Scott Ian isn’t sure his legendary thrash metal band, Anthrax, has ever played Savannah.
“I was trying to think if we’ve ever actually played Savannah in all these years,” Ian told Do Savannah. “Even if back in the day, we opened for someone there, I can’t remember. I’ve been to Savannah a bunch, but I don’t remember playing there.”
Regardless, Anthrax and brothers-in-thrash Testament have sandwiched a Savannah date in this year. They are both currently opening the bill on the Slayer farewell tour, which plays the nights before and after their June 13 Savannah appearance at The Stage on Bay.
“It really just makes it easier when you’re out on tour with a bunch of your friends,” Ian said. “There’s no drama. There’s no surprises. You can hang out with your bros and basically be on a summer vacation with shows. It really does feel like that.
"We’re like this traveling circus who shows up in your town, then we hang out for the day and are gone. Like it never happened," he said with a laugh. "Then we show up somewhere else. For us, it really makes it comfortable to be out here with a bunch of people we’ve known for so long.”
Thrash, or speed metal, descended to Earth from Valhalla in the form of a musical answer to pop/glam metal of the late 1970s. Influenced heavily by the new wave of British heavy metal (Iron Maiden, Motorhead, et al), but less serious, thrash combined the speed of hardcore punk with the voracious guitars and vocal stylings of metal for a new genre that has gone on to influence myriad of styles in the last three decades.
For 37 years, Anthrax has held to their thrash roots despite the loss of commercial popularity and a rotating membership. Formed by Ian and original bassist Dan Liker, Anthrax took notes from metal contemporaries Metallica early on — whom they let crash in their space at one point. Anthrax is considered one-fourth of the Big Four of thrash, which includes Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer.
After forming in New York City, a rarity among their mostly West Coast contemporaries, Anthrax hit a stride with the addition of their second vocalist, Joey Belladonna, in 1985. At their commercial height, arguably the 1990-91 "Clash of the Titans" tour with the aforementioned bands, Anthrax were gods of speed metal. In 1992, Belladonna was fired and vocalist John Bush came aboard. The combination of a new voice and the decline of thrash metal’s popularity, in part due to grunge’s emergence, saw a lull in interest for the band. But Anthrax continued on their own path.
In the early oughts, Anthrax flirted with a Belladonna reunion, announcing the "classic lineup" for a series of shows. The tour, however, failed to bring Belladonna completely back into the fold and the Anthrax formation continued on with vocalist Dan Nelson, who was later fired. In 2010, Belladonna returned for a “Big Four” European tour with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. He would stay on this time, setting up a new decade of recording and touring with most of the original lineup.
“It’s really fun to play in a band for a living,” Ian said. “It’s not that difficult a thing to keep wanting to do. Creatively, certainly, going into that record we made, 'Worship Music,' and having Joey back in the band, I think it’s been a really good run since 2010. The energy around us, all the positive energy around the band, we keep feeding on that. In a sense, it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.”
Since Belladonna’s return, Anthrax has released two studio albums, “Worship Music” and “For All Kings,” their 10th and 11th, respectively. In April, the band released a live album, “Kings Among Scotland,” filmed in Glasgow, Scotland.
“The way we work has never really changed,” Ian said. “It’s always been the same, creatively. If anything, there was an excitement there with Joey coming back and knowing that we were going to be able to move forward with him and be able to hear what Anthrax sounds like now in 2010, 2011, with Joey Belladonna. That excitement went into the writing for sure.”
In kind, Testament has seen years of shifting rotations, but their legacy in the metal world is intact due in part to a three-decade brotherhood with Anthrax.
“[Anthrax] were the first ones to exploit us throughout the world,” Testament founder and guitarist Eric Peterson said. “I think we did 30, 40 shows in the States on our first record. They brought us to Europe and we did another 25. We really looked up to them. They were on fire on their third record, 'Among the Living.' We learned a lot from them, with the crowd and whatnot. That was our first experience of, oh, wow, that’s how you do it.
"We knew how to do it, but we were thrashers. We were more like punks.”
Testament formed in 1983, a couple of years after Anthrax and Metallica, and drew heavily on their influence early on. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the band’s third and fourth albums charted and garnered high critical acclaim. As with other thrash/speed acts, the mid-1990s were harsh. The band continued on, however, at times with only two of the original members.
Similar to Anthrax, Testament has seen a reunion of mostly original members in the oughts, and the release of their first studio album after a nine-year hiatus, 2008’s “The Formation of Damnation.” They followed that with two other albums, 2012’s “Dark Roots of Earth” and 2016’s “Brotherhood of the Snake,” all of which have charted above 100 on the billboards, the first of their albums to do so since 1992’s “The Ritual.”
“Time has really flown by,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t seem that long, but I guess it has been. It’s cool that most of the original lineup is back together. There was a time where we kind of — the original members left, and Chuck and I kept the band going with different people. Which brought some new life into it, in a way. It made its way back to a full circle, closer to the original lineup, which is awesome.”
Thrash metal has undoubtedly influenced a host of sub-genres of metal and the resurgence of its popularity in the last decade speaks to its place in the overall narrative of rock ’n’ roll.
“This music is timeless in a way,” Peterson said. “To where, the tour we’re on now: Slayer is the same; sticking to their guns. All the bands, really. Except Anthrax dabbled in different areas, but made it work. It’s a type of music that seems timeless in a way.”