By David E. Gehlke
The cancelation of ANTHRAX's fall continental European tour dates wasn't enough to sour bassist Frank Bello's mood on a late September afternoon Zoom call. The permanently outgoing Bello doesn't appear to be one to dwell on the negative after ANTHRAX and virtually every other band sat on the sidelines when the pandemic disrupted the music industry to unforeseen levels. Rather, there's a clear sense of gratitude emanating from Bello when he regales not only their latest touring run with BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and HATEBREED but even some of the leaner years with former singer John Bush that essentially created two versions of ANTHRAX.
While the ETA on the follow-up to 2016's "For All Kings" is murky, Bello is at least looking forward to watching his bandmate and uncle Charlie Benante participate in the upcoming PANTERA reunion tour in place of Vinnie Paul Abbott. After all, it was PANTERA who took ANTHRAX out as openers throughout the second half of the 1990s when the arrow was pointing down for every metal band but them. Bello hadn't forgotten and was more than happy to share some Vinnie Paul and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott stories from the road when he connected with BLABBERMOUTH.NET.
Blabbermouth: Can you shed some light on ANTHRAX's recent central European tour cancelation?
Frank: "When was the last time we canceled a European tour? We've never done it. The god's honest truth: Everything budgeting-wise is insane right now. We budgeted it last year and came back to this year with the gas lines and all the shit that's going on. It was three times the budget. We would have gone into a bad deficit, horrible. And the promoters are saying, 'It doesn't make sense for you guys to do it.' The buses, just life in general. It's horrible. We were able to salvage the U.K. But people know us. They know we'll be back. We love it there. I can't wait to go back. It's just a bummer that life is in the way of metal. [Laughs] What's going on in the world is in the way of metal and making people feel good with our music.
"We've been away. We just did the BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and HATEBREED tour and we got the taste back. We were looking forward to the next leg, the U.K., then right into Europe. We're used to touring a few months at a time. Then our manager comes, 'We can't do this with the accounting.' It's like, 'What? How did this happen?' Then you read the papers and you understand. It's terrible."
Blabbermouth: On a brighter note, you completed what amounted to your "41st-anniversary" tour. How do you think it went?
Frank: "Isn't it weird when you say '41' and 'ANTHRAX'? It's weird for me when I hear that. I feel like a kid. I don't feel like we've been doing it for 41 years. We're very lucky. We're very fortunate to keep this thing going. People are turning over — there is a whole new fanbase that has found us from the mothers and fathers bringing their kids or the brothers and sisters bringing their kids. There's a nice turnover, along with the fans we have already. To have it at this stage, it's a blessing. All you can say is we're humbled by it and grateful. All we want to do is our best. We want to do the best setlist, the best stage performance. We want to do everything the right way. You know how hard it is to make a dollar. They're spending those dollars to see you. I want to ensure I'm fucking exhausted when I come off stage. I want to make sure everyone feels it and has a good time, so when they go back to their job tomorrow, they say, 'That was worthwhile.' That means everything to me. I'm just a fan. I'm the same as you. How would I want to feel? I want to feel like I had a great night. Every show is like that. It has to be like that."
Blabbermouth: Has any thought ever been given to "An Evening With ANTHRAX"? You can't cover your career in a 75-minute set.
Frank: "There was. You know this: You can't make everybody happy with your setlist. You never will. [Laughs] There's stuff that I want to play — a song like 'The Giant'. There's stuff I want to do and we would play to crickets. People would be, 'What's that?' Maybe they would catch onto it, but I would love to do an obscure evening with ANTHRAX. I would love that. Then you have to talk to promoters and clear it with everybody else. The business side of it takes over. You and I, as fans of bands, always want that personal thing, but when the business side comes into it, it washes it away."
Blabbermouth: "The Giant" is a great choice. You'd have to help Joey (Belladonna) with the vocals because they're so fast.
Frank: "It's fun. But I like that. With Joey back in the band, we do a lot of that stuff, too. When the vocals carry over, I have fun with that stuff. Whatever it takes, we're going to do. Right now, it's a celebration and about celebrating not only ANTHRAX and the music that even after Covid, we're back. Metal, in general, even after Covid, it's a big celebration for metal. It's back and people are coming to shows again. We fell on the floor with this Covid thing, got up and brushed ourselves off. That's how I live. I love living for that."
