Last year was tough for a lot of people across the globe. As the world shut down around them, people were cut off from their families and jobs, and many even lost their lives.
For Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, like a lot of other people, it felt like the world was falling apart.
“I was watching what was going on overseas in Europe, and especially Italy that was getting hit the hardest,” Benante says.
“And then it started to hit here, in New York. By the time March came around, things got crazy, and I was glued to the television, I was glued to my phone. I started to get very depressed, and I just went into a dark place.”
He credits his girlfriend, Butcher Babies vocalist Carla Harvey, for pulling him out of that dark place.
“My girlfriend, Carla, kind of said, ‘You’ve got to stop watching the news, man, because it’s really affecting you in a bad way. Go be creative, go do music again, you know?’” Benante says.
“And I did. I turned it off, I set up an electronic (drum) kit in my art room, and I started to just play again and make some music.”
Still reeling from iconic Rush drummer Neil Peart’s death in January, Benante decided to pay tribute by virtually getting together with other musicians and uploading Rush covers on his YouTube channel.
“I was talking to friends throughout this thing, and they were going through the same thing I was, so I invited some of them to join in,” Benante says.
“The first one I worked on was a Rush song. It was (with) Alex Skolnick (from Testament) and Ra (Diaz) from Suicidal (Tendencies). I was still grieving over Neil Peart’s death, and that was just one that I wanted to do, I wanted to play those Rush songs again, and that’s how it happened, and then it just snowballed after that.”
Benante and his friends began playing a variety of songs, everything from Iron Maiden to Billie Eilish, dubbing it the “quarantine jam video series.”
“I would pick songs that did something to me emotionally,” Benante says. “When I heard the song, it takes me back to a place I was. The Fleetwood Mac song (‘Rhiannon’) was just a song from my childhood.
“Where I used to live, in the Bronx … the house that was adjacent to me would always play Fleetwood Mac outside, they’d always play the ‘Rumours’ album. Every day, we would hear this record, so when it came time to pick a Fleetwood Mac song that I wanted to do, that was the one.”
Benante’s new album, “Silver Linings,” is a collection of some of the songs from the quarantine jam series, though he says he never planned on releasing them, other than just as YouTube videos.
“This was never intended on being put out,” Benante says.
“People would ask me early on, and I would say, ‘No, I’m not doing that,’ then I got asked one too many times and finally, I said, ‘Alright, I have enough here to put out a full record.’ I only wanted to put out vinyl — I didn’t even want to put it out any other way — and then, of course, the record company said, ‘You’ve got to put it out digitally, too, and streaming.’”
A portion of the album proceeds will be donated to the Neal Casal Music Foundation, a charity that provides musical instruments and lessons to students.
“The first two programs to get cut from schools always are art and music,” Benante says.
“They do this all the time, and for me, if I didn’t have art and music in school, I don’t even know where I’d be right now, because it really just helped me to survive school.”
With a new Anthrax record in the works, Benante says the change of pace with “Silver Linings” has actually improved his thrash songwriting.
“If anything, the songs that I did on this ‘Silver Linings’ record completely helped me and really put me in a better mood, because I got a chance to experiment with different sounds, different moods, different textures,” Benante says.
“But the Anthrax record, for some reason, is coming out a bit more aggressive, a bit angrier than previous things that I’ve written. There’s some really aggressive songs on this record.”
The pandemic brought a lot of negative emotions with it, and Benante says that kind of aggression can be put to good use in the studio.
“I don’t know if I’m angry anymore, from what happened, and I think I have a better understanding about it and I’m channeling that into the music. So, maybe it’s more dark than it is angry, but definitely the tone is a bit angry.” Benante says.
“And I still have a year of that (anger) in me, so when I go and record these songs, I’m definitely bringing that with me.”
Anthrax is also turning the band’s iconic 1987 album, “Among the Living,” into a graphic novel from Z2 Comics coming May 12. Benante will also have his own “Judge Dredd” variant of the comic, available only by preordering the standard edition through Z2.
“I’ve been trying to do a comic book for years. A friend of ours, Josh Bernstein, who is basically Z2 Comics, contacted Scott (Ian, Anthrax rhythm guitarist) and I about it, and we had a talk about it, but we didn’t want to do something if it was going to be kind of cheesy,” Benante says.
“It’s coming together so well that I still can’t believe that we’re going to do this. It’s going to be one of the best things, I think, that we have ever put out.”
The “Silver Linings” album will be available in full from Megaforce Records on May 14. The track “Run-DMC Medley,” featuring Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Rob Caggiano (Volbeat, ex-Anthrax), Diaz and Benante, is available now on most streaming platforms.