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One of the heavy metal tours that stood out in the flooded concert scene of last summer was the co-headlining run featuring Anthrax and Black Label Society. It was two of the most high-profile acts of the genre who decided, rather than go it alone and making fans of both choose who to see, to link up and deliver an uncompromising evening of music together.

The only negative was when it concluded after two dozen shows. By that time it had been announced that BLS leader and guitarist Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante would be joining the Pantera celebration and playing festivals around the world. Then Metallica revealed two years’ worth of concert dates, with Pantera slated as the North American openers in 2023 and 2024. Surely that would put Wylde and Benante’s respective principal outfits on hold for some time?

Not a chance.

Anthrax and Black Label Society have paired up for another stretch which kicks off January 17 in Garden City, Idaho before hitting Canada, the Midwest and East Coast cities for an additional 25 gigs. (You can grab tickets here). And while Hatebreed provided support on the first leg, Bay Area thrash metal pioneers Exodus are onboard this time around.

Metal Edge caught up with Benante and Anthrax co-founder and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian ahead of the tour kick off to cover a wide range of topics. The band are celebrating their 40th anniversary each night, a little late due to the pandemic, even breaking out the John Bush era track “Only,” while slowly building up enough material for a new album, which will be the first since 2016’s For All Kings. The two also discussed the lure of teaming with Black Label Society again, what monikers Wylde has christened them with, how age is affecting them and, of course, if the Big 4 will ever perform shows in the future.

How much of this second go around with Black Label Society is because it went so well the first time and you want to keep it going, and how much is hitting cities you didn’t get to the last time around and give fans the chance to see the bill?

Scott Ian: It’s all of that. If the tour wasn’t a success, we wouldn’t be doing a leg two, the people wouldn’t be clamoring for more shows! [laughs] But they are, and that first leg did so well – most of it sold out – we had a blast and we had such a great time touring with those guys. Promoters saw the numbers we were doing and were like, “Wow, this tour is doing great.”

It’s kind of a no-brainer. We love the package and now we have Exodus out with us. Nothing against Hatebreed – we love those guys, too – but they couldn’t do it and now we’ve got other good friends of ours out with us on the tour and we get to play a whole bunch of other markets. Because everybody bitches, “How come you didn’t come…” well, now we are.

What was a highlight of the summer run for you?

Charlie Benante: For me it was New York and L.A., like, man, they came and represented and made playing those shows so easy for us. We had this thing with the audience where we could just feel the power and the love and it was the best. It was ironic that those were the two shows that Chuck D came out and did “Bring the Noise” with us. When he came out, it was like an earthquake – I don’t even know if we were onstage anymore, we all kinda rose a bit.

Ian: I feel the same way, those two shows that Charlie mentioned. L.A. and New York you hope will be the biggest shows of your run. Obviously there’s the most focus on the shows, everybody media-wise is coming to those shows, so for the band it’s seemingly the most pressure. After the L.A. show I was like, “Well shit, we got another month, how are we gonna top that?”

It felt like 1987 at the Palladium. I go to shows at the Palladium. I went to see Turnstile there just a couple of weeks ago and our show was crazier than their show and their shows are fucking nuts. Then New York topped it! Unbelievable. I had such high hopes, but was like, “It’s probably not going to be better than L.A. – how could it be?” and somehow it just elevated to an even higher. Across the board, I can’t say there was a bad show. There wasn’t one of those where I’m up onstage already thinking about what I’m eating after the gig – which happens sometimes. The crowds were so into it.

It seems like age has started to matter less when it comes to music. It used to be, when the Rolling Stones went out on the road in 1975, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were 32, critics would ask, “Do you guys really think you’re going to tour again after this?” And now you have Anthrax heading out, you guys are in your 50s and 60s, and it’s become normalized. What do you think has been the shift in the view of age and it not being such a big deal anymore?

Ian: I think it’s only ever been a big deal in the context of touring bands in terms of how you lived your life. Certain bands never made it out of the ‘70s. Certain bands never made it out of the ‘80s – for a myriad number of reasons – whether because of the physical and substance abuse issues or some bands just run their course.

For a band like us, and a lot of our peers, I think we’ve just done a good job of taking care of ourselves. But most importantly, as we say sometimes, “Taking care of the baby,” which is the band. I think we’ve all been really respectful and really good parents to our baby. I think that has a lot to do with age and longevity. You wouldn’t turn your back on your child, you know what I mean? You don’t want to become really shitty parents and break up – and then what happens?

I know it’s a weird analogy, but that’s sometimes how I look at it. I think we’re really good parents to this band, to this baby we’ve had for 41 years now and why stop doing that. On the other hand, it’s still fun. Not many bands get to do what we’re doing. We just did a UK tour playing bigger headline shows than we have since 1989. For a band so many years down the road to be doing better than we were at what supposedly our peak, there’s no other way to say it: it’s fucking awesome.

Benante: Exactly. The thing too, is when we did those dates in the UK, there were times when I felt, “I don’t feel of the age that I am.” When I was in New Orleans rehearsing with Pantera, there were times when I would be playing and almost…you feel like a superhero because there’s parts coming up that you really enjoy playing and, dude, it’s like no problem at all. It happens; your body, your muscle memory, just takes over and you get so caught up in the part you have no time to think about ailment or your age. I know a lot of musicians would understand that, too; it just takes over and you feel superhuman.

Ian: And also, there’s probably a chemical reason for that because when you’re doing that and the excitement and the energy, it’s creating serotonin – it’s the same as a runner’s high. It’s gotta be the same thing with the physicality of how we play and what we do. Onstage, my back could be hurtin’ and my knees could be achin’ and – I’m like rubbing my forearm now – my elbows could hurt, and I get onstage and it all goes away. I don’t think about it that time onstage. I’m not worried about the arthritis in my finger. You just play your show.

