Frank Bello of Anthrax and the Melting Pot of Metal

An album that's been six arduous years in the making, a band with a revolving door of vocalists - there hasn't been much light for Anthrax recently. But now revitalised, bassist Frank Bello is feeling only one thing; excitement.

If there's one thing that veteran Anthrax bassist Frank Bello is feeling, its excitement. Pure, unadulterated excitement. Why wouldn't you? As the bassist in one of the 'big four' metal bands, a new album finally seeing the light of day as well as a tour to Australia smack-bang in the middle of a bitter New York winter, there was a lot to smile about.

"Everything is perfect right now," he says, a palpable jubilance running through his voice. "I'm so excited to be coming back to Australia to play Soundwave - I can't lie. I can't exaggerate this, we always have such great shows and a great relationship with Australia. I'm coming from the dead of winter in New York to summer over there...I'm psyched dude, I gotta tell ya. The shows are gonna be amazing playing with Faith No More and a bunch of other great bands. I can't even say, I'm so excited."

Sometimes laborious tours elicit a slight twinge of regret due to the distance traveled, especially to Australia. But as for traveling Down Under there was not even a hint of hesitation - not even for a second, Bello says.

"As soon as they offered this to me I said it was a no brainer - done!," he laughs.

I press on to the subject that every Anthrax fan is eager to find out about - the status of their much-belated new album which has been in 'development hell' for almost five years amid vocalist changes and other controversial hang-ups. Not surprisingly, Frank is up-front and beaming about the prospects of that, too.

"I'll cut to the chase. It's been a long time writing this record and it took a while to record the whole album. I want to cut to the chase because this is what I'm so excited about and I want to stay positive about it too: is that we're working with John Bush again."

Over the recording process of Worship Music, Anthrax has almost had a revolving door of vocalists from Joey Belladonna, Dan Nelson and even other band members. It seems the band have all but settled on Bush as their permanent vocalist - although Frank says they're still taking "baby steps," taking everything slowly and as it comes. Bello remains upbeat about John and his re-addition, however.

"We just want to get the record done and see where we're going with it. [John] is obviously playing the Soundwave festivals with us which we're excited about, and he's done shows in Japan with us as well as Sonisphere in England and it just felt perfect. I'm not exaggerating this, the vibe on stage was incredible. The only word that comes to mind for me is 'energy.'

"We're like one complete package of energy when we're on that stage together. That's what matters to me, that's what Anthrax is supposed to be."

As for the record itself, it was just a process of "Scott, Charlie and I getting together and writing songs."

"Like we usually do, if one of us comes up with a riff we show the others and we write another riff out of that and bounce it off each other. Then we go through the melodies and then lyrics. Its been like that forever. Sometimes it gets a little heated but at the end of the day we all have to make the music thats the best for the band. Its better for everybody that way. My role as a bassist is adding flavor to the songs; making tasty bass lines that don't overpower the song. I want to add to the song, not detract from it. I want to add some 'tasty flavor' as I call it."

Being on hiatus from writing and recording for such a long time may have impaired their creative process, but as Bello says, its both helped and hindered.

"I think being on hiatus for so long has built up a lot of angst, waiting so long to get a record going. It's been six years, man - six long years. Whatever you want to describe it as, frustration, anger - whatever it is - and you'll hear it in the record too, I promise you that. But I haven't been more excited about an Anthrax record."

He can barely contain his excitement, bursting with things to say about it, describing what fans can expect.

"I mean you say this on every record, but I have not been more excited about an Anthrax record, ever. Honestly, this is a lot of anger, a lot of great riffing, a lot of great sounds on this record which a lot of people aren't going to expect from us. It's the next step that we needed to take and challenge ourselves. There's no down songs; they're all strong songs, and I've had this for over a year now - it's a no-skip record. I still haven't found a song that I want to skip yet. Its always fresh every time I hear it. At this point in our career, that's what we want to do. We don't want to stay the same."

Despite having enthusiasm for their new output, the classic Among the Living has been considered their magnum opus by fans and critics alike - while other records have been derided just as vocally. Bello on the other hand, has a different take.

"You know what happens when you're in a band? Every record you make, every one of them is your babies. I think Among the Living is one of them. Sound of White Noise, God, I have so many of them. Spreading the Disease, that was the first record I played on and it was very special to me. Our last record, We've Come for You All, that, for me felt like it was our best written record. This new one takes a step up on it. Even the re-issue of Among the Living is great, even if you've heard it before, it's amazing."

Anthrax are the odd one out of the "Big Four" American thrash metal acts that comprise Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, hailing from New York instead of Los Angeles. Anthrax are ones for experimentation, too, combining punk and even hip-hop influences as they progressed musically. Frank says it's a product of "soaking up" influences from their environment.

"I think you just suck up stuff like a sponge from your surroundings and your upbringing," he muses, "that just feeds into your personality and your being. That just comes out into your music, your creations. It's all about bringing into one. It's a very important avenue, bringing it together as songwriters. It doesn't matter if you're from New York or LA, your environment is definitely going to come out of you."

As for the big four ever touring together, Frank seems enthusiastic about any prospects, even in the wake of the recent Slayer and Megadeth tour that seemingly crossed a once "unbridgeable divide" - the animosities between some of the bands being very public and very ugly over years, although tensions have simmered enough to allow for the burying of the hatchet.

"I'm sure you've all heard the rumours," Frank says. "Officially, nothing has been offered as the 'big four.' But look, if it's the right move, if it makes sense to everybody involved, and there are a lot of bands involved, of course. It might happen. If it did, I would love it. As a musician and a metal fan. I mean, I would love to see that show. I would love to see all the groups together again. I'm still a fan of every group, they're all great. It'll be like a high school reunion, you know? But until there's a signature at the dotted line, its nothing official."

One lasting memory of their "melting pot" mentality was their collaboration with Public Enemy, culminating in rapper Chuck D appearing on a version of Bring the Noise. and subsequent tour. Although Bello "never says never," it seems like it was a point in history never to be repeated.

"Chuck D had this great line about Bring the Noise that I think sums it up; he said that 'this can never be topped.' I think because it was done in the right way and we had a great tour and no one said it could be done, that a metal group and a rap group could get together, to have great crowds and sold out shows every night; it was done in the best of ways. Anthrax, as you know, is always looking for new challenges. I don't know what's going to come up tomorrow. But I look forward to it."

Having played so many shows and seen the rise and fall of so many young bands that seek to carve a niche in the metal world, Bello has an admiration for the "new breed" of bands that are "carrying the torch", and even goes out of his way to keep up with it all despite his often  gruelling schedule.

"I really do dig the metal scene at the moment; I have a lot of friends in these bands. One band at the moment is Lamb of God; I remember them playing with us. I want to see them when they play with Metallica this weekend [at the time of interview.] There's a lot of great bands; As I Lay Dying comes to mind; a lot of great groups doing a lot of cool stuff that I appreciate.

"I think that metal is bigger than ever now and a lot of these young bands are pointing to Anthrax as one of their influences. That's a total honour for me, I love hearing that. When they come up to me and tell me that, I say 'thank you.' It means a whole lot to me. It makes me think we've done something right along the way."