"Anthrax will never lie down!" Scott Ian comes out fighting
Scott Ian's track-by-track guide to For All Kings
Set for release on February 26, For All Kings is the eleventh studio album from NYC thrash legends Anthrax.
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Jay Ruston, it's the band’s first album to feature Jon Donais of Shadows Fall on lead guitar, following the 2013 departure of Rob Caggiano to Volbeat.
The record also contains some of the band’s most intense, dark, and deeply political material to date, inspired by the attack on the offices of French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, and the mass shootings in Paris that followed late last year.
“We were definitely excited going into the studio to record For All Kings,” says guitarist and lyricist Scott Ian, “because we felt so strongly about the material. We started writing at the beginning of 2013, and the creativity never stopped flowing from early 2013 until the end of 2014 when we went into the studio. It was close to 21 months of writing and we never really had a lull: the creativity just kept flowing and flowing.”
“Worship Music reintroduced us to the world,” he adds, “and we were able to go back out from 2011 and just be the band. So we were in a really positive mindset throughout the whole writing process of For All Kings. We’d write songs, go out on tour, come home, then write some more songs, and we got to just be Anthrax. It felt really good.”
Let's get the inside story on For All Kings then...
Scott: “We like to have instrumentals at the start our albums to help set a tone, and this one is something that Charlie [Benante] wrote on his own. He sent it over and asked what we thought about it being the intro to You Gotta Believe, and we thought it sounded great. You can imagine it playing over the PA before the band comes on, and basically ramping up the tension and excitement even more, because it’s a very tense piece of music.”
2. YOU GOTTA BELIEVE
“If I’m not mistaken, I think this was the first song we wrote at the first writing session. We had a strong skeletal arrangement of the song by the end of that session, which was actually very close to the finished arrangement, and right from the start we all had the feeling that was going to be the opening song on the record – unless something better came along. There was just something about the energy of the riff and the excitement in the music, and we take you on this trip through the bridge section where we kind of change the dynamic completely, and then it comes back around and kicks back in even faster than before. It just felt like a really great way to open the record, because there was so much energy and so many dynamics in the one song. The subject of the lyrics is something that goes back to the idea of a walking razor blade that I used in In My World back on Persistence of Time . I wanted to use that as a metaphor for my own life: that if I want to do something then I’m going to do it, and you better get the fuck out of my way. I genuinely believe more people should live that way.”
3. MONSTER AT THE END
“There is no specific ‘monster at the end’. It’s anything that’s blocking your life. It’s any hurdle that needs to be overcome. I’ve jumped over a lot of roadblocks and knocked down a lot of walls over the last 35 years of being in a band, and the last 45 years of just being a human being, and no matter what monster has ever been in my way I’ve been able to defeat it. That’s what this song is about. The ‘monster at the end’ can mean different things to whoever is listening to the song, you know. Everybody wakes up every day of his or her life with some type of problem or issue that they need to go to war against and defeat, and that’s the monster at the end.”
4. FOR ALL KINGS
“For All Kings basically refers to every single person on this planet. For me, it’s the silver lining on this record, and my way of saying that everybody has the ability to take control of their lives and their destiny. It’s about owning your own shit and taking responsibility for yourself, by becoming a caring, loving, empathetic human being. Everybody has that ability, and I feel like I can say that because I’ve made those changes in my own life. There’s a lyric where I sing, ‘The king is dead / Long live the man in me,’ and that’s not about being the king or the boss of everyone around you: it’s just about being a responsible human being and owning your own shit. Musically speaking, we’re wearing our Maiden influence on our sleeves with this one, which of course we have no problem with, and I love Jon Donais’ solo on it. I think that may be my favourite guitar solo on the record.”
5. BREATHING LIGHTNING
“Frank [Bello] came up with the melody to this one, and I’d say it’s probably the biggest hook we’ve ever had in any of our songs. It’s so melodic, and yet retains all the heaviness of Anthrax. It’s probably the biggest sing along thing that we’ve ever done, and I attribute that to us all getting better as songwriters. I love the song. It’s got this kind of foot to the floor feeling, and it’s the kind of song that makes you want to drive really fast. It never stops moving forward, and Joey [Belladonna] does this thing with his vocals where he sounds super angelic. There’s so many dynamics on this song, and if there’s one thing on this record that was really important to us it was to have the dynamics changing constantly. We’ve never had a song with a chorus this big in the history of Anthrax, and I think it’s a really a special one. I think it’s going to really connect with a lot of people, too.”
6. BREATHING OUT
“This is just an outro for Breathing Lightning, and a pause to catch your breath before the next song hits. It’s like a boxer getting 30 second breaks between rounds, before the next punch in the face.”
