An Interview with Drummer Charlie Benante of
David Lee Beowülf
The Stormtroopers of Death, better known as S.O.D., the enfant terrible spewed from the loins of Anthrax, M.O.D., and Nuclear Assault, Brutal Truth, Hemlock, Crab Society, et al. are back on the scene pounding heads and spelling mosh with a capitol “M” – as in Can you do the Milano mosh? – that being a reference to vocalist Billy Milano, a man who any sane country would elect dictator for life. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
S.O.D. is back in the news because they have a new DVD out this month, a DVD-only reissue of Speak English or Die Live, the video also known as “Live At Budokan,” the infamous New York City reunion of the band after a seven year hiatus. (I should mention that during those seven years, Anthrax released four albums, M.O.D. two, Nuclear Assault two, Brutal Truth had one, and the lines of division in the world of metal were clear). This show, though, was a landmark for metal for several reasons. The first being that S.O.D., a side project, a goof, with their only album, Speak English or Die, turned the music world – OK the metal world, at the time – on its head and held the weapon at the shotgun marriage of hardcore and metal. With their album, recorded in three days and with an average song length of just over 90 seconds, S.O.D. had not only raised the bar in metal/hardcore, but they’d set a standard than could not be reached. Many would try – and make excellent speed metal or hardcore or both – but there would only be one S.O.D., for all time. If you didn’t bang your head prior to hearing this, you would after…
Now look, David Lee Beowulf has been a fan of S.O.D. for many years now, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone that the dulcet tones of S.O.D. – I’m partial to the songs “Milk,” “Freddy Kreuger,” and “United Forces” – are going through my head non-stop. Actually, that’s not true: “The March of the S.O.D.” is running through my head non-stop. So there’s got to be more.
And there is. My pal Jeremy Wernow attended the 1992 “Live At Budokan” show – I was in Florida and missed it – and bought me a shirt. Hey! The show was on my birthday, waaaaa! Shirt was good enough, I guess. I would also take the consolation prize, that being the videotape of the entire event, which included some fascinating footage circa 1985 and a bunch of contemporary interviews with the band. Still, I wish I’d have seen ‘em.
Then came the news that S.O.D. reunited in 1997 and played a gig in Germany with Manowar! Holy cow! Not only that, but I remember reading that the band took the stage on minibikes as an homage(?) to Manowar, the Kings of Metal… BOY, I SURE WISH I WAS ONE OF THEM DOT-COM MILLIONAIRES SO I COULD HOP ON A PLANE… Darn, I’ll just have to read about it…
Dude, the entire German show is on the DVD!!!
Add to that some amazing interview footage circa 1999-2000 and you’ve got a devastating package. Add this to their 1999 album Bigger Than the Devil and the follow-up video. Their music is heavier beyond heavy, pushed the state of the art… Kill Yourself: the Movie AND a surprise (for me) gig they played at CBGB’s (I made it to that one and kicked ass!) and there’s the complete David Lee Beowulf package.
You know what? That’s not it yet.
On a technical note, while the Live at Budokan DVD is a professional job, the footage is mostly taken from bootleg videos and the sound is right off the board. What that means is that you get a bootleg S.O.D. experience. Which really is the way a “behind-the-scenes” is supposed to be like. Scott Ian’s commentary over the Ritz show is incredibly revealing. First of all, it sounds like he’s in the room with you watching the video, which, in essence, he is. He talks all the way through it, except for a couple of moments when he “…lets that riff speak for itself…” He insights on why the band is what it is, does what it does, stories of people you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be fans (Eddie Vedder), and how gay his ponytail was are more than worth the price of the disk, wait, I’ve said that already… What are you doing, stoopid, GO OUT AND GET THE DVD!
Wait! Come back! I have this interview with Charlie!
This interview with S.O.D. and Anthrax drummer (and sometime guitar god) Charlie Benante took some serious wrangling, it was touch and go until finally my lunch hour gibed with his. He called me from his palatial S.O.D./Anthrax studios (which one may see in the video – during tracking and practice sessions that are included as DVD “extras”).
Hi, this is David Lee Beowulf, S.O.D. fan and semi-professional Angry Viking.
Hey, this is Charlie from S.O.D.
From what I understand, you do a lot of writing and you take breaks right around now…
Actually, I’ve been having a series of insomnia attacks and I can’t go to sleep. I try to go to sleep at 5:30 in the morning and wake up at ten. Then I’m in the studio all day. My mind is just going.
You, of course, put that all to music.
Are you writing SOD songs or Anthrax songs?
I’m writing Anthrax songs.
Excellent, the world needs another Anthrax album to kicks its ass… Anyway, so was there any reason why you decided to forgo a widescreen, international, nationwide big screen theatrical release instead of “just” a DVD?
