Thrash metal is not known for its bass guitar players. There are too many guitar riffs for a start, played at ridiculous speeds, making the musical environment a difficult one for bassists. But then there’s Frank Bello, the most notable exception, whipping out super-melodic fills with amazing fingerstyle precision – and headbanging like a demon at the same time.
Bello plays an unusual style for the thrash idiom, which rarely has space for elaborate basslines. His fills and runs often expand around the main guitar parts, counterpointing the riffs and frequently shifting octaves to add dynamics. As well as his unique choice of notes and playing style, Bello is unusual among thrash bassists for his tone. "What most people don't understand is that your tone is really in your fingers," he says. "I love that Tom Petersson has a piano-like top end vibe, but I'll always have my sound because of the way I play."
All these years down the line, Bello is still aspiring to match the standards set by his bass heroes, he tells us. "We once cut a bunch of covers for the reissue of Worship Music and one of them was 'Anthem' by Rush. Now, I'm the biggest Geddy Lee fan, and I couldn't get this one lick in this song. It was bothering me so much, I was having sleepless nights.
"At four in the morning I'd go downstairs and get my bass and I'd be looking at YouTube and thinking, 'What is he doing?' while my wife and kids were asleep upstairs. I watched every live clip of that song I could find, and finally, there it was. Sometimes you can hear it but something's missing and you have to see it."
As a veteran of the New York thrash scene, we asked Frank to nominate five bass players that influenced his melodic fingerstyle bass playing.
Tom Petersson - Cheap Trick
"I grew up listening to Tom Petersson. He’s a very underrated bass player. It was his tone that got me – from his 8-string and 12-string basses. The lines weren’t complicated, and I don’t think they needed to be, because that piano-like tone – which came from three octaves of strings because of the little piccolo strings – just blew my mind. I used a 12-string in an Anthrax song in the 1990s, just in the background – and how he got the right amp for that tone I have no idea."
Paul McCartney - The Beatles
"Paul McCartney has been such an influence on me over the years, and I haven’t ever really thought about it. Talk about a guy who is not just a songwriter but who added so much to the songs with his basslines. He had a beautiful voice, and the bass adds so much melody to the songs. Listen to ‘Penny Lane’, where he plays a descending line in one verse and then plays it again – but an octave lower – in the next verse. And we’re still talking about it all these years later."
Geddy Lee - Rush
"Geddy Lee is one of my biggest influences. The intricacy of his scales and the synching-up with the drums really add up to a celebration of the bass. The Moving Pictures album is so inspiring to me to this day, and when I listen to a song like ‘YYZ’ I have to pick up my bass and play. The bass is meant to be played like that and I just have to follow it. Synching the bass and drums like Rush do is not a thought process, it’s just a natural talent. I was just listening to it the other day and it’s beautiful."
Geezer Butler - Black Sabbath
"I know the whole Ozzy period of Black Sabbath was amazing, but I love the Dio era too. Listen to the song ‘Heaven And Hell’ – Geezer Butler is having so much fun in that song. He's telling a story within a story, just with the bass part. When you can sing a bassline like that one, how much of a compliment is that?"
Steve Harris - Iron Maiden
"Every song on the first Iron Maiden album is like a bass exercise, but fun. That’s how Steve Harris writes – on the bass. Listen to the bass solo from ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. I love this stuff more than ever. I’ve got to know him over the years and I’ve asked him lots of questions about how he did it. Steve is one of my favourite bass players in the world, and he still has the fire."
Anthrax and Black Label Society are returning for round two of their 40th Anniversary Tour, which launches on January 17 at the Revolution Concert House in Boise, ID, and concludes on February 18 in Oakland, CA at the Fox Theatre.
Visit anthrax.com for updates.