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Metalversary: SCOTT IAN Talks Four Decades Of ANTHRAX, Turbulent '90s & 35 Years Of Among The Living

Plus the 40th anniversary of Big Four vets Anthrax.

Photo by Chris Bubinas

Metal Injection recently sat down with the legendary Scott Ian for a look into Motor Sister's latest album, the potential for new Anthrax and much more!

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Now, in the first of our shiny, new Metalversary series, where we dive deep into a seminal album or marquee anniversary in metal history, Ian breaks down the 40th anniversary of Big Four vets Anthrax, the 35th anniversary of their monster album Among the Living, as well as an honest assessment of the turbulent 90s, which nearly crippled the thrash movement.

It blows my mind that 2021 was 40 years of Anthrax. There's been a lot of highs and lows in all of thrash metal. Anthrax has gone through a lot, and to come out the other side of that to be one of the pillars of thrash, four decades in and counting. It must be beyond comprehension for you.

I don't take any of it for granted. But you know, for me I've always looked at it as I get up and I go to work every day. Even though my work is playing rhythm guitar in Anthrax and writing lyrics and getting to work with my friends in this band and our crew. I've always looked at it very much in that blue collar way because that's just who I am. I'm a Jewish kid from Queens who was raised with a really great work ethic. I get up and I go to work every day regardless of what's going on with the band. There's always work to do. And the fact that we've been able to stay at this job for so long is unbelievable, because if I put it in that context, if you worked at a hardware store for 41 years, that would be a feat. If you worked anywhere for that many years, you stay at a job for that long, at some point someone gives you a fancy watch. It's incredible.

It's unbelievable to me to be able to kind of conceptualize the amount of time, because I don't know what that actually feels like, 41 years, because we're always in the moment, you know? Right now we're thinking about the tour that's coming and we're writing songs for a new record. So it's always been very about being in the moment and doing the best you can with the time that you have in the moment, being that band. Even when things were going like this, let's say from those years like 97, 98, 99, even when it was like, "OK, things have changed." How do we move forward? The way we used to work isn't working anymore. What do we do?

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So you adapt like any business or any job. You adapt and you figure out how to make this move forward unless you decide, "well, I don't want to do this job anymore." But that decision was never really ever even an option. Not for me anyway. It's something that I would never walk away from, maybe unless it totally was not fun in any way, shape or form. But it always is. How could being in a band not be fun?

We adapted and I'll give you a specific moment in 2000. Two specific things in the year 2000. Because obviously you had Pantera at that time who were certainly flying the flag in a big way and not counting Metallica. Even Metallica, even though they remained an arena band in the 90s, obviously, they weren't selling what they sold on The Black Album. But how could you? You're not going to maintain that level. So even in the 90s they were still the biggest. So let's just take them out of the picture. You had Pantera, certainly, who I would say were the biggest.

I remember going to see in like '98 or '99, Slayer with System of a Down opening at Irving Plaza in New York, which is a 1,100 cap venue. So you adapt. Think about that show now. I just saw System in front of 30,000 people in L.A.. It's a stadium tour. We did 100 shows with Slayer on their goodbye run in arenas all around the world. To think that in like 1999 they were playing 1,200 cap rooms, you know? But that's what happened to everybody. So you adapt and you keep going if you decide that's what you want to do.

And in 2000 we got a call to go out and do a headline run. Our agent was like 'we want to put together this headline run. We're getting a lot of calls from promoters,' and we hadn't been out in a couple of years. We were like "why do we want to go out and play half filled clubs?" It's terrible. "There's a lot of interest," our agent was telling us. "We're getting a lot of calls" and we're like alright. And we got Fu Manchu as our opening band and we went out and we did this club run in early 2000. And like every night was packed and we were like, "what? Like, what happened?" When we were out in '96 on the back end of the Stomp 442 tour, nobody was showing up. And then even in '98 when Volume 8 came out, other than festival shows we were doing, the headline shows were like "enhh." And all of a sudden the clubs are packed.

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And then while we were on that tour, we got a call. Mötley Crüe wants us to come open for them in the summer of 2000. It was going to be Mötley, Megadeth and Anthrax. We're like, "OK, great!" And I swear those two runs suddenly kicked into gear. Something changed and things just slowly but surely started heading back up the hill. We were like this coal cart on a slow track, but clicking away, going back up the hill again, to the point whereby, fast forward to 2010, and we're doing the Big Four shows with Metallica.

And I would say that's truly the moment where it all really changed because right before the big-four we went out on our first run back with Joey. It was Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. We did a run through North America and a lot of it was in arenas. It wasn't 15,000. We weren't selling out. We were doing half house arenas, probably, which was great. But then the big-four shows come and we get to go out and do that and play to the biggest crowds any of us have played to ever or in a long time. Certainly Poland, ever, because it was like a 110,000 people or something. After that I think it changed the whole picture again, because really everything's been great since 2010, and I can only really put it on that moment of those Big Four gigs and thanking Metallica.

You know, I've said it publicly for years that they're really smart about how they do things. And it was the right time, right place to do the shows that we did and it completely changed, I think, the metal world again. Certainly for our career. And I think for the other three bands that got their hitch their little wagons to Metallica's freight train. Yeah, it was a big, big, big, fucking deal. And you know, I think it really opened up the world's eyes to what the music we made in the 80s and on and on, what it actually means to people and how people all around the planet connected with it. And I think it was a very big reminder.

As someone who experienced that lull in the '90s, do you attribute that to the change of the guard in heavy music, like the rise and fall of grunge and rise of nu metal? 

