This is a journey into sound”. It’s a bit funny really, since the very first thing I heard from an Anthrax song was the spoken intro for another song seven years earlier. The band was taking a new direction musically on this one. Read: enter grunge! It is of course far from a grunge album, but like so many contemporary bands back then Anthrax changed as well. Even the elements of humor seemed to be gone. Anyway, Sound of White Noise is a strong release. I still play the album every now and then. I believe James Hetfield once said that the track “Only” is the best Anthrax song ever written. Definitely good, but I don’t agree though. …and Thompson/Barbiero were not invited back for the mixing of the album.

After this I kind of lost a bit of interest in the band’s new material, probably too occupied discovering or consuming all the new bands the 90s offered. I received the promos and played their albums on radio, but none became favorites like before.

Fast forward to 2003 when Anthrax released their last album with John Bush, We’ve Come For You All, and it was time for another interview. Before I played back the interview now for the first time since it was aired I was 100% certain the interview was with Charlie Benante, but it turned out to be another Scott Ian interview (once again in a good mood). One of the most interesting parts in this interview is when Scott comments on the rumors about a possible reunion with the classic Anthrax lineup:

– I read that you had planned to bring Joey Belladonna, your previous vocalist, on tour. Was that canceled or is that something you’re still planning to do?
– No, we would never do it! I’m glad we didn’t do it. We’re not about nostalgia at all or going backwards. So that’s definitely something that won’t happen…


Anyway, two years later the classic lineup with Joey Belladonna played at Sweden Rock Festival. They didn’t do individual interviews, but held a press conference in the press tent. I connected my gear to the sound mixer to get proper sound from all five microphones. With very few exceptions I don’t post press conferences online, but I managed to shoot in a few questions that I have posted online. The coolest thing was that towards the end I asked the band to make a Metal Express Radio tag as I was recording their mics (it takes some nerve to ask a band for that with so many journalists present). Anyway, they did it and it’s still on rotation. It’s a good one because most of the band members are talking and just having fun doing it. Btw the show that night was really cool!

– So, why did you guys decide to come back together and play again?
– [Joey:] Well, they promised me that they’d get back together with me soon. Yeah. We promised that on April 1st, 2005 we would do it, so we had no choice. It’s an anniversary, so you just can’t examine that every ten years, you know. We would have to wait another ten years just to even think about it then. We wanted to do something special for our anniversary. It’s our 20 year anniversary. And we thought this was special. So, some people have seen us in the 80s with this lineup, some people have never seen us. This is your chance to see it and have fun with it.
– And what does John Bush think of this reunion?
– We asked John. John was the first person we called, and we asked John to be a part of the reunion and have Joey and John together, but he chose, it was something that he chose not to be a part of.

Anthrax has released two more albums after the reunion (at the time of writing), Worship Music (2011) and For All Kings (2016). They sure take their time between each release like many bands now, but both are among the best they’ve ever done. On the other hand it’s annoying that the band always plays the same songs at their shows. Next time I want some surprises!

The last time I saw (didn’t meet) one of the guys in the band was in Chicago. We were having a Metal Express Radio partner meeting in the Windy City and I went one day early with my buddy and MER partner Scott Jeslis to catch Overkill playing at the House of Blues. We were standing first row on the balcony and next to us in a private lounge was Charlie Benante with his wife (or at least a nice looking gal). Overkill vocalist Bobby Ellsworth probably knew beforehand that Charlie was there as they were waving to each other during the show. Charlie is currently playing drums in “Pantera” (yes, in quotation marks) which probably means it will take even longer before the next Anthrax album (and for the band to rehearse new tracks to put in their live set). When I get a new Anthrax album I will probably be more eager to hear that than new albums from Metallica and Megadeth. Maybe they deserve a second place among The Big Four? Well, I am actually not into ranking bands anyway!

PS: I will recommend Scott Ian’s autobiography I’m the Man. It’s a good read even if you’re not a big Anthrax fan.

It costs a lot to keep Metal Express Radio running. Let’s face it, we’re a grassroots web radio and we do this because we love Metal. Any contributions that helps keeping us afloat are highly welcomed. We gladly accept donations on our donate page.


  • Stig G. Nordahl

    Stig is the founder and the president of Metal Express Radio, based out of Oslo, Norway. He has been around doing Metal radio since the mid-eighties. In fact, running Metal Express Radio takes almost all of his time. Is it worth it...? "Most times, yes," Stig says. "My philosophy is to try to give all Metal releases a fair chance to get promoted in one way or another. As you can imagine, it can be an arduous task to listen through about 20 albums every week! Still, I know we have the best METAL dedicated radio on this planet, and that is a reward in and of itself. I hope one day the whole Metal community can and will make listening to Metal Express Radio part of their daily rituals! Yeah, right..."

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