Blabbermouth: Speaking of the set, you reinserted "Only". Have you tried any other John Bush-era songs with Joey? If so, what have they been?
Frank: "There's always talk about [trying other Bush-era songs]. It's crazy. There are two different bands within ANTHRAX. The way I feel about it: We've been very fortunate to have two separate bands, one with Joey, one with John. They're both to be celebrated. There's such a catalog of Joey, right? It's so hard even to get those songs in the setlist. There's obscure ones. Look, I want to play 'Lone Justice', 'The Enemy'. I don't know how they'd go over. It's hard to mix that in with the John Bush catalog. I think baby steps with that."
Blabbermouth: There's a lot Joey could do, like "Room For One More" or "Riding Shotgun".
Frank: "'Potter's Field' would be great. Coming from a fan's point of view, I get it. I love these songs. It's baby steps and we want to stay fresh with all this stuff and throw a curve ball. 'Hy Pro Go', stuff like that, you know?"
Blabbermouth: Being that it was released in 1993, Elektra didn't give it a huge push and then people thought it was a grunge album because Dave Jerden produced it, "Sound Of White Noise" is one of the most underappreciated metal albums of all-time.
Frank: "It was a great time in writing for us. We found who we were. We became songwriters, I think. I love that record. I could listen through that whole record and just enjoy it, like richly, thoroughly dig in and say, 'This is a good record.' I don't think there's a downer on that album for me."
Blabbermouth: Don't forget "Black Lodge".
Frank: "We did the whole 'Twin Peaks' thing for the video. It was a great atmosphere — that whole vibe. That's the problem with this business. You call it the 'art' of writing a record and having a vision, and then when the damn business gets involved, it rips it all the way. Your vision may never be seen or realized because of what was promised to you when you signed those contracts and you hope you're getting it out to the masses. It's just the way the business is."
Blabbermouth: Do you think the John Bush era is relegated to time? Where does it sit with you?
Frank: "It sits right next to my heart. I love the time John Bush was in the band. I love John Bush as a person. He's one of the sweetest guys on earth. He's a great singer — he's all the above. But I have to separate it because it's a different band. Two bands and I'm happy to say it. I'm fortunate to be able to look at it that way. I look at it as very close to my heart. Look, I would easily jam any of those songs at any time because they hold up. That's the great thing about it. I'm really happy with ANTHRAX where we're at it because I know where we're going. We've been very fortunate to have this fanbase stay with it and rally around the newer records. They really find substance to the new records and find we're growing as songwriters. For them to say the last record, 'For All Kings', is one of our finest works at this stage in the game? That means everything. That means we're on the right track. I could tell you this: The band is very hungry from within. That's the good thing about it. There's no laying down here, especially with this Covid bullshit. We feel like everybody has been held back for so long. That lends itself to great riffs and intensity. That lends itself to the inner turmoil you have in your gut coming out on the guitar."
Blabbermouth: That said, can you offer a percentage on how far along ANTHRAX is on the next studio album?
Frank: "We get together occasionally when Covid doesn't come up. [Laughs] The shitty thing is that I can say next week, for the three of us getting together in Chicago, L.A. or New York, if one of us has symptoms, that shit is canceled. That's how crazy the world is. You can't write on Zoom. The latency in the riffs and drums — it's always a step behind. You get so frustrated. You want to get together in a room. Look, life has gotten in the way and Covid. We're good. We're getting right where we want to be. I just think of the stuff we have. We have eight structures — I can't call them 'songs' yet because people will say, 'You're almost done?' You know how this band works — we like to digest. There's no rush in this thing. We want to make the right record. You can't phone shit in. You have to live it as a fan and say, 'Does this work?' We're good, but there's more to go. I'm happy there's more to go. There's a different intensity and energy here. I love that about the band. Patience. But I'm excited not only as the bass player and one of the songwriters. I'm excited as a fan, too. When it's ready, it's going to be ready."
Blabbermouth: The next ANTHRAX is obviously going to be impacted by Charlie playing with PANTERA. There's a huge groove factor when it comes to playing Vinnie Paul's parts. How do you see him fitting in?