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No, because for me I was a fan of so much of that music. I loved System of a Down from that first time I saw them opening for Slayer. I love Slipknot. I remember the first time I heard that record. I couldn't believe it. And then we played together in December '99, a show in Boston. Anthrax and Slipknot at the Avalon, a club in Boston. I mean I stood there and watched it from the side of the stage. I was like "OK, yeah. I get it. Things are changing and things have changed."

Of course, looking back on things I think the biggest thing is that, look, every kid and every person that gets into music, whatever age it is and I'm going to try and make sense out of this. So if you're 11, like me, and I hear Kiss for the first time and it changes my life, right? And that's my thing. And that was my thing, my time, my bands. Changed my world. It's the same thing for the kid that got into Slipknot in 1999. Hear that first Slipknot record for the first time, go to see them in concert. That becomes their thing and their moment, and it's their bands and what came before, well, that stuff might be fine and cool, but it's not their world. Their connection, their best thing ever, their greatest band ever is that band that they discovered on their own at that age. That will always be for them and be their thing.

And you know there was a whole new generation of kids coming up. You think about the late late 90s. There's a whole generation of kids 12, 13, 14 years old that started listening to Korn and Deftones and Slipknot and Limp Bizkit and so on. And that became their thing. And then I think what happens is five or 10 years later, a lot of those kids then discover – certainly they all knew Metallica – but a couple of years go by and their record collection starts to expand, and then oh yeah, there was Slayer and Anthrax and Megadeth and Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and all those people that were 14 and 15 and listening to Slipknot are now 25 and expanding their horizons.

It's a case of if you're 13 you don't want your dad's bands, you don't want your older brothers bands. Your dad listened to Anthrax when you were 12 in 1999. You know what I mean? Because we met a lot of those guys at that point who were in their thirties who now have kids who have been into us since 1985. So you don't want to listen to your dad's band even if your dad's band is Slayer, at the time. But then, of course, eventually you did get into Slayer. So you know, I really think that probably had a lot to do with it or it just wasn't cool. It was cool to find your own shit. And that's just that. That's how it always is. Even with my son now. My son is 10. Oddly enough his favorite bands are System of a Down, Slipknot, Korn, Deftones. Now those are his favorite bands.

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2022 is 35 years of Among the Living. What are your thoughts on that record and what it did for your careers, with the benefit of 35 years of hindsight?

It's not like we were sitting around in late 86, early 87 going oh well, that's it. We've got the record! We knew we had some good songs. We were really stoked on "Caught in a Mosh" and "I Am the Law" and "Indians". We were playing "I Am the Law" and "Indians" live already. When we were out opening for Metallica in the UK in 86 we were already playing "I Am the Law" and even "Indians" I think in the set, long before the album was out.

So we knew we had good songs. We knew we had songs that were to us better than what we had done before. We were getting better as songwriters. We felt really strongly about it. Certainly when we made the record and we were able to sit and listen to it in context when the mixes were done we were like wow. We think people are really going to like this, because we were very aware of the scene because we were all fans of everything going on around us.

It wasn't called Big Four yet, but we loved Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Exodus. We were fans of all that stuff. We were fans of all the hardcore and punk. We were as much kids who were fans as we were guys in the band. Remember, we were writing and recording that album in 1986. It was only two and a half years since Fistful of Metal had come out. You know, it's not like we had been some elder statesmen yet. We were a bunch of kids. I was 22-years-old when we were writing and recording Among the Living.

So we just knew that we had something that made us really happy. We knew we had songs that were going to make the audience go crazy. I remember we used to say "I can't wait to play this part live," like the war dance part, that the crowd's going to go nuts, the pits are going to go crazy. That's like as much thought as we put into it back in the day. We just knew we had something really fun and good.

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Then it comes out and people connect with it in a big way because we went from being a club band to being a theater band to being an arena band in a span of like nine or 10 months, which was, of course, a complete fucking whirlwind. We knew, certainly at that point, nine months into it by the end of 87, when I'm standing on the side of the stage at the Aragon in Chicago and there's like 6,000 people watching Celtic Frost who are opening for us. And I looked at Charlie and I was like "where the fuck did all these people come from?"

Nine months earlier we were playing to 600 people. The scene exploded. It wasn't just because of Among the Living, it was because of Master of Puppets. And it was because of Reign in Blood, and it was because of Peace Sells…but Who's Buying. It was because of Exodus. It was because of Celtic Frost. It was because of all the great bands around at the time. Kids just went nuts.

If you really want to pinpoint a moment that was maybe the biggest moment for the whole scene, it was when Metallica gets to open for Ozzy on Master of Puppets in 86. And don't get me wrong, I love Ozzy, and I in no way am I disparaging or anything, but that was Metallica's moment, and they were up there on an arena stage and people had never seen or heard anything like it. And everyone who left those arenas – Ozzy had great shows too – but everyone had already bought the Ozzy record, but 9,000 people would go home and the next day they were going and looking for Metallica albums because nobody even knew. Half the crowd didn't even know who Metallica was going in and they certainly knew when they were leaving, and they could not wait to go buy that record the next day.

And that was the biggest thing for our scene because of course, then that was the gateway, that was the trickle down effect of they got the Metallica record. They got Master, they got Ride the Lightning, they got Kill Em All. And then they were like 'what else sounds like this?' And then they found Among the Living, you know? So to me that's the moment. That's the door getting kicked open is when Metallica opened for Ozzy on the arena stage because it put this scene in front of the masses in a way that had never been available. And then Ozzy shared his stage with Metallica, and it changed everything.

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