Stormtroopers of Death: The Long-Haired Metalheads Who Infiltrated Hardcore

Charlie Benante talks about crossing from metal to hardcore and infamously ripping off the NYHC logo.

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Oct 22 2014, 7:15pm

In December, Bazillion Points Publishing will be unleashing NYHC 1980 – 1990, the second book by Noisey contributor, Tony Rettman.

Made up from over 100 interviews conducted by Rettman and wielding over 500 images, the tome will delight both the NYHC nerd and novice alike as it careens through the scenes’ early days with the likes of Agnostic Front, Reagan Youth, The Mob, Urban Waste, and Cause For Alarm right into the late 80s heyday of The Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law, Youth of Today, Underdog, and Sick of It All. Pre-orders for the book are open direct from the publisher and will ship the first week of December.

Rettman was left with such an overload of content for the book that every week leading up to its release, Noisey will be running one of the interviews he conducted to complete the project.

For the second installment, we have an interview with Anthrax drummer, Charlie Benante.

We can see most of you right now making faces like you just took in the stench of a year’s worth of dirty diapers and wet dogs. Anthrax? Those long-haired fucks who tried to copyright the NYHC logo got interviewed for this book? Bullshit!

Call off your dogs, Jackson.

Whatever you might think of Benante and the hand he had in the crossing of metal and hardcore with both Anthrax and Stormtroopers of Death, there’s no way you could deny his enthusiasm during this interview while he speaks of his first CBGB matinees and his discovery of NYHC. And yeah, we talked about the whole NYHC copyright thing as well.

Noisey: When you first started going down to the matinees at CBGB, were there any issues? Were people like “What are these long-hairs doing here?”
Charlie Benante:
At first, it was a little intimidating because we weren’t so welcomed down there. If it wasn’t for people like Big Charlie or Billy Milano or Raybeez, we may have never made it out of there alive! They took us under their wing and said, “These guys are OK.” It was about the love of music and wasn’t about the aesthetic; at least for me it wasn’t. I definitely wasn’t into the straight edge culture or the skinhead culture. I just loved the music.

Who were the bands that were ruling that scene when you first hit upon it?
Agnostic Front were the band at the time. I remember the first time I saw them at CBGBs. I climbed up the ladder on the side of the stage and watched the pit from a bird’s eye view and it was just intense. I wasn’t trying to go into the pit. For me, it was more about watching because I wanted to be able to go on stage and play. I wasn’t looking to fuck up my arms or anything.

CBGBs was great. The thing that made it was that the PA was killer. Dressing room was terrible, but the vibe and the PA was killer. The amount of respect everyone had for Agnostic Front was so high. I remember the first time seeing them and just thinking, “What the fuck?” Their crowd had a complete display of loyalty for the music that they had. I remember thinking, “How did I not know about this?” I felt like I was playing catch-up.

There was also this amazing band that came out of New Jersey called Adrenalin O.D. I gotta be honest with you, S.O.D took a lot from them.

So can you pinpoint a certain time when the crossover of metal and hardcore came about in New York?
There was this moment in time when Metallica were playing L’Amour in Brooklyn and me and Scott Ian took James Hatfield to the Sunday matinee at CBGBs to see Broken Bones. It was weird thing because a lot of the hardcore people there knew of Metallica and some people didn’t like the fact there were these long-hair people in there at their show. By the end of the day, James was in the pit on someone’s shoulders. That was it. That’s when the crossover thing really hit. Then a lot of the hardcore guys started coming to L’Amour to see the bands there.

One thing in particular that really put the crossover thing over in New York was the Cro-Mags. They had so many elements coming from all different directions and their songs were just so good. When everybody knew who the Cro-Mags were, I was so happy. I was so happy they were the ones representing New York. I remember seeing them at the Rock Hotel years ago and buying their tape. I loved that tape. To me, it was a great time in music.

I thought the Crumbsuckers were another band that crossed over and did it well. Their shows were intense.

Chris Williamson came into the picture and he was starting to promote his Rock Hotel thing. He would do these shows with metal and hardcore bands together. I remember seeing the Bad Brains with Megadeth at the Ritz. They were really cool shows. He’d bring in Discharge and G.B.H. and that’s where it started to happen.

Crossover definitely happened in New York and just spread. Pretty soon, you had things going on in LA with Suicidal Tendencies playing with Slayer. Then of course, in San Francisco you had the whole thrash thing happening.

How did Stormtroopers of Death come about?
S.O.D. was a side project that Scott and I were going to do that was originally called The Disease. We had some songs that didn’t really fit the Anthrax vibe at the time. Our ex-singer Neil Turbin took it upon himself to kick out our original bass player Danny Lilker from the band. For me, it left a bad taste in my mouth; the same with Scott. So, Danny was invited to be a part of this side project. So it was the three of us and then we became friends with Billy Milano, so he was asked to be the singer. The record Speak English or Die was recorded up in Ithaca in two days and that record just fuckin’ took off. That was probably the crossover record that changed things.

Why did S.O.D. end?
There was pressure from other people because Anthrax was taking off in a big way. It was hard to continue doing the S.O.D. thing. I know that was a sore thing for Billy to deal with, but we really had no choice.

What do you think the issue was with people in hardcore dumping on metal guys coming into the scene?
I guess these guys wanted to keep what they had pure. They didn’t want it exposed and I can understand that one hundred percent. But, the thing people at the time didn’t understand music is something that is supposed to break down boundaries and bring people together. Some people came down on us and talked a lot of shit about us. I didn’t think it was fair because people didn’t know the truth about things and were just talking shit about us. It got kind of scary after a while.

I remember the rumor going around back then that you tried to copyright the NYHC logo.
People were saying we were trying to copyright the NYHC logo. It was so ridiculous. We played a show at the Ritz around that time and Raybeez came down and we were hanging out and talking. He knew it wasn’t true. The way that all happened was some people that we thought we were friendly with us started a bunch of rumors.

Basically, there was this girl from Japan who did this drawing of our “Not” man and she put the NYHC logo on him and there was a t-shirt made of it. The NYHC logo was a part of what he was wearing and the drawing was copyrighted. It’s not like we were making profit of it. How can you make a profit off of that? They thought we were stealing the NYHC logo. That was it for me. That’s when I said, “Forget it, I don’t want to be a part of this.”

So even though people still have issues with the crossover of hardcore and metal in New York, it was a positive thing from your standpoint?
Definitely. It took totally different forms of music and brought them together so that the next generation could actually learn from it. Look how many bands came out of it. Look how much music came out of that. It all worked out in the end. Maybe some people didn’t get paid for it and others did. When you look back at those records now, some of them really stood the test of time. To this day, that S.O.D. record gets played all the time and the same with Cro-Mags. Victim in Pain truly stands the test of time. I still listen to it and it brings me back to that time and all those hot, sweaty fuckin’ Sundays on the Bowery.

For sneak peeks of the book and buckets of NYHC nostalgia, follow @nyhcbook on Instagram.