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IT’S OFFICIAL: JOEY BELLADONNA IS BACK IN ANTHRAX

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Well, this was some shitty news to get first thing in the morning.

Just last week we heard rumors that Anthrax was swapping out John Bush for Joey Belladonna again – and now those rumors are fact. Belladonna will play the “Big Four” shows Sonisphere Festival shows and a handful of other gigs with the band starting next month; immediately thereafter, according to the official press release, “the band will fly back to the U.S. and begin writing and rehearsing for a new album that’s expected to be out in early 2011.”

(And in case you’re wondering, Dan Spitz isn’t returning to the fold, because I guess he’s too busy changing the face of music forever with his revolutionary new project, DeuxMonkey. So, at least for now, Rob Caggiano’s job is safe.)

I hate just cutting and pasting press releases, but for the sake of us all having the same amount of information before I start my little rant, I’m going to re-print a portion of said release after the jump. My holier-than-thou ramblings will follow.

“We’ve got an unusual luxury of hindsight,” added [Scott] Ian.  “We finished an album a year ago, we’ve lived with those 12 songs since then, and we can look back on them and see what we really love and what we can make even better, especially with Joey back in the fold.”

Added [Charlie] Benante, “There are five or six songs from a year ago that we don’t want to change, we love them the way they are, other than having Joey making them his own with his vocals.  Then there’s another five or six that we may want to rework, and then there are a bunch of other tunes that are still in the early stages, that we want to finish.”

Then there’s some bullshit about good Joey’s penis tastes, and then there’s finally some mention of John Bush:

“John was a real stand up guy about the situation,” said Ian, about John Bush, Anthrax’s vocalist from ’92 – ’05.  “He knew we wanted to move forward at full speed, that we needed a total commitment to Anthrax, and he knew that wasn’t what he wanted.  We certainly wish John well.  We’ve had so many great times with him, and we appreciate his stepping in last summer at the last minute, and performing with us since then.  He will always be an integral part of the Anthrax family.”

Alright, so first I’d like to do some reckless speculating with regards to why it didn’t work out John Bush.

There have been some rumors that Bush didn’t wanna tour anymore; I have no idea if that’s true or not. When I interviewed Bush in March, I asked him about touring with Armored Saint, and he made it pretty clear that that wasn’t gonna happen, telling me that “The idea of doing shows, although it’s something I want to do, I also want to do it on my terms… we spent many a show playing to forty fans and various bartenders and cocktail waitresses and club owners and opening bands and their crew… I don’t want to do that again, quite frankly. Whatever show it is, it can’t be a club.” But that would be an Armored Saint-specific problem; Anthrax haven’t had to play a club in years. (The smallest venue I’ve ever seen them play with Bush was Irving Plaza during the We’ve Come for You All tour, and that venue is way bigger than a club. And the show was sold-out.) But he also said that “At this stage in my life, I couldn’t see myself going to Europe for four months in a row.” That could have impeded on Anthrax’s touring plans, I suppose – although their current itinerary really only would have required him to be in Europe for less than two weeks in June and a little more than a week at the end of July/beginning of August.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Bush really didn’t wanna tour anymore. That would probably be a very serious problem for Anthrax, especially if they’re gonna release a new record sometime this decade. And then what choice would they have but to hire back Belladonna? They can’t move forward with Bush, they parted with Dan Nelson on less-than-amicable terms, they’re obviously not gonna reunite with Neil Turbin, and getting yet another new lead singer would push them even further into self-parody. So if Bush walked in one day and said, “Hey, I don’t wanna tour,” I could see how the band was basically painted into a corner with no way out but to make amends with their old foofy-haired friend.

There’s also the possible issue of Worship Music; we know for a fact that the concept of having Bush re-record Nelson’s vocals was a source of tension in the band. Again, I refer to my interview with Bush – when I asked him about re-recording Nelson’s parts from that album, he told me, “That is what they want to do, and it’s been a conflict for me, to be quite frank, simply because I kind of felt like I wasn’t part of the creation of it. On all the other Anthrax records, I was part of it when it happened. I just wasn’t involved in this, and it’s something that they’ve already actually completed. I haven’t disregarded it completely, and I know it’s important to them.” That strikes me as a pretty reasonable position – he was basically saying he didn’t wanna be just a session vocalist – but if the band was really so anxious to get something out that they just wanted Bush to shut up and sing, well… it seems like he wasn’t interested, and, clearly, if Belladonna is gonna record as many as six songs exactly the way Nelsonthrax wrote them, he doesn’t have any such qualms.

Of course, we don’t know for sure what happened, and given all the strangeness that seems to be a regular staple of recent Anthrax lore, we may never know the actual story (we still can’t get a straight answer as to whether Dan Nelson quit or was fired from the group). But forget Belladonna’s return possibly being an artistic step backwards for Anthrax; even if they really had no choice but to re-hire Belladonna or disband, well… that doesn’t mean that re-hiring Belladonna was the right choice.

Let me put it another way: John Bush was clearly the band’s first choice, right? They never had to part way with Belladonna in the first place; the decision to re-ditch him after the reunion tour was theirs and theirs alone. If what they wanted to do was make a new record with Belladonna, well, we could have had two of those by now. But they didn’t want that. Even hiring Dan Nelson was a last resort – at that point, Bush wasn’t willing to return to the fold, since he apparently felt disrespected by the Belladonna reunion (and rightfully so). So even in the face of not being able to get Bush back, Belladonna wasn’t the band’s second choice – hiring a dude from Long Island that no one had ever heard of was.

So how can we view getting Belladonna back now as anything other than an act of desperation? And, as an Anthrax fan, how can an act of desperation ever really be good for the band? I want new Anthrax music and more Anthrax tours, but not “just because” – in other words, if the choices were “call it a day because we can’t do what’s best for the band artistically-speaking” or “just do whatever we need to in order to keep going because appearances on VH1 only pay so much,” well… I dunno. That’s a decision that every Anthrax fan has to make for him or herself.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to hear the new Bellanthrax album whenever it ends up coming out (and if the band swaps out singers at least five more times, no one should be shocked), but I’d also be lying if I said I was dying to hear it. This move strikes me as the straw that breaks the Anthrax camel’s back, at least in terms of being taken seriously. We’re in Kiss territory now.

-AR

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