Music News

ANTHRAX FIGHTS A NEW DISEASE

Trends always have risen and/or vanished quickly in the pop-music universe, but seldom as viciously as right now. Metal is a case in point. Since exploding in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the style has been as impossible to destroy as cockroaches. Disco, new wave, punk and countless other genres have temporarily knocked it out of the public's consciousness, but metal has been able to lift itself from the canvas and take another punch. But now, a new contender has stepped into the ring, and is beating metal to within an inch of its life. And Scott Ian, guitarist for the defiant metal force called Anthrax, doesn't like it one bit.

"From the release of our last album to the release of this one [the new Stomp 442], we went from 75 or 80 stations playing our first single to 25 to 30 stations," he grumbles. "And that's because those other fifty stations all changed their formats. They went alternative, or modern rock, or whatever the hell that format's called. It seems like every station in America is basically playing the same type of music, and I find it to be the most annoying thing in the world. You turn on the radio, you turn on MTV and everybody's doing it. Nobody is leading at all; they're just waiting to see what the other guys are doing. None of these radio programmers at these stations has the balls to step out and say, `Well, this is what we're going to do, and we don't care what everybody else is doing.' They won't do it, because everybody is afraid for their jobs. They're so afraid that nobody will do anything original, nobody seems to have any ideas, and everybody is just waiting to be told what to do. And that's frustrating for us, because nobody tells us what to do."

As this diatribe makes clear, Ian isn't shy about expressing his opinion--a quality that made him a natural for a recent guest spot on the Comedy Central program Politically Incorrect. ("I was on there with Michael McKean--he was in Spinal Tap--and the lawyer who represented Shannon Faulkner, that girl who tried to get into the Citadel," Ian notes.) But his truth-telling also carries a price. Music directors at stations like Denver's KBPI-FM--one of the hard-rock outlets that has jumped on the alternative bandwagon--are unlikely to take a risk on Anthrax when Ian's publicly questioning everything from their intestinal fortitude to their masculinity. And questioning he is.

"It's getting to the point where, when you listen to the radio, you only have three choices: this alternative, modern-rock type of thing, classic rock, and the news," he claims. "And I would think listeners--the average music consumer who buys one or two records a week and listens to the radio and watches MTV--would find that to be really boring. I mean, when the stations were playing different stuff and a band would have a big hit, people would get sick of that song after a while. But nowadays things take two days to get burned out. It's weird. And it's stupid."

More than that, it's a major blow to Anthrax (Ian, vocalist John Bush, bassist Frankie Bello and drummer Charlie Benante). "For us, this is 1985 all over again, when nobody gave a shit about this music," he says. "Back then, nobody wanted to deal with it. They were like, `Fuck, leave me alone. I don't want to hear it. It's just noise.' And that's how it is again."

In 1981, when Anthrax formed in the New York area, the situation was even worse. Led Zeppelin was gone, and although a few practitioners of old-school metal made an impact (AC/DC's For Those About to Rock We Salute You was among the year's big sellers), the metal category was diluted by the likes of REO Speedwagon, Styx and Journey. In many ways, Anthrax was a reaction against this brand of gutless corporate pabulum; from the beginning, its songs were intensely loud, blindingly fast and as rude as the hardcore punk from which it drew notable inspiration. Moreover, the lyrics eschewed the brain-dead phallicism that was so common at the time in favor of a downbeat worldview that didn't shy away from addressing actual issues.

Not that anyone outside the underground metal firmament actually noticed: Anthrax's debut EP, 1984's Armed and Dangerous, and its first full-length, the 1985 blast Spreading the Disease, were seen by most mainstream critics as easily dismissed tales from the fringe. But 1987's Among the Living, which attained gold sales status, forced a few more observers to pay attention, and another EP, I'm the Man, caught reviewers' attention thanks to its title track, which combined metal and rap influences in a manner that suggested Ian and company had taken notice of the Beastie Boys. This willingness to embrace the influence of contemporaries who many of their peers despised marked Anthrax as that rarest of metal acts: the open-minded kind.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts