Charlie Benante: Anthrax’s Worship Music

Charlie Benante

Blast Without Breaking

Try as we might we could not pin Benante down on the song he considers the most difficult to play. “Earth On Hell,” with its precise kick drums locking into every guitar note, was one of the ones he practiced the most before going into the studio. Ditto that on “Fight ’Em Til You Can’t.” The tune’s middle section has back-to-back drum sections that he has to work up to gradually because it takes so much out of him. “When you’re in the studio you can just start and stop whenever you want if you don’t feel it. When you play it live, you have to really learn how to play these songs because you have to pace yourself and not blow it all out in the beginning of the song, and then you’re shot by the end of it. It’s always been an issue for me to try to really capture the excitement live as well as I did in the studio.”

No mindless speed fiend, Benante’s fluid power helps him to flay fast and tasty at the same time. Take the multiple pattern changes and feels in “Crawl,” which on the surface doesn’t seem that drummy, but only because Benante seems to make this beast of a track less showy by playing so attentively to the song. “Roger Taylor from Queen has this habit of playing so that when he opens the hi-hat whenever he hits the snare in a lot of Queen songs it’s like [mimics the sound]. He just opens the hi-hat a little bit and adds this whole vibe to the song and if you listen to ‘Crawl,’ that’s on there too. I always wondered if Roger Taylor made a conscious effort to put it in the songs or it was just something he did.”

Around 70 percent of Worship Music was recorded to a click. Benante never even used a metronome until the late ’90s when he discovered he actually enjoyed using it. “It’s just fun to play around the click. I don’t feel any restraints. We just take the song and map it out, and we’re gonna bump it up here, and bump it up there, and take it back here. Just have fun with it. I don’t even realize that it’s on.”

As for the metronome on stage? Fuggedaboudit. “Live, we tend to take it up a notch when we play, so I feel that if I have a click it would be holding me back.”

Benante has been trigger-happy for 20 years. He’s got them running through his in-ear and the sounds he created in the studio are on a cartridge for his Ddrum module. He also used to trigger the toms but that was when there was no luxury of soundcheck and the soundman could just throw them into the mix to be safe. “Later on I stopped using the tom triggers because I felt that, I don’t know, I wasn’t really digging them.”

Thrash Is Forever

Benante cops to digging the revivalist/hipster thrash bands of the last few years: Havok, Municipal Waste, etc., none of whom will ever have the kind of success enjoyed by members of the Big Four. Yet their existence is somehow an affirmation for Benante, who seems to keep finding ways to make thrash a rich, adrenaline-charged good-time experience instead of a terminally ’80s rock phenom that hasn’t aged well. “I think it’s great that they have so much interest in making this type of music, you know? I applaud them for it.”

As for the more br00tal precincts of the metal underground and its correspondingly mindless bpm race, Benante is more dubious. “I think there’s bands that do the extreme-metal stuff and I think they do it well, but that’s not where we are at this point. You can shock people with whatever you’re doing at the moment but that’s all it becomes, just the shock.”

The advice he has for aspiring metallers depends on what day you ask him: “If I was feeling good about the business I’d say ‘Go for it.’ Just do it the right way and make sure it’s in your heart and you love what you’re doing and not just hoping for a quick success. And on another day I would stay ‘Stop. Don’t even bother.’ Now it’s really hard for a band to succeed.”

What about Anthrax’s own ticking clock? Benante has been in the game 30 years and the road wear manifests itself in everything from the challenges of being a good dad to his five-year-old daughter to wrestling with a persistent case of carpel tunnel that makes his right hand go numb five songs into a set.

How much longer is he expected to blast for a living? The drummer refuses to put an expiration date on it: “I’ll put it this way, if we made music and it was just whatever, that day would come sooner rather than later,” he says, letting the idea hang there a moment. “But I feel so excited about this new record I think this could all go on for a while.”

Next page: Benante’s 3-D Drum Set Diagram

Page 3 of 4
Get the How To Tune Drums Minibook when you subscribe to our newsletter