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As the first band officially announced last summer to commit to the seventh annual 70000 Tons of Metal cruise, Anthrax's inclusion figured to make this year's voyage the biggest one yet. As the first Big 4 band ever to perform on the ship, Anthrax may have also given Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer something to think about regarding future invitations.
 
As such, Anthrax could have gone through the motions for both of its concerts Feb. 2-6 on Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas. But that's not how the New York thrashers roll. Given the special occasion, Anthrax went the other route by pulling out rarities from its proverbial vault that had its dedicated diehards exclaiming, "Holy crap!"
 
Treating a bulk of the sold-out ship's 3,000 passengers from 74 nations to a pair of intensely entertaining gigs, Anthrax spanned most of its career with an emphasis on four albums: 1985's Spreading the Disease, 1987's Among the Living (as always), 2011's Worship Music and last year's For All Kings. The first set under a full moon on top of the pool deck occurred during the voyage's windiest conditions en route from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Labadee, Haiti. But the moshing exceeded the conditions, including within the confines of the jacuzzi that saw fans from all over the world splashing up a storm during opening number "A.I.R.," "Madhouse" and of course "Caught in a Mosh."
 
Vocalist Joey Belladonna was having the time of his life on stage and throughout the journey, forgoing his "rock-star" status and becoming just one of the metalheads. He took part in singing Journey songs in the karaoke lounge among a bevy of fans who couldn't believe their eyes and ears. On stage, he enthusiastically introduced tunes, encouraged the audience to participate and belted out his vocals while backed by guitarists Jon Donais and Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello (who spoke with AXS last year) and drummer Charlie Benante, who conversed with AXS on the boat (watch). The latter's inclusion was no small feat either.
 
Benante deals with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, something he discussed with AXS when Anthrax headlined the second stage of San Antonio's River City Rockfest in May 2015 (watch). Benante plays live 3-4 weeks at a time, and in fact, Anthrax's most recent South Texas visit last October in Austin featured Jon Dette filling in. It remains to be seen whether Benante will be behind the kit when Anthrax headlines the Texas Independence Fest at Grizzly Hall in Austin on Sat. April 15 (tickets).
 
Although Ian took occasional potshots at the crowd on the pool deck, calling out "one f------ dude up there in a f------ Metal Church T-shirt on his phone," the fans knew they were witnessing something special. That included the Alhambra Theater's performance of "In the End" with banners depicting the song's iconic subjects, the late Ronnie James Dio and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott.
 
Sailors heard something even more unique when Anthrax performed a tune that doesn't appear on any of its live albums and is almost never played live: "Aftershock" from Spreading the Disease. A chance meeting with Belladonna in the Windjammer Café the next evening, two hours before Anthrax was about to play its second set inside the theater, included AXS telling him how wonderful it was to hear the vintage track. Belladonna excitedly responded, "We're letting another one out of the bag tonight!" That turned out to be another tune from that album, "Lone Justice." Those rarities required maximum headbanging, but you can still watch AXS' footage of "Fight 'em Till You Can't" and "Evil Twin" from the pool set, another Spreading the Disease classic "Medusa" from inside the theater and second-set closer "I'm the Man"/"Indians" below.
 
Every band on board took part in a meet-and-greet. As expected, Anthrax's featured one of the longest lines on the ship. The first half of the line was afforded the chance to pose for a group picture in front of the band's table. But after an hour, the line was rushed through, and those at the back half had to offer up their phone to a staffer if they wanted a quick incidental photo or two while saying a few words to the guys or getting a quick autograph. Another indicator Anthrax was the biggest band on board and followed its own rules: while nearly every artist that performed inside the theater did so with a "70000 Tons of Metal" banner attached to the drum riser, Anthrax covered it up in favor of a "For All Kings" one. Still, Anthrax wasn't above and beyond having fun. In addition to Belladonna's just-one-of-the-guys mentality, Ian, Bello and Benante took part in the All-Star Jam (coverage here).
 
Anthrax's inclusion was not lost upon the other artists on board. Annihilator guitarist/singer Jeff Waters, who organizes the All-Star Jam every year, jokingly referred to the group as "up-and-coming." On the other side of the ledger, Carcass vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker inquired of his theater audience, "Shouldn't you be on the pool deck watching Anthrax?" He followed up with, "Is it just me or was their first album the best?" When the crowd barely reacted, he shrugged, "I guess it's just me. But it was written by Dan Lilker, so that's why."
 
Lilker, a co-founder of S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death) with Ian and Benante, would've been proud when Anthrax busted out instrumental "March of the S.O.D.," as would have the fans dressed as the Star Wars villains.
 
Anthrax announced this week it captured this past Wednesday's gig in Glasgow, Scotland, for a DVD to be released later this year, which includes the full performance of Among the Living. But for those aboard 70000 Tons of Metal 2017, Anthrax's participation on the ship won't soon be forgotten. Not by the band. Or those witnessing it live for the first time. Or those who have been with the group from the beginning, through thick and kings.
 
Setlist 1: "A.I.R.," "Madhouse," "Caught in a Mosh," "Monster at the End," "I Am the Law," "Fight 'em Till You Can't," "Evil Twin," "Aftershock," "Blood Eagle Wings," "Anti-social." ENCORES: "Be All, End All," "Indians"
 
Setlist 2: "Among the Living," "Caught in a Mosh," "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)," "Lone Justice," "Fight 'em Till You Can't," "Evil Twin," "March of the S.O.D.," "In the End," "Medusa," "Anti-social." ENCORES: "Breathing Lightning," "I'm the Man/Indians"