Frank Bello: Hungrier than Ever with Anthrax

By Freddy Villano ,

On February 24, while prepping for Anthrax’s For All Kings album-release party and performance the following day at Architekt Music in Butler, New Jersey, Frank Bello was interrupted by a drip. Instead of woodshedding, he was forced to search his house for hours in an attempt to find it. Finally, he looked in the one part of the house he hadn’t been using. “The fireplace was leaking water,” he says, exasperated. “I was up all night trying to take care of it.”

For a time, Anthrax’s career was not unlike that drip: persistent, but somewhat hard to nail down. They’d had massive success in the late ’80s as one of thrash’s Big Four (along with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth), selling over eight million records, and yet came to the surprising conclusion that they needed to replace vocalist Joey Belladonna with Armored Saint frontman John Bush. They made some inspired (though not as commercially successful) albums with Bush in the ’90s, but shifted gears again in the new millennium when they decided to reunite with Belladonna. The lead singer position then became a revolving door between Bush, Belladonna, and little-known Dan Nelson. It seemed like Anthrax couldn’t decide on its identity, and trying to find it was as hard as locating that drip in Bello’s 100-year-old house. It all bottomed out with a 2011 lawsuit from Nelson, who was originally slated to sing on Worship Music (released that same year) but was replaced by Belladonna.

With Worship Music, Anthrax got back on track. It was not only Anthrax’s first full-length record to feature Belladonna since 1990’s Persistence of Time, it was also the band’s first album since 2003. Belladonna was singing better than at any other point in his career, and the band’s playing and songwriting was fierce and focused. Anthrax had rediscovered themselves.

On February 26 of this year, Anthrax released For All Kings, and the question on everyone’s minds was whether or not the band could capitalize on the success of Worship Music. For All Kings surpassed all expectations: Anthemic choruses, behemoth riffs, and monster double-bass drumming abounds, immediately making songs like “Monster at the End,” “Breathing Lightning,” and “Suzerain” modern classics. Bello’s playing is again at the forefront of Anthrax’s aural assault, with standout performances on the tracks “Blood Eagle Wings” and “The Battle Chose Us.” “From all the touring we did [for Worship Music], we went into the studio with that vibe and just left it all on the table,” Bello says. “There’s a fire in the belly of this band, and we are hungrier than ever.”

Was there any pressure to follow up the success of Worship Music?

I don’t think we ever thought that way. The one thing we were really psyched about was that Worship Music put us back on the map. From the Big Four Tour, which was great for Anthrax, we found ourselves again. We got to know each other as songwriters again. We know what Anthrax is now and where we want to go with it. All of the legal bullshit was finally out of the way and we could finally just be a band and jam again. I think that’s what you hear on For All Kings.

How does producer Jay Ruston help you?

Jay’s really easy. I know I’m going to come in and he’s going to get the best, tastiest stuff out of me. He helps me focus. If I go off track, which I tend to do in the studio, he’ll say something like, “Try playing it straight.” And then from playing it that way, something will pop into my head. He’s got a great ear, and he makes the band feel so comfortable. It’s always an open, creative atmosphere, and as a musician, you can’t ask for more than that.

What is your objective with bass lines in Anthrax?

It’s all about the song, not Frank Bello the bass player. I want to help the song and back the vocalist. I want to make sure there’s a good foundation and something that complements the vocals without taking over the song.

It’s amazing how tight you are with the rhythm guitar, and yet you don’t play with a pick.

I’ll be honest, when we were writing the record some of the stuff was a great challenge. I broke my ass to get my speed up. But sometimes, if you’ve got fast, heavy picking, the half-notes are where it’s at—they fatten it up and make the song sound better. That’s another great thing about Jay: He’ll tell me when a part will work better cut it in half. Sometimes it makes the song sound fuller and fatter, instead of trying to meet the speed of the guitar, which sometimes doesn’t sound as tight.

Did you have a practice regime while prepping for your sessions?

I did have a regime — it was called “trying it both ways” [laughs]. If it was a fast picking song, I would get the speed up with my fingers and lock in with the drums. If it’s not working in the studio and Jay suggests cutting it in half, I’ll have something worked out for that, as well. I tried every song a couple of different ways just to be prepared. And I love improvisation, so I’m also always open to Jay’s suggestions.

Did you practice with a metronome or backing tracks?

Both. I like the metronome because it locks me in, but really I just listen to the basic tracks [drums and guitar]. Once I’m locked into that, I’m ready to go.

Did you dial in one sound for the whole record?

We started with a basic sound that I was comfortable with. It has a little sustain so I don’t have to push as hard—I want it to be consistent. Then we adjusted depending upon what each song needed.

Do you use two or three fingers on your right hand?

I use up to three fingers at a time, and that’s because I always thought Steve Harris played with three fingers. When I told him it looks like three fingers, he said, “No, mate, it’s two fingers,” and he showed me. I’ve been watching Geddy Lee a lot lately. He’s playing with one finger now more than ever and making so much more out of it. So I’ve been incorporating that—I play more consistently with one finger for steady grooves. On “The Battle Chose Us,” the BAG ride down into the chorus is one finger. It was steadier that way—it sounded really full and fat.

How did you come up with the intro to “Blood Eagle Wings”?

It’s a tribute to Cliff Burton. We were talking about putting a guitar lead, but I said, “Let me try something.” I had this little distortion/wah riff in my head for the beginning of the song. It’s so Cliff Burton-sounding. Cliff was such an innovative player. Imagine if he were alive what he would be coming out with now—you know it would be the best.

Any parting advice?

It’s important to keep learning instead of thinking that you have it down. You should never lose that hunger.

INFO

LISTEN

With Anthrax (all on Megaforce): For All Kings [2016], Worship Music [2011], Persistence of Time [1990], State of Euphoria [1988], Among the Living [1987], Spreading the Disease [1985]

EQUIP

Basses ESP Frank Bello Signature Bass
Rig Hartke LH1000 heads, Hartke HD15 & HyDrive 810 cabinets
Strings D’Addario EXL 165 Nickel Wound (.045–.105)
Effects Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI, TC Electronic Corona Chorus, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, Hartke VXL Bass Attack Pedal

Accessories TC Electronic PolyTune 2