Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian is obsessed with horror, and has been since he was barely five years old. "Horror comes before metal even for me," he says.
On his web series "Bloodworks," he's had movie makeup artists cover him in blood and tear his skull open with a chainsaw. He's been transformed into an H.P. Lovecraft monster and a flesh-eating zombie on Walking Dead. And now he's come to a Los Angeles studio to watch the making of a "full-on horror movie of a music video" for Anthrax's "Blood Eagle Wings," a gripping track from the band's new LP, For All Kings.
Before the day is over, there will be scenes of torture and death, with prisoners hanging by hooks in a medieval dungeon. Another will have his back ripped open. The mayhem will be brought to life through practical effects and gallons of blood, with a cast led by a barefoot Brian Posehn as "The Butcher," torturer Brendon Small (Metalocalypse) and James Duval (Donnie Darko) as a doomed prisoner.
Between takes, Ian sits in a makeup and special effects room, surrounded by fake cadavers and body parts. He lifts up a severed leg. "This is pretty tame for me," Ian says. "I live in this world. I love it."
The production at Swing House studios is for a song that Ian considers "the centerpiece" of the thrash-metal act's new album. The story of "Blood Eagle Wings" came to Ian while Anthrax was recording in London. The band had just created an epic musical track, but lyrics were slow in coming to the guitarist-songwriter.
Ian's wife, Pearl, suggested he take a walk outside, and soon he was strolling past the notorious Tower of London, site of torture and imprisonment for hundreds of years. It was raining, and Ian looked at the Tower and wondered: "How many people were murdered so this city could live?"
"All great civilizations are built on the blood of many people. That was the initial genesis and concept of the song," adds Ian. "I think it's our masterpiece of a song. It's the biggest, coolest thing we've ever written."
It's also the album's longest track at more than seven minutes. "I don't think even Rush do that anymore," says drummer Charlie Benante with a laugh.
The title, Ian says, comes from an ancient Viking torture and execution method, where a prisoner has his back cut open "and they spread the ribcage out and pull all your insides out. For me, that's metaphorically the city being born."
The video is directed by Jack Bennett, Ian's collaborator on the Bloodworks series. He says he often gravitates toward material that "can be really graphic or really brutal or really visceral without insulting my intelligence."
In the music video, Posehn is a master torturer who personally digs his hands into the back of the unlucky prisoner. "Horror and metal are two of my favorite things in life," Posehn says. It's the comic-actor's second appearance in an Anthrax video, following 2004's "What Doesn't Die," which he co-directed. When he was invited to return for "Blood Eagle Wings," he didn't hesitate.
"When Scott Ian says, 'Do you want to kill a guy and be in an Anthrax video?' I don't ever go, 'Uh, I don't know,'" says Posehn, who saw his first horror movie the same year he discovered Kiss. "Being accepted by my metal brothers is really cool. I never sought out to be the heavy-metal comedian or the horror comedian, but that's what I was." Posehn appeared in Rob Zombie's 2005 horror film The Devil's Rejects, and over the years has managed to portray both victim and victimizers. "Yeah, I've done both," he says. "Murdering seems more fun so far."
Faces that will not likely appear in the final video belong to the members of Anthrax. "I hate being in music videos," Ian explains. "I find the whole process horribly boring and annoying."
In his hands is a grinning skull mask. Ian puts it on over his face, leaving his distinctive graying Tutankhamun goatee sticking out from the bottom: "Can you tell it's me?"
Nearby, bearded cast member Neil Chakrabarti lifts his T-shirt to reveal elaborate tattooing and scarification that covers his chest. At the center is a pentagram and upside down cross. Chakrabarti is about to appear on-camera while suspended by hooks in the flesh of his back. "In reality I enjoy it," he explains, "but I'm going to be acting like it hurts really, really bad."