Charlie Benante Is Still The Man
Charlie Benante Is Still The Man
So you’re the drummer in one of the biggest thrash bands on the planet. All the tracks for the upcoming 11th album are in the can and you and your boys will lay waste to European audiences on tour next week. Life is good, right? Except three nights ago there were terrorist attacks at a live music event in Paris killing 130 concertgoers, and frankly, Charlie Benante is disgusted.
It’s bad enough that US troops are once again at war in the Middle East, the drummer explains, but now the threat is as prevalent in the West as it is over there. He was more prescient than he knew: One week after our conversation an Islamist-inspired massacre killing 14 would take place in San Bernardino, California. “I don’t really subscribe to the whole thing of, ‘Well, this is the world we live in.’ No-no-no! This shouldn’t be the world we live in,” he says from home in Chicago, recuperating from wrist surgery. The ultimate irony of the Paris attacks for Benante is that the anti-Western ideology behind them is a total sham. “I guarantee some of these dudes in this thing are probably fans of Metallica. They’re probably listening to Eminem or whatever, and they still want to cause these problems. They’re lost and just looking for a purpose.”
Sounding a Tolkienesque chord of heroes and villains, new album For All Kings is a vicious indictment of political corruption, the endless cycle of vengeance, and the human vulnerability that enables it. “It’s so weird how life just imitated art,” he says, then paraphrases one of the new song’s lyrics: “These are not martyrs. The way it was described by the people who were in the club, they had no emotion on their faces it was just like they did this every day. ‘Evil Twin’ I think pretty much hits on all of that.” Although rhythm guitarist Scott Ian writes the lyrics after Benante (before hitting a single drum) comes up with foundational guitar riffs, both men were obviously on the same page during the making of the album (see below).
Song titles alone (“Defend/Avenge,” “All Of Them Thieves,” “Blood Eagle Wings,” “Suzerain,” “Zero Tolerance,” and so on) conjure visions of an out-of-control war machine. “The beginning process of writing this record I was in a thrashier mood because some of the bands we took on tour with us for Worship Music were Death Angel, Exodus, those types of bands. I just felt a little melancholy. I think subconsciously those songs were dying to come out.” If ever there was a guitarist trapped in a drummer’s body, it’s Charlie Benante. When not on tour, dude is always wailing on his Gibson Eddie Van Halen signature (he Instagrams it to us during our interview: it’s the same finish as the famous striped EVH model, except more “metal” looking). “I felt somehow possessed by this guitar, and I know it sounds ridiculous,” he says, conscious of B.B. King and his beloved six-string Lucille, “but I just played for hours. It was just a special guitar.” He challenged himself to write 20 songs for the new record, cranking out a dozen before deciding that was enough. “Well, we really had 13 done, but one song went to the Game Of Thrones soundtrack,” he says of “Soror Irrumator” on Catch The Throne: The Mixtape Volume II. “That was a beautiful thing because we’re such big Game Of Thrones fans that we’re like, ‘Yes! We’ll do it, no problem.’” For a guy who gripes about pay models, Benante is pretty savvy about high-profile song placement. “Well, it’s just on a mix tape, but I guess it gets your name in the same company as HBO and Game Of Thrones, so it’s not a bad thing, right?”