Vicious thrash act Anthrax is always virulent, but the infection is more severe with its sickest front man, Joey Belladonna 

Anthrax with Horse Called War, Forte and Anti-Mortem
8 p.m. Thursday
Diamond Ballroom
8001 S. Eastern
$19 advance, $24 door

It's one of thrash metal's signature acts, alongside Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. One thing that characterized Anthrax, particularly early on, was a playfulness and sense of humor mixed within the churning, rhythmic mosh and searing, hyperactive guitars.

While its peers pressed somber severity, violent imagery and overwrought political posturing, Anthrax indulged a more lighthearted, pop culture-heavy lyrical approach. This reached its apogee with "I'm the Man," a cartoonish rap-metal track off the 1987 EP of the same name, which not only launched a genre, but presaged the band's collaboration with Public Enemy on "Bring the Noise."

The other thing for which Anthrax has become known for as of late is a kind of "singer roulette." Joey Belladonna led the New York City group from its seminal early years to 1992. When he was fired prior to 1993's "Sound of White Noise," the group replaced his high-flying vocals with John Bush's more-traditional growl, significantly impacting Anthrax's distinctiveness.

Bush continued through 2005, replaced by Belladonna for an "original lineup" 20th-anniversary tour. Talk of both singers performing fizzled. In the aftermath of the tour, there was also talk of a new album with Belladonna, but that faded, too, and Anthrax brought in a new vocalist, Dan Nelson, who survived for two years, only to be replaced by Bush in 2009.

Bush was replaced early this year by " who else? " Belladonna.

Thrash metal is experiencing a resurgence, and Anthrax couldn't choose a better time to reunite the early lineup. But by Belladonna's reckoning, it never really disappeared.

"It doesn't leave anybody; it certainly didn't leave me," he said. "I think most people who really like the music never let it leave their stereo. You just didn't hear about it as much. You didn't find it as popular, but I think that overall, it's still strong and it's what people want to hear.

"Sometimes I find it funny, like, 'Yeah, I used to be into you guys.' Well, we're the same band. It's like me not liking something that I loved in the first place. Maybe I won't listen to it as often, but it's not like I couldn't listen to it ever again."

Belladonna recalled that 1992 call from Anthrax's management, telling him he'd been dismissed.

"The manager said, 'You're taking it awfully well.' I said, 'What do you want me to do? Am I supposed to say, 'No, you can't?'" he said.

All this turnover has been obviously difficult on Belladonna.

"I hate it," he said, but noted it's not a case of personality conflict so much as choosing a direction.

"We get along fine. It's just got to be fair, it has to be equal, and you also have to be real honest about what you like and what you want to be around," he said. "You want them to be happy with me being there, and not be, 'You know, I liked it when so and so ...' OK, whatever. It's just that same old shit, but as far as I'm concerned, everything is cool. We're rolling. I do what I do. I can't just be there and try to be like someone I'm not. I have my own style, and I do what I do."

So far, plans are for Belladonna to sign on Anthrax's long-promised follow-up to 2003's "We've Come for You All," much of it already recorded. Nelson and Bush allegedly have made runs at some of the material in the past, and Belladonna's recorded vocals for one track. However, as history's proven, when it comes to Anthrax, nothing's set in stone.

"I'm getting ready to do it. There's music that's already done. There are changes to be made, but there's quite a bit of stuff that we can do now," Belladonna said. "You get a second shot at it, and sometimes that doesn't happen. Usually, you walk away, 'Ah, I wish we could, shoulda, woulda.' So I'm looking forward to having that opportunity. It will be great to do another record with them." "Chris Parker

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