In 1991, three of the “Big Four” of thrash metal embarked on a tour that has since been hailed as a high point for the genre, dubbed the Clash of the Titans. Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth — all potential headliners in their own right — laid waste to venues across the country. Metallica was the only member of that exclusive club not included, but that band was on the verge of becoming one of the biggest rock acts in the world at that point, so it's understandable.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and two of those bands are joining forces yet again for another monster tour. Megadeth is not involved this time, though Death Angel is (notable, because these fellow thrash veterans were supposed to be on the original Clash of the Titans tour but ended up having to bow out because of a near-fatal bus crash). Slayer and Anthrax are touring together again, and the pairing is coming to Denver.
In those 25 years, both bands have seen their respective lineups change slightly. Vocalist Joey Belladonna is now in his third stint with Anthrax, having left in 1992 and then again in 2007 before returning in 2010. Former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo is now in, among other bands, the reformed Misfits, though Paul Bostoph has occupied the Slayer stool on and off since the early ‘90s. Both bands have new lead guitarists; Jonathan Donais joined Anthrax in 2013 while, tragically, Slayer was forced into a change when founding member Jeff Hanneman died of liver failure that same year. Former Exodus player Gary Holt had already been touring with Slayer while Hanneman was sick, and he remains in the band.
Despite these changes, neither band has ever allowed its sound to suffer. Neither has ever half-assed an album. There are differences, of course. Anthrax has constantly evolved during its existence, going through a hardcore crossover period and recording a pioneering rap-metal version of “Bring the Noise” with Public Enemy. Slayer, meanwhile, has always sounded very brutally like Slayer. As with AC/DC, you know what you’re going to get. Last year’s Repentless album was typically, uncompromisingly, brilliant. Anthrax’s For All Kings came out in February.
“I don’t even know how you could half-ass anything, but that’s me,” says Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. “That’s my work ethic — and not just mine, but the band’s. We’ve always felt that you just have to do your best all the time. We’re lucky enough to be a band that actually got to do this for a living and literally see our dreams come true. How you would ever, then, take that for granted and half-ass something or phone something in is beyond me.”
This is the first Anthrax album to feature Donais, and Ian says that he’s been a breath of fresh air.
“His playing on the record, the solos that he wrote and the ideas that he came up with, they just elevate the songs,” Ian says. “The sense of melody that comes with Jon’s playing and his solos — to me, his solos are like having another chorus.”
Similarly, Relentless is the first Slayer album to feature Holt, and guitarist Kerry King says that the band is already halfway through the next record, though it has some touring to finish first.
“We’ve got a lot of leftover stuff,” King says. “We recorded seven or eight extra tunes with full production, so if the lyrics don’t change the music, that stuff’s already done and we’re already halfway toward the next one, for sure. Backstage, I always fiddle around on guitar, and if I come up with something, the riff ends up in my iPhone. We’re in good shape toward another one, but that’s not something we’re thinking about, because we haven’t even hit a lot of the major territories yet.”
Despite the fact that Anthrax is the only East Coast band in the Big Four, neither King nor Ian remembers how they first found each other's music. What’s important is that, as soon as they did, there was a mutual appreciation. Now friends, they love touring together.
“I liken it to back when Marvel Comics in the 1970s had a series called Marvel team-up,” Ian says. “They would always pair up the superheroes. I just think the two of us together on tour make a great team-up. We both come from the same time, and we were both playing thrash metal, yet sonically we’re completely different as bands. I think it’s because of the differences that we pair well. You’re not just getting hit in the head for three hours with the same type of sound. You’re hearing two bands that are drastically different yet coming from the same place.”
“It’s cool for the fans, because Anthrax is a headliner in its own right,” King adds. “To have us, Anthrax and Death Angel — I’ve been beaming about the package for quite some time. Frankie [Bello, Anthrax bassist] is one of my best friends in music, so it’s just a blast every time we get together. When the show’s over, we get to hang out and laugh, drink and tell stupid stories.”
As much fun as that sounds, Ian claims that, as the bandmembers have gotten older and more responsible, the backstage antics have calmed down to the point of stopping altogether.
“People would be amazed how actually boring it is backstage and in general on tour,” he says. “It’s nothing like it was in the '80s, let’s put it that way. We hang out, shoot the shit and talk about frequent-flyer miles. I’m telling you, it’s extremely boring.”
With their respective facial hair, Scott Ian and Kerry King are two of the most recognizable figures in metal. They both co-founded their bands and are both heavily involved in the songwriting. Naturally, there’s a mutual appreciation, with King saying that Ian is as good as anyone out there.
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“Kerry’s incredible,” says Ian. “It would take me probably three weeks to get up to speed to be able to play Slayer’s set. The stamina of his right hand is probably second to none. Kerry has unbelievable power, and to be able to go ninety minutes straight, nonstop — people have no idea how hard that is.”
Both bands are at the top of their game, the years and departing members doing nothing to dull their appetites or, certainly, their sounds. And while this tour won’t get the attention of Clash of the Titans, both bands have recorded a ton of awesome material since then. Expect to get bludgeoned.
Slayer and Anthrax play with Death Angel at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, October 10 at the Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 North Clarkson Street.