AnthraxNEW ALBUM BRINGS ORIGINAL VOCALIST BACK INTO THE FOLD 10/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern
Fans of heavy-metal pioneers Anthrax have been holding their breath, unsure of where their band would land next. Their last studio album, We’ve Come for You All, was released in 2003, followed by the shocking announcement that original vocalist Joey Belladonna was returning to the fold—albeit only in stage form—for their ‘80s-era reunion tour. Then, nothing. The tour ended. They still needed a singer.
For the members of Anthrax, the interim time proved tumultuous. When they came back from that tour, they found that their vocalist for the past 10-plus albums, John Bush, had moved on. Following a revolving door of possible replacements, the members of Anthrax—guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano, drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello—spent the past four years tracking, scrapping some of the tunes, retracking and so on. “It put everything into a tailspin and we had to put the record on ice for a while until we figured out what we were going to do, who was going to sing,” remembers Caggiano.
Despite not having vocals to work on, the band continued laying down their own tracks, knowing that the show had to go on and eventually the right singer would come along. So for the past four years, each member tracked their instrument at recording studios in their respective hometowns: Caggiano and bass in New York, drums in Chicago, Ian’s guitar in L.A. and even some guitar parts for “Judas Priest” on a tour bus in Belgium. Caggiano has donned the producer’s hat for any Anthrax outing since he joined the band in 2002, and so he would travel to either Chicago or L.A., bringing along his portable rig, to direct the sessions.
“I think one of the biggest challenges working with Anthrax is basically the fact that each one of us lives in a different state,” Caggiano says. “We used so many studios to make this album [last count is around 15] that one of the biggest challenges was keeping everything consistent sonically. I have my own mobile rig with my own gear that I shlep around so I can record basically anywhere.” That rig is centered on MOTU Digital Performer, a platform Caggiano has been working on for years.
“The other thing is, Anthrax has been around for a really long time—these guys are pros, a really solid band,” he continues. “As a producer, it’s more about capturing the energy and the excitement for each song: making sure the tempos are right, that everybody is playing to the best of their ability. As far as making it sound good, to me that’s the easy part; I have it pretty much down to a science at this point. [Laughs]”
Worship Music brings a welcome blend of old-school Anthrax albums like Among the Living and State of Euphoria, while seeing their sound evolve. One of Caggiano’s main goals was recapturing Ian’s classic guitar, something he says had been a bit lost over the years. So Caggiano directed Ian to go into his locker and dig out his old Marshall 800 amp that was used on those classic records. “I wanted to combine the classic Ian sound with some of the newer amps like the Fiat Deliverance and Pitbull Ultra-Lead, and using a Radial ToneBone pedal to split the signal going to the two heads and out to the two different cabinets, each one isolated. I used two mics on each cab: a 57 and 421 on Ultra-Lead, and an Audio-Technica 4050 on the Deliverance cab. Everything was on a different track so it could be blended and mixed accordingly.”
For his guitars, Caggiano treated the solos and the overdubs almost like a lead vocal in terms of selecting the chain. “I like the sound of a 57 straight-up on the cone of the cabinet going through a Universal Audio 2108 mic pre that I love; I use that on a lot of stuff. I used it on Scott’s guitars, Frankie’s bass and my leads. My chain is the mic into the 2108 into a Universal Audio 1176 right into the interface. I used the Metric Halo ULN-8, which is an amazing box; great converters, it’s like an old analog workhorse.”
For bass, Caggiano placed a 421, a U47 and then a Yamaha SubKick to pick up all the sub-frequencies; bass was also taken DI. “I wanted to make it very flexible in terms of what you can do with it in terms of the mix.”
Still, no singer to speak of.
BRING IN THE VOCALIST
When the band was asked to join the Big Four tour last year—with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer—they knew that Belladonna had to be their vocalist; it only made sense as he was the singer from ’85 to ’92, the time period when The Big Four—the pioneers of thrash/heavy metal—started. “After the first show,” Caggiano says, “we all knew this was right. He sounded amazing; he’s actually singing better than he ever did before. But even at that point he wasn’t sure if he wanted to come back full swing and sing on the [Worship Music album]. We had to let it happen organically. After a while, he agreed to sing on the record; he was excited about it.”
