During a recent appearance on Mitch Joel‘s “Groove – The No Treble Podcast”, ANTHRAX bassist Frank Bello was asked if he and his bandmates knew they had something special when they were working on the music for their classic 1987 album “Among The Living”. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “At that time, this music was on the rise. We just had come out with ‘Spreading The Disease’. [Singer] Joey Belladonna is in the band. We had a great singer, we had great music — things were working. We knew while writing those songs and knowing the singer we had and knowing what we can do, the next step, I think it all came to play. So as we were writing those songs, we knew it was special. I do think we knew it. But you know what? You can never tell the outside world — you don’t know the atmosphere of the outside world, how that’s gonna be taken. You know there is a movement going on, but you don’t know if this record that you have is gonna match what they’re looking for. That is up to chance — for everybody, to be honest. And we had momentum going in for sure, but you don’t know actually how it’s gonna work. And to be honest, all you can do is do your best — put out your best music — you go out there and you tour your fucking ass off. And that’s the program.”
“Among The Living”, originally produced by Eddie Kramer and ANTHRAX, was the band’s third full-length album and featured the lineup of Bello, Belladonna, lead guitarist Dan Spitz, rhythm guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante. Building on an underground following with signature tracks such as “I Am The Law”, “Caught In A Mosh” and “Indians”, the album catapulted ANTHRAX to widespread recognition and earned the group’s first gold award. “Among The Living” also marked the height of the band’s use of horror and comic book inspirations, with the title track and album cover image based on the Stephen King novel “The Stand”, “A Skeleton In The Closet” on King‘s novella “Apt Pupil”, and “I Am The Law” on the comic book character Judge Dredd.
Despite the fact that “Among The Living” was ANTHRAX‘s third album (following 1984’s “Fistful Of Metal” and 1985’s “Spreading The Disease”), Ian told Metal Hammer in a 2017 interview that the band wasn’t being forced by the record company at the time to make any big commercial breakthrough. “We were under no pressure at all,” he said. “We had no time limit for writing or recording. The way we worked back then, when there were enough songs for an album, then we’d go in and do it. We never wrote more than was necessary. In a way, I now regret that situation. We were on such a roll that perhaps someone should have persuaded us to carry on writing. Who knows what else may have come out? When you’re in that zone, there’s a lot to be said for staying in. I’m not criticizing what’s on ‘Among The Living’, but we may have benefited from being a little less hasty in finishing up the writing side.”
Regarding the recording process for “Among The Living”, Scott said: “We had just come off the METALLICA tour in the fall of ’86 when [METALLICA bassist] Cliff Burton was killed, and we had come off that tour obviously early because of the tragedy. And that’s when we started recording that record, pretty much right after that. I feel like the energy just really jumps off that record; you fucking hear how pissed off we are playing our instruments on that record. There’s a brutality on that album that you don’t hear on the two records before ‘Among The Living’. It was just the record of its time; it really was.”
When ANTHRAX‘s “Among The Living” full-album performance at the 2014 edition of the Sonisphere festival was first announced, Ian said: “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away (1986, New York City) we wrote a record that at the time, we had no idea would become our ‘signature’ record. We had a song about the plight of the American Indian, we had songs about Stephen King characters (Randall Flagg from ‘The Stand’ and Todd Bowden from ‘Apt Pupil’), we had a song dedicated to Cliff Burton and another about John Belushi‘s clichéd death. We had a song about Judge fucking Dredd and we had a song called ‘Caught In A Mosh’. We had songs.’
He continued: “When ‘Among The Living’ punched the world in the face in 1987, it launched ANTHRAX into a high-speed trajectory that we could barely keep up with. Like going from 0-200 kph in 5 seconds flat. Our heads were spinning as fast as they were banging, and [nearly 35] years later, nothing has changed.”