Before I can sit down Anthrax guitarist and producer Rob Caggiano points at me. “That’s a cool shirt!” The last time Rob and I spoke (you can read the interview HERE) Anthrax was gearing up for the release of the much anticipated new album Worship Music. Fast forward ten months and I’m sitting here with Rob on the Anthrax tour bus as the guitarist nods his approval at my Van Halen t-shirt.
One of the giants of thrash metal has pulled into Oxford for the first of only three UK shows before heading off to Russia and Indonesia over the course of March. “I love the UK!” Caggiano smiles. England was a place that he “didn’t really dig” at first, but that soon changed when he spent extended periods of time here working with notorious English extreme metal band Cradle Of Filth: “I started working with Cradle and ended up staying in the UK for months at a time. I think the longest stretch was like eight months [or] seven and a half months and I just fell in love with it. I just completely love England. I love the countryside, I love London. I just love it all,” he says, including my hometown: “Oxford’s cool. Last night we stayed in a really cool hotel which was actually an old prison, it’s like a castle!”
A little under two hours before show time, Caggiano is sitting here sipping from a can of Coke like a man who is settling down to watch a movie, not play to a sell-out crowd of metal thrashing mad Oxonians (yes there is such a thing). So what is his pre-show ritual? “I usually warm up a little bit,” he says, almost shrugging. “I’ll take my guitar out, just go over some exercises and stuff, you know. Get my hands in shape, get my head together. But I don’t have a set pre-show ritual or anything like that.” What, no band hug? No chest bumps? Headbutts? “No, no! We bump knuckles before we go on, but that’s about it!”
Anthrax had a break in their tour schedule in February, allowing the band time to grieve following the devastating news of Charlie Benante’s mother’s death. Drummer Benante and his nephew, bass player Frank Bello, both understandably took short leaves of absence from the rest of the group to spend time with their family. But starting tonight Benante and Bello are back onstage and it sounds like the band is raring to go. “Oh yeah, absolutely! Absolutely. I think we’ve been off for about three weeks now since the last show so this will be the first one back. It’ll probably take a couple shows to get the cobwebs out!” Caggiano laughs, “it’ll be good, it’ll be fun.”
This summer Anthrax is coming back to the UK for the legendary Download Festival (nee Monsters Of Rock). The band has a long history of association with the biggest date in the English rock music calendar making a first appearance way back in 1987. According to the official Download poster, Anthrax are way down in the order of play: fourth band from the headliners on the second stage. No disrespect to the other acts on that stage, but a band of Anthrax’s stature returning for the first time since possibly their best ever and hugely popular album should surely be higher up the bill. In actual fact, they are. “Someone fucked up somewhere,” Caggiano explains. “We have a really good spot on the bill, but on the poster it’s like our name is way down the bottom, it’s really weird. That’s a bit of a bummer but we’re all really excited for the show…we’re going on after Lamb Of God, so we have a really good slot.” Directly after Anthrax on the main stage will be Big 4 touring buddies Megadeth. Despite touring much of the world with their thrash contemporaries, Anthrax will not be sick at the sight of Mustaine and his men. “We’re all good friends. We get along great with the Megadeth guys, they’re cool,” Caggiano says, not missing a beat as he is handed some drum heads to sign.
During our last conversation, Anthrax was four months away from the release of Worship Music. Four months may seem like a long time to wait, but after many delays which saw fans wait eight years for a new album, a few months was nothing. Since its release the album has gathered an overwhelming amount of positive reviews, sitting at the top of just about every rock and metal based ‘best of 2011’ list. This must have come as a huge relief to the band. “It’s blown our minds. It took so long to finish this album and it was so stressful and chaotic on so many different levels, it’s just a relief that it’s actually finished now…just the fact that the fans and the critics have really given us great reviews and everyone seems to really like the album a lot it just makes us feel really good. If they only knew how stressful it was to finish it!”
One major contributor to the great sound of Worship Music was Caggiano’s production, which although it ultimately worked out was another level of stress. “I’m really happy with the way the record came out and the way it sounds. We went through a lot of different stages on Worship Music. We started recording in 2007 and I think we counted it up at one point how many different studios we used I think it was like seventeen! I think one of my biggest challenges as producer was trying to make everything sound cohesive in the end…I think we definitely hit the mark. I think the end result is what we all envisioned it to be.”
When reading all the incredibly positive reviews it occurred to me that so many of Worship Music’s listeners were not only impressed at such a great metal album, but were surprised that Anthrax was capable of making it. “Anthrax always seems to have this weird underdog thing that I think is fucking ridiculous to be honest. I don’t think the band deserves that, I think the band is better than that,” Caggiano says.”But, it’s the kind of thing where Anthrax always proves everyone wrong. Any of the naysayers can say whatever they want, but the band always proves all that shit wrong. And our fans are always with us and that’s the bottom line.”