Benante: But the Stones thing you mentioned is something we’ve always heard since we were younger, and I’ll never forget this thing that Keith Richards said back then. He’s like, “Would you ask this question to a B.B. King or a jazz cat that’s been doing this all his life? Why would you tell me to stop, just because I’ve reached 45, 50 years old?” And that to me resonated because you would never say that. You would say that to athletes, even before their time, which I don’t even think you should. If the athlete is still playing well, why are you telling him, “No, that’s it, you’re done, you have to retire.” It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Ian: I mean, look at my shirt. [Ian gestures to his Iron Maiden t-shirt] Those guys are between seven to 10 years older than us, and I don’t see them slowing down.

[At this point Benante lifts his pullover hoodie to reveal a Rolling Stones t-shirt, eliciting laughter]

I want to talk a little bit about the set list. Scott, I spoke to you right when For All Kings came out and asked about not being able to play a lot of the catalog live because it was a different era of the band without Joey [Belladonna] in it. On the recent run, you started including “Only” in the set, and I wanted to know what changed between you saying you have too much material with Joey to choose from to begin with to doing a John song?

Ian: ‘Cause it was officially the 40th anniversary tour, even though it was 41, but we never got to tour in ’21 when we actually turned 40. We considered – and still consider – these dates we’re doing as part of our kind of 40th celebration. So, it was important to have something from every era in the set to represent.

If we were playing two-and-a-half hours, we would probably have another John Bush song or two or maybe something else from Fistful of Metal or whatever. But we’re not playing two and a half hours, it’s not “An Evening With…” If that ever happens, then maybe there’ll be more from those records. Right now, it was important to at least get one song from the John Bush era in there.

Benante: I think for us, too, you can’t forget about that time though. Even though John’s not with us anymore in the band, those songs – man – they creep up on you sometimes and it’s like, “God, I miss playing that song, it’s such a great song.” I don’t see the reason why we shouldn’t. We were really happy Joey was into it, and he kills it. Even if it’s not his song, he makes it his own. I would love to introduce some other songs at some point too – ‘cause I miss playing them.

When you’re doing a co-headlining tour, you’ve got a much smaller window of time for the songs you can play. Do you want to change it up each night – not drastically – but – no?

[Both shaking their head “No.”]

Benante: Well, we did change it three times throughout that tour.

Ian: But not every – he’s saying every night. No - I’ve never looked at it that way. You put a lineup together; you don’t see a baseball team or a football team putting a different team on the field every night or every weekend. You put something together that works, you put together the best show that you can put together, and that show only gets better night after night. You play the first show of the tour, then 10 shows in it’s even better than it was on the first show.

The idea of, “Well, let’s change it all and, like, be doing it for the first time every time,” that doesn’t work for me. Maybe that works for…I know a lot of bands do that, but it doesn’t work for my brain. I wanna go out there knowing that whatever time we’re onstage, whether it’s 50 minutes or two hours, it’s the fucking best that it can be every single night.

And it’s a new crowd every night. You may have some repeat business if, like on the East Coast if you’re playing Jersey and the city and Long Island and Connecticut, maybe people are coming to multiple nights. In general, 90-something percent of the crowd is going to be new every night. They didn’t see it the night before. What’s different these days is if you go online then, yes, of course, you already know the setlist. And you could probably watch the whole show – from any night – on the tour, if you wanna go on YouTube, but that’s not our problem. That’s your problem if you’ve already watched it on YouTube or if you’ve already checked out the setlist. Nobody told you to do that.

I want to ask you about Zakk. He likes to give people, I guess “nicknames,” you would call it. Randy Rhoads is “Saint Rhoads.” Mike Inez is “Brother Inez.” What names has he given the two of you? Are you “Brother Benante?”

Benante: I’m “Father – Father Charlie.”

Ian: I thought it’s just “Father” and “Saint.” Everyone’s “Father” – as far as I know – and “Saint” are people who are no longer with us.

Benante: “King. King Edward.” He always talks about Eddie [Van Halen].

Has he given you each Black Label Society vests at some point over the years and, if so, where are those vests now?

Ian and Benante: No.

Benante: I don’t have one.

Ian: I made my own, it’s “Black Dreidel Society.” [everyone laughs] He loves it.

Exodus being on the bill with you got me thinking about the Big 4. Dave Mustaine has been saying he wants more dates to happen and, with Slayer officially retired, if more dates happen, do you think Exodus should get slotted into that spot? Or is the Big 4 something that’s untouchable with just the four of you?

Ian: Charlie can ask Lars when he’s out with him in August. [laughs]

Benante: Yeah, I saw Mustaine was kinda fishing for some of that. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think Metallica need to do that right now. They’ve got so much coming up in the next two years. [laughs]

Ian: Here’s the thing: [Metallica] just announced their ’23 and ’24 plans, and I was looking at those dates this morning and thinking, “Well I wonder if, like, they do these two nights in each city here in the States and one night is the Pantera night and the other night is the Five Finger [Death Punch] night. So are people gonna be clamoring for the Pantera night and nobody’s gonna show up on the other night?”

Benante: No way – they’ll be there.

Ian: But then I stopped myself, and I said, “Hold on a second. They could’ve just announced it as ‘An Evening With’ – with no opening bands – and they’re still selling out two nights in every stadium.” It doesn’t matter who’s opening. None of that matters. They don’t need support bands. They do it to make an event out of it, I guess, but they don’t need it. If the Big 4 was to ever happen again – in any capacity – it’s certainly not going to be before ’25 now, because they’ve already announced their plans. So, there you go. Anyone who has a question about the Big 4, hold that thought until 2025. [laughs]