Frank: "I grew up with Charlie. We're related. He's my uncle. We have jammed all of our lives. If anyone knows how great Charlie is, it's me. I knew it from when he was the age of four. He had it. All through the touring years of ANTHRAX and when we started to play with PANTERA, Dime and Charlie got really close. We were all close with PANTERA, but they had a great closeness. I found out like everybody else — I heard rumors about it but didn't know it was happening. I'm psyched about it as a PANTERA fan and friend — they are family to us. Dime played on a few of our records; we're very close to those guys. Rest their souls, Vinnie and Dime. I think the right guy for drumming is Charlie Benante. I have a lot of friends who are drummers who are great in their own right, but for PANTERA, the guy who cares, who will make sure every little part Vinnie played is correct because I know how Charlie works as a drummer. He'll make sure everything from the sound to how Vinnie played the littlest of parts, he cares enough to make it happen. I'm also good friends with Zakk [Wylde, who is assuming Dimebag Darrell's role on guitar]. He is the right guy. For me as a PANTERA fan, I want to see this. I'm pretty excited they got the two right guys who will pay tribute — it's a tribute to Dime and Vinnie. I'm looking forward to it because I know it will be done right. It has nothing to do with Charlie being in ANTHRAX — it has nothing to do with that. Just as a music lover, I think it's the right move. I can't wait to see this. I'm looking forward to it.
"I also have to say, but maybe it's a little selfish of me: I've always known how great of a drummer Charlie Benante is. There are a lot more people who get more accolades than Charlie Benante. It will be great to see Charlie Benante on a big stage — one of the biggest platforms out there. People who haven't known about him will see how great he is as a drummer. It's a long time coming. I'm really proud of him. I'm really happy for him. I'm psyched; I think it's a great thing to metal. It's a great tribute to Vinnie and Dime, who are our brothers. It will be a great representation of those songs for people who haven't seen PANTERA."
Blabbermouth: The '90s were hard for every metal band but PANTERA. They took ANTHRAX out as openers quite a bit during that time. Can you share any particular stories or memories?
Frank: "They were carrying the flag of metal. God bless them for it. We played with PANTERA on a lot of those tours in a row. Look, I never drank whiskey before Dime made me. [Laughs] When I say this stuff, it brings back fond memories of Dime handing me a Black Tooth [his signature alcoholic drink]. By the end of it, I was pouring them for him. They were the best guys. They were the heavy metal version of VAN HALEN. Dude, they went for it. There were so many nights that I had to hide in the bathroom on the bus throwing up — literally throwing up because there were so many Black Tooths in my gut. I remember I came home after the first leg of the tour and I was grey. I looked like a different version of Frank. I was fucking grey! My wife opened the door and said, 'Oh, no. What's going on?' I had to sober up. The first day I had off after the tour, I was in my house and going to get a bottle of Crown [Royal]."
Blabbermouth: That's how you know you're in.
Frank: "Yes! I was in. I knew I had to back down. But those were some of the most fun times I ever had on tour. There are two things in my life: Playing with IRON MAIDEN and the PANTERA thing. We would go to casinos every other night after our shows. We'd go to casinos quite a lot on that tour. ANTHRAX would play, then PANTERA. We'd meet up in PANTERA's dressing room. You had bags of Taco Bell, Black Tooths everywhere, pandemonium — loud music like VAN HALEN, anything. Imagine that kind of vibe. Then somebody yelled out, 'Casino!' We all packed on PANTERA's bus and went to the nearest casino. It was complete debauchery. Our band, our crew — it was insane. The craziest time I remember was when we were betting and drinking so much. It was me, Vince, Dime and a couple of crew guys — I think Charlie was there. We were at the table for three hours, four hours. We're all hungry. The Taco Bell wore off. We're drinking and they're going to close the bar. Dime asked — we were losing a shitload of money — 'I need some McDonald's.' He got the pit boss to bring food to the whole fucking table. I never had McDonald's at a blackjack table. He made it happen. That's the kind of guy Dime was. He was the best of the best. He and Vince — total family members. I'm all about it when I hear that will be celebrated."