Billboard -- There's a major change afoot for Anthrax as it prepares to return to the road and to release its next batch of music. Lead guitarist Rob Caggiano has announced his departure from the band in order to focus on producing.
In a statement, Caggiano -- whose two stints with Anthrax ran from 2001-2005 and 2007 to now -- said, "I'm extremely proud of my time in Anthrax. Actually, that's an understatement! We accomplished so many great things together over the years and I shared some of the best times of my life with these guys. As a band, we also weathered quite a few storms along the way. It's been a wild ride (to say the least) from Day One and I wouldn't change one single thing about the last 12 years."
Caggiano added that, "This is an extremely difficult and emotional decision for me to make but my heart is just steering me in a different direction right now. I've always been one to follow my heart in everything that I do and while this might be one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, it feels like the right one for me at this time. Scott, Charlie, Joey, Frankie (and John Bush) will always be part of my family and this decision doesn't change the way I feel about that in the slightest. I would also like to say thanks to all the amazing fans I've met and hung out with worldwide over the years. You guys always were and always will be the reason why I make music! In this day and age, being a musician isn't always easy -- also an understatement -- but the fans truly make it worthwhile for me. I hope to see each and every one of you again really soon. The fact that Anthrax is at the top of their game right now and totally 'out for blood' after all these years is a testament to this band's longevity and conviction! I'm truly honored to have been a part of their brilliant legacy."
Anthrax, which is nominated for a Grammy Award this year, followed with its own statement noting that the group -- whose headlining run on this year's Metal Alliance Tour with Exodus and others begins March 23 -- is "considering several lead guitarist options, and will be making an announcement on that shortly." The group also affirmed that Caggiano's departure was amicable, stating that, "Rob has been an integral part of Anthrax for so many years, as our lead guitarist, in a production capacity, but most of all, as our close friend. His contributions to the band have been enormous. While we are sad that he is leaving, we wish him nothing but great success going forward, and hope to share the stage with him again sometime down the road."
The announcement came shortly after Anthrax co-founder Scott Ian told Billboard about a new batch of classic -- but not necessarily classic Anthrax -- music that's coming from the band. The group will be releasing six classic rock covers it recorded during sessions for 2011's "Worship Music," the group's first new album in eight years and first with singer Joey Belladonna since 1990. The group recently returned to the studio to finish up versions of
Rush's "Anthem," Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak," AC/DC's "TNT," Boston's "Smokin'," Cheap Trick's "Big Eyes" and Journey's "Keep on Runnin'," which Ian says will likely surface on expanded editions of "Worship Music" and possibly as digital downloads for those who already own the album.
"It was a lot of fun, especially because a lot of those (songs) aren't, I guess, normal for us or like so much of our repertoire -- although they are because they're songs we all knew," Ian explains. "Maybe on paper the idea of us doing something like that seems weird, until you hear them and then it makes sense. And Joey's performance on the Journey song, specifically, really blows my mind. Someone mentioned that (Journey guitarist) Neal Schon better not hear this or we might lose our singer."
Anthrax will be keeping Belladonna plenty busy in the near future, however. "Worship Music's" success, Ian notes, has led to a surprising period of sustained activity into the new year. "We thought last month was going to be the end of the cycle; that was pretty much the plan at the beginning of last year. (2012) was a really good, busy year, and when we finished in Europe in December we figured that was it. But we keep getting more and more offers to go on tour. We've always been a touring band, so that works in our favor, I guess. In the past, we wouldn't think about doing the States four times unless you were selling millions of albums or something. But there's a demand for it, which makes us happy."
The 21-date Metal Alliance Tour, which also features High on Fire, Municipal Waste and Holy Grail, wraps April 20 in New York City and will feature Anthrax playing its entire 1987 album "Among the Living" -- including the closing track, "Imitation of Life," live for the first time ever. "We've never done something like that before, but because this will be our fourth time through the States since ('Worship Music') came out, we wanted to do something different," Ian explains. "('Among the Living') seemed to make the most sense to do -- either that or 'Worship Music,' but we figured we'd like 'Worship Music' last a few years longer before we play it in its entirety."
As for the Grammy nomination -- in the Best Rock/Metal Performance category -- Ian says the group was both excited and surprised by its fourth overall nod. "I didn't even know we were eligible," he says. "I assumed because (the album) came out in 2011, those Grammys had come and gone. I didn't realize a single could be nominated, so it caught me by surprise. But it feels great that people are paying attention and it's always nice to be recognized. But any time you're up against Iron Maiden, you can't really get your hopes up, y'know?"
Beyond the Metal Alliance Tour, Anthrax is booked for the Bloodstock Festival during August in the U.K., with more dates likely for the year. Meanwhile, Ian is prepping for a Speaking Words Tour during May and June in the U.K., an outgrowth of a memoir he's working on that will find him telling stories and answering audience questions. Ian did a similar show on Nov. 4 in London and "had so much fun doing it, just getting up on stage and telling stories for two hours and interacting with people who came. It was like a weird high and a vibe I hadn't felt for a long time from a performance. As soon as I was done, I said to my agent, 'How do I do more of this?' I'm totally into it." Ian plans to film during the entire U.K. tour and is "absolutely" planning to bring the spoken word show to North America in the near future.