The recent reformation of Anthrax's classic 1984-91 lineup might be a cause for celebration for longtime fans but from where I sit it's one of the more shameless reunions of recent years. Out the window goes vocalist John Bush, who has served the band since 1992, and back in is Joey Belladonna who fronted the band in their most successful years in the 80's and early 90's. The band is being tight lipped abou the reunion as one might expect. How do they justify it? In recent years ex members Belladonna and guitarist Danny Spitz, who was 'removed' in 1995, have engaged in bitter wars of words with Scott Ian, who along with drummer Charlie Benanter represent the only two original members of Anthrax who have remained since their inception in 1981. Bassist Frank Bello left the band as recently as 2003, and was replaced by Joey Vera of Armoured Saint, but is already back. But it is the displacement of Bush that rankles me. He deserved more than this.
Rumour had it that Anthrax were promised a place on the main stage of Ozzfest 2005 if they reformed the classic lineup that became a leader in the thrash world through legendary albums like 1985's 'Spreading The Disease' and 1987's 'Among The Living'. That lineup, Ian, Benante, Belladonna, Spitz and Bello were staples of the burgeoning thrash movement and became along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer the 'big four' of the genre. In the early 90's Belladonna was replaced in favour of Armoured Saint vocalist John Bush whom it was felt would give the band a harder edge befitting the gritty musical climate of the decade. With Bush the band released a brilliant album in 1993's 'Sound Of White Noise', which although reaching number seven didn't live up to the expectations of their label. The band were banking on the album becoming their own 'Black' album, but with grunge in full force it never happened.
Spitz was fired prior to the recording of 1995's 'Stomp 442' which label Elektra failed to promote, causing the band to disown them. Anthrax's commercial fortunes were fading, not helped by their seeming abandoning of thrash, moving towards a more modern sound. It took three years for 'Volume 8: The Threat Is Real' to emerge. a worthy effort, but once again a chart failure. In 1999 an idea was mooted to have both Belladonna and Bush share the stage in a summer tour, but fell apart due to Belladonna's monetary demands. The band stuck with Bush, but it took an age for the next album, 2003's 'We've Come For You All' to hit shelves. Nevertheless the album made waves and Anthrax gained more publicity tha in previous years. They took a hit when Bello left in late 2003 but continued a rigourous tour schedule with Vera taking over on bass.
Things continued on as usual, with the band even recording an album of re-recorded Belladonna classics with Bush singing, that album 'the Greater Of Two Evil's'. Ian had said he always envisioned the tracks with Bush on vocals and that's how he wanted them to sound. Still listening to Bush singing tracks like 'Among The Living' made me want to hear Belladonna's original vocals instead it must be said. Indeed Bush's versions of the classics live over the last decade weren't satisfying, Bush at home on his own original tracks naturally. Despite this Bush must have been slighted when the reunion was announced. Ian has said he is still part of the band, but for a man who has stuck by the band through thick and thin, this is rough treatment.
I admit to being more partial to the bands thrash years with Belladonna, but only because that is what I was weaned on. The Bush albums are all excellent in their own right. Bush has toiled with the band in their darkest years, as the crowds dwindled and album sales fell off. If anything he joined at the worst time, although it didn't seem that way in 1992. The band seemed poised to break through on a massive scale but things never turned out that way and Anthrax have suffered since. Scott Ian has always been the spokesperson and leader and one assumes he played a large part in bringing the old band back. So what is his motive? Ozzfest isn't happening, but appearances at European Festivals are. To discard a loyal member like Bush for an undetermined period reeks of disloyalty and treachery.
Add to this guitarist Rob Caggiano who has put in four years with the band, only to find himself shuffled out to make way for Spitz. Spitz' return is surprising as Ian criticised him unmercifully after his departure, claiming he wasn't moving in the same direction and that his image no longer suited the band. At the end of the day the past problems mean nothing, especially if money is involved. Not that Anthrax will claim that right now. How long the current lineup will last is anyones guess, but one can forgive John Bush for declining to participate as Benante claimed he was. He has been insulted in spectacular fashion. Somehow Anthrax must live with that.