With crashing drums, chugging locomotive guitar riffs and the salvo, "Young and free's something you'll never be," Anthrax introduced the world to their take on breakneck thrash-metal 30 years ago this month. The song "A.I.R.," which kicked off their second record, Spreading the Disease, along with some of the album's other speedy standouts – "Madhouse," "Medusa," "Gung-Ho" – would set the blueprint and benchmarks for the band's career. The record, which made it into the lower half of the Billboard 200 (a feat for the burgeoning thrash-metal genre at that time), became a fan favorite and many of its songs became concert staples in subsequent decades.
Now, to celebrate the record's anniversary, the group is putting out a deluxe edition of Spreading the Disease, set for release on November 20th. As with the extras-packed reissue of their album Among the Living a few years ago, the new version of the record contains a disc's worth of bonus material to show the band's creative process at the time. They have included the 1984 demo they cut with singer Joey Belladonna, who replaced vocalist Neil Turbin on Anthrax's debut, plus a series of rhythm tracks featuring just guitar, bass and drums that the band cut the same year and a recording of the group's first-ever concert in Japan in 1987.
"Most heavy metal fans didn't know how to take this new type of music, its sound or its style, but I knew that down the road, they would get it, and that's exactly what happened," Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante tells Rolling Stone of Spreading the Disease's lasting influence. "Music needed a kick in the ass back then. We were just trying to do the best that we possibly could, trying to make a move here, a move there. Looking at the reissue, I see five guys who were on the verge of something."
Guitarist Scott Ian adds that, at the time, Anthrax was "a band that knew what it wanted to do musically and was learning how to make that happen." Looking at photos from that period, he says, "I see a lot more hair, and lots of enthusiasm."
Spreading the Disease is the first Anthrax LP to feature Belladonna, who took over after Turbin exited the group following their debut album Fistful of Metal. After briefly considering making Ian the singer, the group auditioned Belladonna, whose higher-register voice set the group apart from the barks and snarls of the other bands in what would become thrash's "Big Four," Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer.
"The day Joey showed up at the studio, he sang Journey and Foreigner a cappella on the mic and we were blown away," Ian recalls. "His voice was amazing and we knew it's what we needed to set us apart from the pack. Nobody sounded like he did playing the type of music we were playing. We found our Dio, our Halford, our Dickinson, no easy feat." Bassist Frank Bello adds, "He sang the beginning of the Steve Perry song 'Oh Sherrie,' and we looked at each other and knew it was right fit for us."
Belladonna's demo of the album cut "Medusa" is featured on the 30th anniversary edition. "If it wasn't for Joey being in the band, we might not have gotten as big as we were," Benante says. "He separated us from the other types of bands."
Spreading the Disease also marked Bello's first LP as Anthrax bassist; he and Belladonna previously featured on the band's Armed and Dangerous EP. "I was 18," Bello says. "Everything was new, scary and amazing all at the same time."
"The faster songs are, to me, easier to play than the slower songs." – Charlie Benante
The rhythm tracks included on the anniversary edition serve as a "testament" of Anthrax's work ethic, according to Benante. "We used to rehearse five times a week, and the schedule was strict," the drummer says. "We'd just get in there and play every night, and I think that's why, in the studio, we really lock in together because we know each other so well. The faster songs are, to me, easier to play than the slower songs, maybe because I'm so used to playing them at such a fast speed." Ian agrees, noting that the faster songs are rigid in their technique, or as he calls it, "fascist guitar playing."
The thrash-metal icons still view Spreading the Disease as "a big turning point" for the band. "I remember how excited I was to see someone walking down the street with an Anthrax T-shirt on," Benante says. As for listening to the reissue, Bello offers, "It's like a scrapbook of my beginning with the band ... I still feel the same now as I did then."
Spreading the Disease 30th Anniversary Edition Track Listing
2. "Lone Justice"
4. "S.S.D./Stand or Fall"
5. "The Enemy"
7. "Armed and Dangerous"
10. "Medusa (Joey Belladonna demo)"
1. "A.I.R." *
2. "Metal Thrashing Mad" *
3. "The Enemy" *
4. "Madhouse" *
5. "Howling Furies" *
6. "Armed And Dangerous" *
7. "Gung-Ho" *
8. "Soldiers of Metal" *
9. "Lone Justice" **
10. "Gung-Ho" **
11. "Metal Thrashing Mad" **
12."Raise Hell" **
13. "Stand Or Fall" **
14. "Aftershock" **
15. "Armed And Dangerous" **
16. "Madhouse" **
17. "The Enemy" **
* Live at Sun Plaza (Tokyo) 1987
** Rhythm track tape, 1984