I think it’s pretty obvious… I think it’s enough to take on the small screen, let alone a 50-ft screen.
By chance I caught the S.O.D. Show at CBGB’s on 10 Nov 2000. What’s your take on all the kids – what, they had to be no older than fifteen – jumping on stage and singing along? They knew the lyrics, too.
As far as kids coming on stage, I’m used to it. But again, you have to understand the S.O.D. thing, some of these kids, their older brother’s probably had the records, which was passed down to them, so the chance to see S.O.D. perform those songs…
…I’m tracking, I’d get grounded, but it would be worth it to sneak out of the house to see you perform songs that, that… They speak volumes, like “Free Dirty Needles” off Bigger than the Devil. Thusly, what’s on the DVD?
The whole 1992 show is on it, the [Live At Budokan] video has been out of print for a long time, and now everything is out on DVD. I don’t know how many S.O.D. fans have DVD players, but we figured since we already put out a DVD, we’d re-release the Live At Budokan on DVD with a lot of additional footage and behind the scenes stuff. It’s like a complement to the last DVD. This one isn’t as erratic as the last one, which was all over the place. It’s pretty much the show. It’s good to see…
But the fucked up part about it is, I’ll tell you the truth, that show at the Budokan I made like two or three mistakes during the show and I can’t even watch it any more! I’m so embarrassed at the STUPID mistakes I made. But it was also because of technical problems, monitor problems, I couldn’t hear. The way it sounded, everything was bouncing all over the place. I still shouldn’t have made those mistakes.
I find it amazing that you couldn’t hear at an SOD show. I’m surprised.
Well, just like a fine leather jacket, there will be small imperfections in the material. That’s how you know it’s real.
We’re not machines that just play.
Really? You’re able to crank out the hardcore marching anthems without being machines? That’s amazing!
I would expect no less!
S.O.D. Is rather elusive, which I understand is one of its strengths, that is, you’ve released two albums in sixteen years and performed on stage only every, what it is, nine years? What’s the future, support wise? Will there be any secret performances?
We just played a show two weeks ago in San Francisco for the Chuck Billy benefit. We just popped up and did that. Who knows? To me, I wanted S.O.D. to go back now to being what it is, get back the mystique that was missing while we did this stuff, like touring.
Have you had any “problems” with songs or album titles like Speak English or Die or Bigger Than the Devil?
None? Is that good or bad?
We’re not big enough to have problems.
What about Anthrax? They’re big enough to have problems, no?
Occasionally. It’s like I said, we’re not big enough to have problems. The thing about having problems is, most times, when you hear controversy, the people have sparked controversy to get publicity. Like Marilyn Manson, these people need the publicity to keep them in the public eye, they don’t sell many records anymore…
Speak English or Die!, on the other hand, is selling like hotcakes. I heard it went Gold, right?
It went platinum!
And with no controversy?!
There was some with that record.
I can’t understand why…
When we put that record out we did hardly anything to promote it, but at the time, Anthrax was pretty much blowing up. I remember a show Anthrax played in Seattle, we were playing in Tacoma, a big place, there were these three guys handing out pamphlets about S.O.D. being racist and I just couldn’t believe it! And I was like “shit, this is crazy!” Nothing like that ever happened, and in a sense I was like “whoo-hoo!” but then again, “fuck, this is stupid.” The thing about a lot of people is that they just don’t get the joke. I watched Politically Incorrect last night on racism. Comedian Sarah Silverman made a comment about getting off jury duty, saying “I love chinks” vs. “I don’t like chinks” and man, the Chinese-American organizations went off on her! One thing about racism, I feel that if you’re going to make the joke about yourself, fine. But, we’re a little different than the blacks or Chinese, we don’t have to worry about that, we have other problems…
Well, how many Jewish-Italian hardcore bands are there out there?
Probably tons! Again, Bill Maher was saying that our society is not the same as it was, like the “N” word is co-opted but it’s in the context that you say it. There’s no need for white people to use that word in any form. On the other hand, I think, it’s just a word, words don’t kill, but you know, they do hurt.
Does S.O.D. at least have supportive feedback from the military?
We get a lot from Anthrax. Especially in 1990, when we went over to the Gulf War. A lot of guys wrote letters saying “…I had two tapes…” one would be Speak English or Die or an Anthrax tape. When you’re in that environment, and you are an American, I’m sure that album is going to do wonders for you… It’s going to pump you up and want to do what you’re out there to…
Complete the mission?
Complete the mission! Put the headphones on and go kill somebody!