“The chorus to this song says, ‘Nothing is over,’ and that’s kind of how I see the world. Nothing is ever over: as a race we just keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again. We’re dealing with issues in 2016 that are thousands of years old. All these religious ideologies go back centuries and centuries: the same battles and the same wars. As a species, you would’ve thought by now that we would’ve figured out a way to deal with it and move past it, but we haven’t. People like to hold onto bullshit, and I don’t really need to back that up with anything other than the history of mankind. All we do is fight wars with each other – that’s the one thing we’re really good at. Sometimes I wish there was a suzerain. I wish there was a nation that was so powerful in its peacefulness that it could take over the rest of the world and say, ‘My way or the highway,’ so to speak. It’s not going to happen, but let’s say the aliens came and they offered us no more war or disease, and a world of peace and harmony. You know what Earth would do? We’d fucking shoot missiles at them. So that’s what I was writing about: some form of life, way beyond our capacity of conscious thought, coming to Earth and giving us the option of living in a peaceful world, and saying we either accept that way of life or they incinerate our planet. I kind of wish someday that would happen.”
8. EVIL TWIN
“The ‘evil twin’ in this song is extremism, hatred and murder. Once you cross that line of killing somebody in cold blood then you’re not human anymore: you’ve crossed into something else. I don’t have a choice because I’m stuck here, but I don’t want to live on a planet where these are our options, and you have to worry about somebody trying to shoot you because you don’t believe in the same god as them. Everybody seems to think that the only way to move forward is to use bombs and guns, and it’s fucking sad that in 2016 we’re fighting the same wars that we did 5000 years ago. It really doesn’t say much for man as a species, and the fact that these murders are becoming the norm now is really fucking frightening.”
9. BLOOD EAGLE WINGS
“We never worry about songs being certain lengths in Anthrax, because we’re not a radio band. If a song is going to take us on a trip then we let it go where it needs to. That was Blood Eagle Wings. Charlie came in with the riff and we started arranging it, and it was almost like the song spoke to us – we weren’t even in control of it. We’d play one riff, and that would tell us where the next riff was going and what needs to happen next. Over the course of a couple of months this song literally took us on a trip while we were writing it, and we knew we were on to something special: it felt epic and amazing, and had this larger than life feeling. I wrote the lyrics last June when I was over in London hosting the Metal Hammer Golden Gods. I was walking around the city one day and I started thinking about the history of it and all the lives, bones and blood that a great city like London has been built on over the millennia. I went back to my hotel and the lyrics just poured out of me. So Blood Eagle Wings is essentially a metaphor for London, and how a city that started off as a Roman encampment next to a river over thousands of years has spread its wings and flown into the city that it’s become, built on the blood of untold millions of people.”
10. DEFEND AVENGE
“All the lyrics that I write ultimately come back to me. Even Blood Eagle Wings, with its epic sonic landscape and massive lyric ideas, still comes back to me. Every song comes back to me personally and who I am, and Defend Avenge are the first lyrics in my career that I’ve written with a child in my life. My son was born in 2011, and I started writing lyrics for this record in some way, shape or form in 2012. Having a child has drastically affected my worldview, and this song is about what I would do to defend my family and the personal world that I live in. I’d take a bullet for anyone in my life that I love. To go back to a comic book reference, I would become The Punisher. God forbid if anyone fucks with my world.”
11. ALL OF THEM THIEVES
“This is another very, very personal song about someone who ripped me off. They stole a whole bunch of money from me, and they know who they are. I can’t say his name, but this person is a fucking asshole and eventually he will pay. The song started from a riff that Frank came in with, and it’s one of the more brutal songs on the record. The music matches well with my anger in the lyrics, too.”
12. THE BATTLE CHOSE US
“Anthrax is very much like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. We’ve taken a hell of a lot of punches, but we never went down. Nobody’s ever managed to knock us out over the last 35 years, and The Battle Chose Us is a world that we live in as a band. We’ve had both the mettle and the metal to make it in this business, and we will never lie down.”
13. ZERO TOLERANCE
“Musically, Zero Tolerance is definitely the most thrash song on the record. It definitely feels like 1986 Anthrax to me, but through 2016’s abilities as players – I don’t think I could’ve played this song in 1986. So it’s a fucking blistering track musically, and lyrically it touches on a lot of stuff from the Judge Dredd universe of having zero tolerance for certain types of crimes. Everybody seems to get away with shit constantly, and we’re still dealing with the same fucking problems. It’s the same fucking religious and political bullshit year after year. Nothing ever changes. In my lifetime things have only gotten worse, and I can’t understand why things just can’t get better. The only thing that seems to get better is technology, and that’s because there’s money in technology. There’s no money in peace, and diseases being cured and people being healthy. So really I guess what it all comes down to is the politics of all these businesses and the fact that if there’s money to be made then it doesn’t matter how evil it is, that’s what’s going to go on. It’s amazing to me that the head of the Catholic Church is still this guy named the Pope, who sits in the Vatican and allows people in his house to abuse children. Why can’t we go back to medieval times and hunt down the priests who rape kids, and cut their fucking heads off? Would anyone on this planet have a problem with that? I wouldn’t! That’s what I’m saying in Zero Tolerance: there should be zero tolerance for children getting murdered in Africa, and zero tolerance for children being raped by priests. Yet this shit still goes on every day, and nobody stops it. It’s sickening.”