If there’s one thing metal fans know about Charlie Benante, it’s that he works his ass off. Not only does the drummer play in thrash pioneers Anthrax, he’s also a dedicated artist and designer who does tons to help the rock and metal community progress beyond the mosh. So when COVID-19 grounded the entire world and canceled all touring plans, it brought Charlie down — and forced him to find a new outlet for his tireless work ethic.
“I was just getting really fucking depressed about things,” says Benante. “Because at the time, we weren’t getting any answers. None of us knew what was going to happen. Was this going to go on for six to eight weeks? How long was this going to go? I just started getting really depressed and going to a dark place. And my girlfriend Carla [Harvey, singer for Butcher Babies] said to me, ‘You need to stop. You need to shut this stuff off, because it’s really consuming you, and it’s not good.’ So I started being creative again, and that’s how it all started.”
The result is Silver Linings, a collection of covers by Benante and a considerable list of friends, whose other bands include Testament, Death Angel, Skid Row, Rob Zombie, Turbonegro, and more. But Silver Linings isn’t just a metal tribute album — while KISS and Iron Maiden songs are included in the album’s tracklisting, it’s the tracks by U2, Run DMC, Massive Attack, and even Billie Eilish that’ll have non-metal fans interested and thrashers wondering if they actually ought to branch out a little more. This makes sense, given that the concept for the cover series really emerged with the passing of one of Charlie’s not-quite-metal heroes.
“[Rush drummer] Neil Peart had passed away, and it affected me in a big way,” recounts Benante. “Maybe people who are big sports fans have these heroes, a Babe Ruth or a Hank Aaron or whoever, and when they pass away it just hits them hard — this to me was like that. This was my hero. That was the first song I wanted to do was a Rush song. So I called up [Testament guitarist] Alex Skolnick, and I called up [Suicidal Tendencies bassist] Ra [Diaz], and we did a little Rush jam on a song called ‘YYZ,’ and that’s how it started. It just took on a life of its own. The comments I would read from people were just so happy, and it really made their day. That made me SO happy. And then it just snowballed, and it went on and on. I couldn’t go out and play, but I could do it in my home, and other people could too,”
Were there ever plans for the cover jams to become a studio album?
I didn’t have any preconceived notion of where it was going to go — I was just doing it to help myself. And maybe help some of my friends, too, who were in the same boat as I was, sitting at home with all these instruments and thinking, ‘Well, what are we gonna do with these things?’ I was doing these little drum videos, and it was as if I was back to the days of coming home from school and going into my room and just playing.
That’s interesting, to pursue something that’s therapeutic and not career-oriented in these difficult times.
It was totally organic, the way it all happened. And people kept writing me and asked if I was going to put this out ever, and I would always say, ‘No, I’m not, this is just this for this.’ And it got to the point where I was like, Okay, I’ll put them all out on one thing!
It’s cool to hear these heavy metal legends performing less heavy rock songs. Was that always the plan, to straddle genres that way?
I wanted to do songs that I love, and I didn’t care if they were metal. I just wanted to do it. And maybe I did push some people out of their comfort zones, but I think the reward was the thing that happened after they did it. It was like, Fuck, I could do that! And if it did anything, too, it’s that it showed other artists that they can take chances — like, Whoa, did you see what they just did? But I’ll always stress that it’s the attention to detail to the song that makes it important to me. We were really meticulous in the sound of the instruments — I didn’t want to just plug in and go for it. I really wanted it to sound authentic.
Was there a song or performance on a song that you feel really captures that?
There were quite a few of them! I’d listen to a mixes of a song, I’d have to listen to it three times because I was amazed that, oh my God, this actually DID happen, and it DOES sound real and authentic! The Massive Attack song, “Teardrop”, was definitely the one for me that was out of my comfort zone. I pushed Carla really hard on that one, and I pushed the sounds on that — they’re not sounds I’d normally use in an Anthrax song. So there are a ton of textures to it. I just needed to create that vibe they created, but put my own little umph on it. With the U2 song, I wanted it to be really authentic and sound like them, so I really went down that rabbit hole of guitar effects and how the Edge does it. Because it’s not just one delay, it’s two delays going on, and you have to play that dotted 8th note, that ping pongy effect. It was really difficult.
The U2 track was the one that really got me. I was listening to the vocals wondering who it was, and then I checked the tracklisting and holy crap, it’s Mark Osegueda from Death Angel!
Yup, and I always heard this quality in Mark’s voice. And Frank [Bello] from Anthrax — I knew both of them together would be able to pull it off. I mean, first of all, all three of us are big U2 fans, but the quality and the tones I knew would work. So that’s why the three of us did it. It came out better than I thought.
At what point did it become an album?
I just kept getting people asking for it, asking for it, they wanted it, they wanted it as a vinyl or digital download. Then I approached our record company about it and they said, Great, let’s do it. Brian [Ewing] helped with the cover art for it, and like I said, it was just all organic. I know people were asking, How come the Rush songs aren’t on this? They were never intended for this, they were always going to be a separate thing I put out later on, which will come out for Record Store Day in November.
The cover art is very cool — it incorporates everyone on the album without overdoing it, and keeping you front and center.
I wanted to blow up everybody as much as possible. But one of the key things I told him is, ‘I don’t want the word COVID to appear anywhere on this.’ I did want to use the colors of that — the red and they greyish silver. But it’s a negative, you know? I don’t know if we’re ever going to get out of this fucking thing — people are looking for normalcy…We’re being vaccinated in this country that is a great thing…I feel like 2021 is definitely a much smarter year. I feel like things are getting done.
Would you continue the cover series even after the pandemic is over?
As long as people enjoy it, and as long as we’re enjoying doing it, I don’t see it stopping. I mean, yeah, we all may be a little busier with our day jobs, but if we can find time, we can get together and do one of these.
Charlie Benante’s Silver Linings comes out May 14th, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin