Chatting with some friends last weekend I realised I have never been to so many heavy metal shows as this year. The nice bit of having a blog and not a music magazine is that I can post pictures of the band and talk about me more than Anthrax.

I have never been attracted to hard and heavy rock music in my life. Even in my teens I didn’t go beyond classic rockers as Led Zep or Deep Purple with few crossover exceptions as Living Colours, Primus or Rage Against The Machine. Never been a fan of any the New Wave of British Heavy Metal it took me a long time to realise NWOBHM wasn’t a swear word. Even less any genre down the iron path, as thrash or death or black. I had my extreme listenings but they touched other extremes as hardcore, grindcore and some avant-garde.

Now that I am approaching my teenage for the third time, I feel a bit grown up to start head-banging, tattooing and wearing an upside down cross as a necklace.

On the contrary, I have always been interested to the iconography of metal music, especially in the most radicals of its sub-genres.

Yes, I know. Metal is a religion, either you have it or not, Metal is god or God’s of Metal… whatever. Headbangers are going to hate me, but this is exactly why I don’t care. Perhaps I am too control freak to let anything or anyone, it goes without saying a God of whatever origin, dictating my life.

I want to know everything but I don’t want to belong to anything. That could be my motto.

That’s why you have, in this blog 200+ bands spanning any music genre from Amanda Palmer to Anthrax, from Honeyboy Edwards to Tinariwen ; Refused, Jack White and Fleet Foxes.

The reason why I am covering metal bands, isn’t for completeness or to gather some more traffic (even if… there are legions of Metal fans compared to indie). It is because concert-photography-wise metal concerts are lot of fun and the best to shoot.

The metal iconography, on stage, transforms into symbols, theatrical poses, weird guitars, huge drumkit, unique body language, jumps, leather clothes, tattoos, epic hairs and beards.
Everything is a film script. You feel like being on a set.

What I know about Anthrax is very short, I am not going to copy Wikipedia so I’ll just put down few bits in case the fans of Kurt Vile to end up here are curious. And I will tell what I think of the show and how to best photograph this, in the tip at the bottom, as tradition.

Anthrax are one of the big four bands of thrash metal (I don’t even know why thrash has a second H in the word). I remember their name since the eighties. They are usually put together with Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. Known as the Big Four, Metallica managed to put them together in a recent tour.

After the first 20 years gaining consensus in the metal circuit, Anthrax got to universal fame at the beginning of the century. Not because they made a landmark mainstream album (that was Metallica) but because some landmark idiot, that has still to be spotted, made them famous. Rewind.

Remember 9/11 and the Twin Towers? OK.
Not everyone remembers that, a week after that, some letters containing anthrax powder, a lethal bacterium, were sent around the United States.

Five were killed and about 20 infected. The letters in addition to the power contained insults to USA and Israel and praised Allah. The world thought it was a bacteriological attack by some Arab terrorism. It wasn’t.
It was (probably) an American microbiologist, Bruce Edwards Ivins. One of the few people in the world to have access to the deadly microorganism. He committed suicide in 2008 and It is still not clear if and what and why he did.

The consequence, in a period of high tension and paranoia, was obvious. Anyone in the USA and the world started googling to know more about the biology of the disease.
Instead they ended up in the website of this thrash metal band.
Anthrax (the band) got the spotlight and, nicely, to relieve the frustration of the failed browsing, provided with full info about anthrax (the bacteria) on their website. A success.

Those time Anthrax were, as the USA, through the Bush era. Their singer was John Bush, their president George. They’re not relatives.

For most rock bands to change singer in a original line-up is very difficult and often impossible. Usually when a singer departs, or it is not available, the band split. Led Zeppelin, Doors, Nirvana, U2 or the Stones wouldn’t exist without their original singers.

For some reason many Heavy Metal bands managed to survive the change of the singer.
ACDC lived through Bon Scott, Van Halen managed to shift between Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth many times, Iron Maiden changed at least three vocalist around Bruce Dickinson career and so on.
It may be because of a more marginal role of vocals and vocalist in the genre. You teach me.

Anthrax are not exception. They started with Joey Belladonna in the eighties and become pioneers of thrash metal. Metallica started recording at their studios.
In 1991 Anthrax recorded also one of the most interesting crossover experiment going those years. An album with hip-hop giants, Public Enemy: Bring The Noise.

Belladonna was fired shortly after and replaced by John Bush. Bush since alternated with Belladonna several times in recent years, with someone else filling the empty gaps.

Last year the news that Joey Belladonna would re-join Anthrax for the third time. They recorded a new album, Worship Music, the first with new material in 8 years, and the first with Belladonna on vocals for more than 20. A tour with the original line-up (or someway close to that) followed.

After seeing Slayer at the ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror in London performing Reign in Blood in full, I wanted to catch Anthrax live (and maybe the other 2 in the future?). My chance arrived when I read they were going to open for Motorhead tour in UK. With a Cambridge date things are easier to organise and my photopass chase began and finished successfully.