For some reason, the song “King at the King” from Bigger Than the Devil just popped into my head. [For those of you who don’t know, it’s what King Diamond would sound like ordering food from Burger King.]
Probably one of my favorite songs!
Who’s singing? King Diamond for real?
Was the song sanctioned by King Diamond?
That was just an inside joke about when King Diamond goes to Burger King. I love Mercyful Fate, I think that are one of those bands that were light years ahead of themselves. Believe me, I can’t go on about them, the thing about King Diamond is that no one really gets him. I get it. King Diamond could’ve been in The Beach Boys. His range is just unbelievable. Sometimes I think he is in The Beach Boys when he goes from these highs and then to the lows.
The Brian Wilson of thrash metal? Maybe he is Brian Wilson?
He might be… King was one of the first, after Kiss, to wear the paint, now all these crazy death metal bands are wearing the “corpse paint.” It’s hilarious. But he’s the King…
Now Scott, on the last video, discusses mosh pits, and says, “what could be gayer than a mosh pit? It’s a whole bunch of sweaty men without their shirts, bumping into each other…” Is he gay?
I just wanted to clarify that. Do you have a lot of gay fans?
I don’t know.
Do you think that he’s right in saying that heavy metal is a gay men’s music?
Well, I don’t… um… I have to clarify… I think what he meant was that it can be… I don’t know, um… I guess it could be true that… I mean, the moshpit, for a while now, a long time, has been pretty much a contact sport. Yeah, kids go in there with no shirts on bumping into each other, but I think the last thing on their minds is “ooooh, I’m going to bump into another guy…”
No. I think most gay men would probably not want to be in a mosh pit.
It’s shown on the new DVD, S.O.D.’s minibike ride onto the stage in Germany, when you played with Manowar. Scott also gets into a Manowar thing on the Kill Yourself: The Movie video. What’s the Manowar-S.O.D. connection?
That’s funny, that other question, now Manowar.
The reason I ask is because I needed to say “Death to False Metal.” And I wanted to talk about “death to false metal” and S.O.D. and Manowar.
“Death to False Metal” can mean so much. I would say that encompasses everything, from Corporate Rock. which is running rampant out there now… Everything from Limp Bizkit/Korn – that, to me, is false metal.
Do you think, though, that they listen to/listened to Anthrax back when they were “kids”? To me, I can totally understand what they’re doing, but how come they don’t have the guitars?
They have no riffs. But it’s not about a riff. It’s the formula created by Nirvana. Which is the soft/hard/soft/hard formula where you sing the mellow verse then KICK it in with the chorus. Nine Inch Nails kind of took that from Nirvana, then it when on from there then Korn took it. As soon as Korn broke, everybody decided that they were tuning down and getting rid of the guitar guys. It just kind of muddied it up a bit. Now everybody’s stuck in the same riff and…
…There’s money to be made in it…
Yeah, but there’s no originality in it and they have no one to look up to for guitar players any more. When I go to a guitar store and I see these magazines and I see these people on the cover who really are not very good guitar players or musicians – it’s a popularity contest anyway… The other day I was talking to another musician who said, “man, I’m just sick of everything, where are the guitar players?” and all I could tell him was “I don’t know.” There’s some, but in this culture, are guitar players all that welcome?
I’ve been listening mostly to the metal coming out of Europe over the last few years.
Me too! My favorite record right now, I would have to say, is the new Dimmu Borgir record. It’s fucking brutal, but the songs are good. Really good songs, and the riffs – yeah, maybe I’ve heard a riff or two before, but it’s different, and to me, that band is taking more chances than these American bands who are not taking chances. The only thing they’re doing is running to Hot Topic to get something to wear… And I would give those bands over there a little more credit. I mean, yeah, the whole imagery makes me laugh…
But there is the excellent musicianship…
Right, these guys are still aspiring to be better, to write better songs. If a band’s going to have a seven-minute song, you’d better keep my attention – and they do.
Anthrax has a reputation of being into the bands they play with, too.
Yeah, I’m a fan of music. Depending on the bill, I would probably go check out the band. We used to do that so much with Anthrax. We used to take bands who had no exposure out with us. We took King’s X – because that band was one of the best I heard in the 1980s – out with us on tours with us. Same with Life of Agony. We took them out, the Deftones, on their first tour, Living Colour…
There was a lot of respect for Anthrax for doing that…
There’s no more of that! Lemme tell you something about being in this business and about being in Anthrax: no one ever has given us a break.
Maybe S.O.D. should kick everyone’s ass!
Word has it Anthrax will be on tour for much of the fall through the next year! M.O.D. is making the rounds, too! Keep your eyes peeled, and in the meantime, get the whole S.O.D. DVD collection and become a man! ◼