Anthrax began as an average posthardcore thrash band but eventually developed its own distinct sound by blending rap's street sense with heavy metal's brute force. The band hit a career height in 1991 when it joined forces with rap group Public Enemy for a recording and video of the latter's rallying cry, "Bring the Noise." Two years later the band inked a reported $10 million, five-album deal with Elektra.
Anthrax hit New York City's postpunk metal scene in 1981 when Bayside, Queens, native Scott Ian, still in his teens, formed the band along with friends Neil Turbin and former Overkill guitarist Dan Spitz. The group literally began following managers Johnny and Marsha Zazula, heads of the independent metal label Megaforce Records, around the city. Eventually the couple signed the band and began directing its career. By album number three, Anthrax had landed on Island, and its cult following had begun to expand. The I'm the Man, sold platinum and hinted at Anthrax's growing social consciousness in songs such as "Indians" and "One World."
One of the few heavy-metal-oriented bands to get consistently high critical marks, Anthrax —along with Metallica and Megadeth —redefined the metal genre in the '80s, stressing anger, speed, and emotional intensity over big hair and power ballads. The band flirted with funk and rap rhythms, a sound that peaked with "Bring the Noise." Anthrax adjusted its style after replacing longtime lead singer Joey BellaDonna with L.A. native and ex–Armored Saint singer John Bush in 1992. Bush, a more traditional, smooth-voiced vocalist, gave the group a slicker sound, though the basic speed-metal foundation remained. The band signed a much-publicized $10 million contract with Elektra, but left the label after just two albums.
By 1995's Stomp 442, lead guitarist Spitz had departed the group, which remained as a four-piece. Drummer Charlie Benante began dabbling on lead guitar during the recording. Guitarist Scott Ian was arrested in 1998 (though the charges were later dropped) after breaking into a New York Yankees training facility.
Vol. 8 —The Threat Is Real (#118, 1998) included guest appearances by the likes of Pantera's Phil Anselmo and Dimebag Darrell, joining forces to celebrate the return of hard, hard rock at the end of the '90s. The most popular songs from the band's first two decades were gathered for Return of the Killer A's in 1999, setting in motion plans for both singers BellaDonna and Bush to lead an Anthrax tour in 2000. BellaDonna withdrew from the tour shortly before it began.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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