The Day UK Rock Fans Took Thrash Metal To Their Hearts

Anthrax Joey Belladonna in crowd Hammersmith Odeon March 1989

Anthrax frontman Joey Belladonna at Hammersmith Odeon in 1989.
All pictures by Every Record Tells A Story (see previous post)

I was there the day Thrash Metal broke into the UK’s metal mainstream….

It seems strange looking back at the divisions that thrash metal caused in the mid eighties.

For some, the surprise will be that there’s any discernible difference between, say Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Megadeth and Scorpions. But for the heavy metal cognoscenti the difference was plain, and it wasn’t just a quibble over who had the biggest moustache or the most lurid spandex jump suit*.

Don’t believe me? Read this:

“The thing is, most Thrash Metal simply cannot be regarded as music – merely the frustration and aggression of low life no-hopers vented through the physical abuse of musical instruments. Sure, some Thrash bands can reproduce more than the sound of a jumbo jet touching down without wheels….But most can’t.”

Not the words of Tipper Gore, but of a well respected (and much missed) Kerrang! journalist, Mark Putterford, in the Kerrang! yearbook 1987. If that’s what the heavy metal writers thought, what chance was there for anyone else?!

Anthrax Charlie Benante Live Hammersmith March 1989

By 1986, after years of building a fan base despite no airplay or media coverage (thrash bands initially built a following through underground tape trading), then getting signed to independent and subsequently major labels, all four of the big thrash bands had produced seminal work; Slayer with “Reign In Blood”, Metallica with “Master of Puppets”, Megadeth with “Peace Sells …But Who’s Buying?“, Bros with “When Will I Be Famous?” and Anthrax with “Armed and Dangerous”. Classics all, yet thrash was still just a niche within heavy rock, itself a minority musical interest.

Kerrang! Magazine acknowledged the new sound and featured thrash bands alongside the mildly less thrashy Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but perhaps not as much as thrash’s supporters would have liked. Metal Forces Magazine had started up to cover the genre more thoroughly and Kerrang! responded with Mega Metal Kerrang!, a quarterly magazine that featured Metallica on the cover in issue #1 and which promised to give greater coverage to thrash. That they needed to do so outside the normal pages of the magazine demonstrated how thrash still divided metal fans.

Joey Belladonna Anthrax Hammersmith 14 March 1989

Thrash metal had its doubters most of all amongst the older crowd who had grown up with Deep Purple, Rainbow and Status Quo. “It’s just playing fast for the sake of it” complained a friend of mine, who lamented the lack of feel in the guitar playing and melody in the tunes. He just didn’t get thrash, and was wary of shelling out £6 on an album he thought he might not like or £8 on a concert ticket for a band he didn’t know.

In the UK it took until 1987 for the tide to turn. That year, Metallica released their $5.98 EP which featured cover versions of old NWOBHM tunes and was a likeable and accessible collection of songs, whilst Anthrax released “Among The Living” and had a Top 40 hit single with Judge Dredd themed song “I Am The Law”. This laid the groundwork for both bands’ appearances at 1987’s Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington supporting Bon Jovi. I was there too, and both bands took their chance to win over the hearts and minds of over 100,000 rock fans. Indeed, it was probably Anthrax who stole the show. Their version of speed metal and humour was perfect for an afternoon crowd. They showed their punk roots covering “God Save The Queen” and then larked about with their hip hop b-side “I’m The Man”. Their brand of thrash wasn’t po-faced and serious – at least not all the time.  It was fun.

Frank Bello Scott Not Ian Anthrax Hammersmith 1989

Anthrax hadn’t toured the UK extensively at that point, with previous tours being plagued with problems. Their first major tour was with Black Sabbath, but Glenn Hughes’s problems caused the tour to cancel after four dates. In 1986, Anthrax rather curiously cancelled a tour after worries about the fall out from the Chernobyl disaster. Later that year, they attempted to tour Europe again with Metallica, but after the bus accident that claimed Cliff Burton’s life the tour was quickly cancelled.

Donington therefore became a huge opportunity for Anthrax, and it was one they absolutely nailed.

The thing that impressed about both Anthrax and Metallica was the lack of pretension. On a day when W.A.S.P. played a typically tasteful set involving a flaming codpiece and a page 3 girl tied to a rack, Dio sang grandly of demons and rainbows and Bon Jovi played a triumphant, but US Stadium Rock-style headline set – joined onstage at the end by Dee Snider, Paul Stanley and Bruce Dickinson – to cap off their most successful year ever, Anthrax’s down-to-Earth attitude was hugely refreshing.

Anthrax’s Charlie Benante, Joey Belladonna, Dan Spitz, Scott “Not” Ian, and Frank Bello et al were like us. They dressed like us. Well, perhaps Anthrax wore more garish shorts than I did. They weren’t like Mötley Crüe, dousing themselves in hairspray whilst talking with their head in the clouds about partying and girls and strippers. They spoke in interviews about the music with genuine enthusiasm. When Crüe spoke you thought music was just something they had to do to meet girls and take drugs.

Both Metallica and Anthrax released albums in 1988 that probably weren’t quite as good as their predecessors, but they sold more and charted higher because both bands – and by implication thrash metal – had finally gained acceptance from metal fans.