I loved this show. Not only enjoyed the three songs to take pictures, but all the other songs they played. Maybe I am getting more used to this music. I found Anthrax more approachable than what I remember of Slayer. To make it clear I don’t own any of these albums and would never listen to it at home. It’s based merely on my live experience.

I can’t tell you what or why it caught me, surely I found the aggressive approach of the genre more approachable.

I am an indie-music freak, the reason why I don’t sympathise with these bands has to do with the perception of a lack of spontaneity. The point one of the indie-music manifesto.
I see show-off, circus, theatre, entertainment that goes well beyond the music and become a key part of the whole. I know some of you would say there is not poseur attitude, others argue that there is nothing wrong to show-off, but it’s too much for me.
It probably doesn’t reach the narcissistic limits of glam metal, like The Kiss or The Darkness yetI see on stage someone performing a piece.
“They don’t talk about me or my life” Morrissey would sing.

I have the feeling they don’t even talk about the life of the ones in adoration in front of them. People that, one tattoo after the other, identify with this culture and its idols.

There is nothing wrong with it, let’s be clear, it’s just I am not interested of being part but curious to understand who is part of it. It is also a way to get ready to Neurosis, which I will have been witnessing, again, in a couple of weeks and you will have here on liveon35mm next, to close this trilogy about metal.

Anthrax are on the web and you can have a look at their rich website that, since 2001, is back to have plenty of band info. A gold mine to discover here: [website]
In the last 30 years, they also recruited their own Army that you can join at [Anthrax Army] present also on [twitter] and [facebook]

Photo tip

“In the heavy metal subculture, some critics use the term to describe bands that are seen as excessively commercial, such as MTV-friendly glam metal groups. Jeffrey Arnett argues that the heavy metal subculture classifies members two categories: “acceptance as an authentic metalhead or rejection as a fake, a poseur”. In a 1993 profile of heavy metal fans’ “subculture of alienation”, the author notes that the scene classified some members as poseurs, that is, heavy metal performers or fans who pretended to be part of the subculture but who were deemed to lack authenticity and sincerity.” (source Wiki)

I am not sure there are indeed two categories, if there is a “looking authentic” heavy metal band on stage I still have to see that show.
I met plenty of musicians that are proper actors, very rarely actress, on stage.

The only problem to get good shots at concerts where musicians have such a stage presence is to find your way through the photo pit.
Once you are there with a proper photopass, even with a basic concert photography experience, it is going to be an easy one. You cannot imagine (unless you experienced) how easier is to shoot a band like Anthrax compared to someone like, say, Band of Horses or Josh T Pearson.

The difference from having 4 guys standing still in front of a microphone in the darkness or having 4 guys jumping all around with daylights it’s like shooting a boring landscape at midday in summer or a japanese cherry orchard on a bright sunset during the blossom.
Guitarists are the easiest, because they often assume a precise pose, they don’t hide behind microphones and play close to the edge of the stage.
They often stand posing for photographers while playing, without moving much. If this is the case the tips to the best photos are simple.

Mount a wideangle. It’s probably my stile but the closer you are the more extreme is the perspective. The tilted image (assuming the stage is elevated) automatically comes out with a triangular composition which guarantees a sensation of grandeur with wow-effect results. Kneel down to emphasize the result. Choose a date of the tour in the smallest venue with the smallest stage. The closer the better (and easier to get access).

Check the background. I am convinced that a good shot is half due to a non-invasive background. Better neutral than confusing. Best with a symbol or a band name but, if you have it, be careful to not cut it. It’s not nice to read three letter of a name or a cut logo, unless is very famous and recognizable.

Focus on the face and use a fast shutter speed. You want it as sharp as possible. Ignore the high ISO. This days is far better a sharp image at 6400 that a blurred at 640.
If the musician doesn’t move and you’re using a very wide angle (less than 24mm) you can get nice image already at 1/60s of a sec but if the lights allow to push to 1/125 or even 1/250 is better. I tend to leave the aperture at 2.8. From a short distance it is not big the difference from 2.8 and 4 or 5.6 rather is more noticeable the difference between 1/60s and 1/250s

Etiquette tip.
To get very close to a musician will keep other photographers away from the best spot. If you are, as it is 99% of times, not alone in the photo pit, let also other fellow snappers some time to shoot. You can cover something or someone else. You’re not going to be a better photographer than the rest if you keep competition away, you’re just being rude and, tell you, we’ll remember you next time. We are many but not that many.

Time in the pit is not short only for you, it is short for everyone. Alternate and let other take their photographs as much as you want to take them.

~ by Valerio on December 4, 2012.

2 Responses to “Anthrax”

  1. once again an excellent review, esp the last bit about rotating position…this can be an issue at times w/ certain photographers.

    good to see you are getting the metal bug…make plans for 2014 Roadburn :D

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