Monday 12 July 2021

Charlie Benante - Silver Linings (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 May 2021
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Those of you who recognise Charlie Benante's name—and I hope that's most of you, given his 38 years and counting as the drummer for Anthrax—will probably be surprised by what's on this, his debut solo album. Sure, it's not surprising that each song was recorded virtually during the COVID pandemic and released initially online as videos, called Quarantine Jams, because everyone and their dog was doing that. However, even with other thrash luminaries joining in, there's nothing remotely thrash here. It's clearly Benante exploring musical territory that he wouldn't be able to explore with Anthrax.

The opening cover of U2's City of Blinding Lights sets the mood perfectly, even though the guests here are thrash legends too: Anthrax's Frank Bello (also Benante's nephew) on bass and Mark Osegueda of Death Angel on lead vocals. It's a mildly alternative rock song, as I'm sure the original was, and that's a style that epitomises much of this album. If I didn't know that Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns were by Mother Love Bone and Teardrop is a Massive Attack cover, I might have assumed they're U2 songs too. The closest this album ever gets to thrash is the early Iron Maiden instrumental Transylvania, which is hardly thrash but it is metal and it's hardly slow either.

I believe that only one of these songs is remotely new, a metal take on Billie Eilish's Bad Guy, which is mostly Benante, I think, because he occasionally contributes guitar here as well as drums. The bass is handled by Ra Diaz of Suicidal Tendencies, the most frequent collaborator here, as he plays on half of the fourteen songs. Benante's girlfriend, Carla Harvey, of the Butcher Babies, who spurred him to do this in the first place, only appears on two songs: Teardrop and a Tom Petty cover, Yer So Bad, with Ra Diaz again.

Benante mostly chose these songs himself and then reached out to whichever musicians he felt would make them interesting, which is how we shift neatly into other genres. There's a brief cover of a piece of music by UK called Presto Vivace and it's out and out prog, which is why technical wizards Jordan Rudess and Alex Skolnick are on it. Rudess is the keyboardist in Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment; of course, Skolnick is still best known for Testament. There's a punk song here, Public Image Ltd's Public Image, so the guests are from bands like Turbonegro and Sum 41. Kiss get two songs, with P. J. Farley from Trixter on vocals. It's neither surprising to find a Run DMC medley here or to find DMC singing on it.

What I like most here is the variety. Going from U2 to Massive Attack to Run DMC in four songs is wild, but eventually getting to UK, Billy Eilish and Living Colour is wilder. Many of the song choices are deep cuts too, which helps. Sure, everyone knows Bad Guy and Rhiannon, which is quite the highlight due to an impressive lead vocal from Jennifer Cella, who's a backing singer for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. But I'm a Kiss fan and I had to dredge to remember All the Way and Mr. Speed, the two choices here. I had no trouble remembering Transylvania, but it's hardly the most famous Iron Maiden song ever written. I'd guess that few people picking up this album will know half the songs on it. That's a good thing. How well they're done is a bonus.

I should wrap by mentioning that these are not all the Quarantine Jams that Benante recorded over the past year. The first of them was YYZ but there's nothing by Rush here. That's partly because he'll be releasing a five track EP on Record Store Day in November that's all Rush covers. After this, I'll happily check that one out too. It's mostly not what you'll expect but it's well worth your attention.

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