And that’s when the past four years of tracking—with 85 percent of the songs finished—went into serious fast-forward mode. Enter co-producer/mix engineer Jay Ruston, who had previously mixed their set for the Big Four DVD. When Belladonna was officially back in the band, they reached out to Ruston to do his vocals, bringing in a fresh perspective. “I think Joey felt comfortable having someone who wasn’t in the band working on his vocals,” Caggiano says. “It was a big step for him; he hasn’t recorded like this since Persistence of Time in 1992.”
“I tried a bunch of different mics on Joey,” says Ruston,” and the one I settled on was actually a Studio Projects C1, which is quite an inexpensive microphone, but I’ve always had a pair of those kicking around for many years now and I really love the way they sound on a bunch of different things. On his voice it sounded fantastic and beat out a 47 and a U67.” The C1 went into a Neve 1073 and then into a Distressor and then finally into Pro Tools.
Tracking was done during the course of a few months, with Belladonna flying out to L.A. to lay down some tracks and then return home for a few weeks and then back out to L.A. again. He also recorded some guitars as they ended up re-tracking three songs from scratch. When the vocals were finalized, Ruston saddled up to his Trident Series 80 analog console to begin work on the mix. Caggiano sent Ruston the rest of the band’s final comped files, using MobileMe, SendSpace, YouSendIt, DropBox, whatever was the fastest. Working alone in his space at this stage, Ruston drew from his knowledge of past Anthrax efforts—he’s also a fan of the band—to guide and shape his mix.
“I know what Anthrax should sound like and I knew Scott Ian’s guitar sound, which is very distinctive. Charlie’s drums, Rob’s guitar and Frank’s bass are also very distinctive. Then, of course, having Joey back in the band, he’s very distinctive. So you have these five elements that are coming together and it has to sound like Anthrax. Basically, if you just take their tracks and push up the faders, it sounds immediately like Anthrax, so my job at that point was just to make it sound as big and slick and powerful as possible without messing with their tones. And that was pretty easy because Rob did a great job tracking.”
There wasn’t much “studio trickery” involved in the mix, with everything summing through the Trident board. “The Trident sounds great,” Ruston says. “I can hit it pretty hard and the EQ on it sounds great. I would build extensive stems in Pro Tools that would go anywhere from eight to 16 channels on the Trident as sub-groups. Then the stereo bus out of the Trident would go into a Neve EQ and then that would go into an SSL Bus compressor and back into Pro Tools.”
For effects, Ruston employed Distressors on vocals, a TL Audio Fat Man compressor on bass and Manley optical comps for overall drum bus compression blended with the uncompressed drums. Monitoring was via Yamaha HS50s with a Tannoy sub.
When one track was mixed, Ruston would send it off to the rest of the band, who would reply with their comments fairly quickly, allowing Ruston to swiftly mix the album and send it off to mastering engineer Paul Logus [of Dangerous Audio and Sterling Sound fame], whom both Ruston and Caggiano are quick to applaud. “I’ve known Paul for years and he’s an amazing producer/mixer in his own right,” Caggiano enthuses. “He did a phenomenal job and he’ll definitely be mastering everything for me from now on.”Ruston mirrors that sentiment: “I think he’s one of the best [mastering engineers] out there. [The album’s] not insanely loud, it’s not crunchy; it’s just perfect. He didn’t lose the transient attacks of the mono information. Usually, the kick and snare are lost in mastering; they get mushed and have a little less punch. He was able to retain that and yet still be loud and retain the bottom end.”When I ask Caggiano—mere weeks away from the release date—his thoughts on this experience, he replies, “We’re all relieved that the album is finally done. [Laughs] It’s been haunting us for a while, but we’re really proud of it. Obviously, it’s not normal to take four years to record and mix an album, but we had no choice; certain things popped up and we had to find our path before we continued. But I think it worked to our advantage because we had all this extra time to live with these songs and push them as far as we could. We just can’t wait to go out there and start playing the new songs for the fans.”
Sarah Benzuly is Mix’s managing editor.