Anthrax are set to start working on their next studio album in late 2013. A covers EP “Anthems” was released in March 2013.

* Scorpions in both cases.

Record #237: Anthrax – Efilnikufesin

Categories: Heavy Metal

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23 replies

  1. Oh My goodness. Where to start? I actually helped Krusher design a couple of issues of Mega Metal Kerrang! I was fresh out of art school and ready to go!. I remember regular Kerrang! running several “John And Janet guide to metal” features where they rubbished thrash. Several years later proclaiming some of the same bands as geniuses. Donington in ’87 was a strange day. I beautiful summer had ended the night before and most of that Saturday was cold and very wet. (Not pleasant when wearing converse, Bermuda shorts and a T shirt because Anthrax were playing.) Bon jovi with a beard was a little odd too but by the time they arrived I was warming myself by one of the big bonfires at the back, and wondering if I could find the coach in the now dark car park to take me back to Brighton. Anthrax did play a one off show at the Hammersmith Palais, with Onslaught a mere week or two before they supported Metallica on the Master Of Puppets tour around the corner at the Odeon. It was billed, if I remember correctly, as the Fuck The Fallout Tour.


  2. “They dressed like us. Well, perhaps Anthrax wore more garish shorts than I did.”

    I had the Anthrax shorts!

    Don’t they go great with my jean jacket and Def Leppard patches?

    Anyway I agree with what you said about Anthrax “looking like us” because we didn’t use hairspray like Bon Crue Leppard and everyone else. I thought shorts were cool! It kept me cooler in the summer time, y’know? If rocking on stage is anything like playing air guitar rocking in one’s bedroom, then I have done plenty of research on this. Jeans are too constrictive for serious stage moves. Anthrax shorts were long enough that you didn’t give anyone an unwelcome “show” by accident, and short enough that you could move around on stage…err…your bedroom…at full shred.


  3. Nice piece, thanks!
    Of course, Metallica played Donington in ’85 too – when, strangely enough, Bon Jovi were also on the bill. I have good memories of ’85 and ’87 (not all ‘er publishable!)
    Joel McIver’s good on the rise of thrash (The Truth About Metallica) – in particular in this context the UK ‘Damage Inc’ (Puppets) tour, September ’86, when, he says, “the thrash metal wave revealed its truth strength in Britain.”
    Anyone catch Scott Ian’s Speaking Words tour earlier this year? Very insightful and entertaining! I’m not the world’s biggest thrash fan, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Anthrax, partly for the reasons you outline above.


    • I would have liked to have seen that. Sounds interesting.
      As you say, the more switched on metal fans were into thrash early on. The Metallica / Anthrax tour really helped build momentum. ’87 was the first time that a third of the bill was thrash – and Anthrax in particular were the band of the day on what was a pretty strong bill.
      I had bought albums by both bands before Donington. My friends bought theirs after Donington.


  4. If it’s of interest, there’s more on Scott’s ‘Speaking Words’ tour here:


  5. I was at that Donnington concert and seeing Anthrax and Dio together was the prize for me. WASP were surprisingly good as well. However, I also saw Anthrax at Hammersmith in February 1987 with Metal Church and Crimson Glory and they totally kicked ass.


  6. I have to admit I agree with the criticism quoted above and never “got” thrash metal. I don’t think there is anything to get. I never got into hair/glam/whatever metal either. In fact, the only metal band I listen to are Iron Maiden, though I am seeing 7 metal bands next week (Fates Warning, Divided Multitude and The Omega Experiment on Monday, Master Plan, Mystic Prophecy, Jaded Heart and Siren’s Cry on Wednesday—I’m still on the lookout for good metal).

    Well, I do listen to some 1970s hard rock and there is some debate whether any of those bands crossed the line over to heavy metal. Is there a shibboleth?

    To me, Iron Maiden has much more in common with, say, Wishbone Ash or Rainbow than bands classified as heavy metal.


  7. I went to the Anthrax show and many many more at the Hammersmith Odeon. Even got a signed video of the gig which they filmed that night. Waited months and months for it. In the end I gave it to a french girl I met one drunk night at the Astoria Rock Club night thing!

    I was in the 6th form and my m8 and I would go out of school at break and walk around the block while having a ciggy. We’d argue the toss everyday about who was better Anthrax Or Metallica. I was always into Anthrax.

    We saw Metallica so many times that year. 100 club, Donington, All three nights at hammersmith and we got on coach and went to see them in Hamburg (ended up in a brothel while looking for beer at 2 am).

    Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Megadeth, Exodus, Slayer….. OMG slayer. Went straight from work and had a Purple Ohm LSD blotter on the way to the show. Was tripping balls by the time the lights went down and slayers inverted crosses lit up.

    By the time we saw Slayer, my hair was long, I stank of patchouli oil, my T-shirts were broken in and I really felt at home in the beery smokey old hammersmith odeon. That place was like the british thrash mecca and every gig was a pilgramage.

    Needless to say me an my friends totally ‘got’ thrash. For me it was the first time I really ‘got’ music. I’m sure I could have been a goth or mad for hip-hop but it was and always will be 80’s thrash


    Liked by 1 person

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