February 13, 2012

“It’s obviously not normal to take so long to make a record,” says Anthrax’s Rob Caggiano. “But I think we used those four years to our advantage. We were able to live with the tunes for a long time and push them as far as we could.” Marinating an album for four years was not exactly the way Anthrax drew it up, though. The culprit? Well, the quick version is this: A lot of lead singer drama which, ultimately, led to former Anthrax “classic” period vocalist Joey Belladonna entering the fray and rerecording what eventually became Worship Music [Megaforce], the legendary metal outfit’s tenth album. “Coming through the other side of the last four years with this record to show for it is an amazing feeling,” says Anthrax co-founder, rhythm guitarist, and all-around metal ambassador, Scott Ian. “Unless the zombies come between now and the release date, this record is coming out!” It’s not as if the past four years have been all turmoil for the band, however. The triumphant Big 4 tours—a bill boasting Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer—have been wildly successful, culminating in The Big 4 Live from Sofia, Bulgaria DVD.

Worship Music, Caggiano’s second record as a member of Anthrax (and the second Anthrax album he has produced), showcases the lead guitarist’s formidable soloing chops, which deftly encompass melodic shred, old school vibrato, and hooks—something you don’t often hear in the context of even the most righteous thrash metal—while Ian’s pummeling mix of classic thrash and brutal East Coast hardcore rhythm stylings continue to serve as the heart and soul of Anthrax’s sound.

Were you guys ever worried that you had too much time to hone Worship Music?
Ian: No. I could probably put on any Anthrax record and say certain riffs weren’t perfected, but you could sit and nitpick that stuff forever. I think with any band, if you want to know the tunes they’re really happy with, see what tunes they play off of a record two or five years later. Take us, for example. We play maybe three songs off of State of Euphoria. The rest I could easily say weren’t finished—we had to rush the album because we had a tour coming up with Iron Maiden and we had to get it done. We learned a lesson with that. That’s why I feel Worship Music is so good. We had the chance to use hindsight and go back and change riffs that weren’t so good.

Rob, do you work out your solos before you start tracking them?
Caggiano: Not really. What I usually do is pull the track up really loud in the control room and jam to it. After three or four passes, I take the good bits and start putting it all together in my head. I try and make my leads as catchy as possible, and when I’m putting them together, I try to think like a lead vocalist would. My guiding principle is: if you can’t remember the solo at the end of the tune, then what’s the point.

Scott, do you ever give direction when Rob is tracking solos?
Ian: It’s not like I give direction. I’m more involved in a soundboard capacity. Rob’s approach to soloing is a lot like writing a chorus—loop it and start throwing ideas out until you get onto a hook, and then build around it. Conversely Rob can shred. His technical proficiency is amazing and it comes very natural to him. And this is not meant to be a diss, but the dude has the fattest fingers I’ve ever seen, and I don’t see how those big, fat, sausage fingers can move so fast. Guys with that much dexterity usually have long, lean, thin fingers—but Rob’s got bratwurst. I always tell him, “Imagine how sick you’d be if you had Steve Vai’s fingers!”

Rob, you’ve mentioned Angus Young and Van Halen as major influences on your solo style. How do you fit those influences into an Anthrax solo?
Caggiano: It’s all about doing your own thing. I love those guys’ playing, but I never copied their solos. In fact, I’ve never learned other peoples’ tunes or solos. There is something to be said for guys who do that, but I’ve never been able to. It’s weird, sometimes we’ll be in a bar or a club and a guitarist will ask me to come up and play, and I don’t even know any songs. It’s kind of stupid, I know, but I guess over the years it’s helped me to develop my own sound, approach, and attack on the instrument.

What did you guys use to track Worship Music?
Caggiano: I’m an E.S.P. guy, and for most of the record I used my Horizon, mostly through Fryette Pitbull Ultra Lead and Deliverance heads. For Scott’s guitar tones, before we started tracking, I asked him to go into his locker and pull out his old JCM800 Marshalls—the same amps he used in the old days on Spreading the Disease, Among the Living, and State of Euphoria. I felt his sound was straying too far from those classic tones. They didn’t work when we first fired them up, but when we got them going they sounded killer. We mixed his classic amp rig with the Fryette amps and Scott’s signature Randall head—and it sounded huge.
Ian: I also pulled out three of the guitars I’ve used on every Anthrax album—my Jackson Soloist with the NY logo, an ’82 Randy Rhoads Jackson, and an ’81 Gibson Flying V—as well as my old TC Electronic boost and distortion pedal.

What was it like playing through your old rig?
Ian: What was weird about hearing that sound now is, it’s amazing how much low end isn’t there. There is so much midrange and treble, if we didn’t mix in the other amps it would’ve sounded like a baby bumblebee. Back in the ’80s, none of the sounds had a ton of low end, so for that time it sounded monstrous.

The Big 4 shows featured not only the most influential metal bands of the past 30 years, but also the genre’s most influential guitarists. How does it feel being a part of that group?
Ian: What became apparent to me very quickly, which nobody ever talked about, was that you basically had the best right hands in metal on one stage—and that’s pretty insane. Trust me, between Kerry King, James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, and Kirk Hammett, I wanted to play the best I possibly could every night.

What are some of the differences in all of the different players’ styles?
Ian: Rhythmically, ourapproach and attack are very similar. But it’s the other stuff outside of the heavy downpicking, caveman thing we all do where our differences are more apparent. For example, James’ melodic sense is without parallel. You can hear it in the few lead breaks he plays throughout the set. He’s super tasty in his whole approach. Dave is not only a fantastic rhythm guy—he’s a very technical lead player as well. It would take me a month to play one of his solos! And I realize it’s kind of clichéd, but the sheer brutality of Kerry’s playing is amazing. He probably plays more notes in “War Ensemble” than all of us play in four songs combined, and he’s playing leads and banging his head nonstop. Kerry is a master, and he takes pride in never missing a note. He’s also insanely focused and regimented about his warm up every night. People may listen to Slayer and not get that—but if he wasn’t that disciplined and tight, it would be a giant mess up there.
The guy who gets overlooked when it comes to rhythm playing is Kirk. He plays rhythm as good as any of us, if not better. Don’t forget, he’s got to keep up with James. He’s got to stay note for note with the guy who is the best rhythm player. If Kirk wasn’t keeping up, believe me, you would hear it. I’ve sat and played with him a bunch and the dude’s right hand is sick.

How do you think you’ve improved as a player since Anthrax started?
Ian: Truthfully, I never think about any of this stuff—I just write songs and play them the way I play them [laughs]. Even if I had been painting houses for 30 years, I would hope I got better. I think I’ve gotten better at coming up with parts and hearing things play out in an arrangement. The guitar is a songwriting tool— and I don’t look at it as anything but that.

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