Anthrax was formed in mid-1981 by guitarists Scott Ian and Danny Lilker. The band was named after the disease the two saw listed in a biology textbook, using it because it sounded "sufficiently evil". The initial line-up of Anthrax was rounded out by drummer Dave Weiss and bassist Kenny Kushner.
Kushner was soon deemed inadequate for the band's needs and was replaced very early by bassist Paul Kahn, who also was quickly ousted. Lilker chose to take over on bass and Greg Walls joined as lead guitarist. Weiss was replaced by Greg D'Angelo early on as well. The vocalist position was temporarily filled by the band's roadie John Connelly (who later went on to form the band Nuclear Assault with Lilker), Scott Ian's younger brother Jason Rosenfeld, and Tommy Wise within a short period of time before the band finally decided on vocalist Neil Turbin in late August 1982. A steady lineup was finally in place.
Turbin first performed with the band at Great Gildersleeves on September 12, 1982. This line-up made frequent live performances in the New York/New Jersey tri-state area. Greg Walls left in the summer of 1983, and Bob Berry, who was recommended to Turbin by Rhett Forrester of Riot, temporarily replaced him on guitar. Berry's stay was short and he was replaced by Dan Spitz who had previously been with New Jersey thrash band Overkill. With Spitz, a second demo was recorded.
In September, Charlie Benante replaced Greg D'Angelo on drums. This lineup recorded the "Soldiers of Metal" 7" single, produced by Ross the Boss of Manowar. The B-side of this single was "Howling Furies" from the previous demo recorded with Greg D'Angelo on drums, and is the only official Anthrax recording to feature his work. It was this single that won the band a recording deal with Megaforce Records. Anthrax recorded their debut album Fistful of Metal in late 1983 and released in January 1984, followed by a US tour. Tensions between Danny Lilker and the rest of the band arose due to Lilker's non-paying of rehearsal rent, lateness, sloppiness and unprofessional demeanor. Lilker was released from the band and he went on to form Nuclear Assaultwith former roadie John Connelly. He was replaced by Charlie Benante's nephew Frank Bello.
In late August 1984, Neil Turbin was fired as vocalist for the band. He later went on to form the band DeathRiders. Matt Fallon (who later preceded Sebastian Bach as vocalist for Skid Row) was a temporary replacement. The band also appeared as a four-piece billed as "The Diseased", with Scott Ian on vocals. They performed a few hardcore punk covers.
Vocalist Joey Belladonna was chosen as the new singer and debuted live with the band on February 27, 1985. An EP titled "Armed and Dangerous" was recorded and included two live tracks from early 1984, and the two songs from the "Soldiers of Metal" 7" single.
Anthrax's next album, Spreading the Disease, came out in the same year and was followed by US and European touring in 1986. Their first major tour was with Black Sabbath, but with only one original member in its line-up at the time (guitarist Tony Iommi), plus singer Glenn Hughes's voice problems, caused the tour to cancel after four dates. In April 1986, Anthrax attempted their first tour of Europe, but was immediately cancelled after the Chernobyl disaster. Later that year, they attempted to tour Europe again with Metallica, but after the bus accident that claimed Cliff Burton's life on September 27, 1986, the tour was quickly cancelled.
The follow-up album Among the Living, recorded during 1986 and released in March 1987, developed the band's humorous and more experimental side. Anthrax radically departed from the "traditional" heavy metal look in favour of brightly colored "surfer" jam shorts and began a lyrical trend that focused on movies, comic books and Stephen King novels. "I Am the Law" is a tribute to comic book hero Judge Dredd. "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)" ("nise fukin life" spelled backwards) is about comedian John Belushi's drug addiction and death. "Indians" and the mosh pit anthem "Caught in a Mosh" are still considered Anthrax classics today. The album was dedicated to the memory of Cliff Burton, the early Metallicabass player. "I Am the Law" was issued as a single, backed with "I'm the Man", a song that combined rap with metal. They further indulged their appreciation for rap by appearing on the title track of U.T.F.O.'s album Lethal. Anthrax toured Europe with Metallica and Metal Church to promote Among The Living.
Anthrax stuck to its thrash metal formula on the 1988 album State of Euphoria. The single "Antisocial", originally by French heavy metal band Trust, soon became a staple on MTV in regular rotation as well as on Headbangers Ball. The group continued to expand its horizons by touring the US with Funk/Metal band Living Colour.
In 1989, MTV held a contest in which the winner would get to have the band come to their home and trash it. The contest was won by a female fan, and the band subsequently came to her house and caused havoc. This was the inspiration for the band's 1992 appearance on Married... with Children, where the main characters of the show win a similar television contest.
In 1990, Anthrax released the more serious Persistence of Time to even greater success than State of Euphoria. The album was considerably darker, more technical and progressive than Anthrax's previous work. This struck a chord with metal fans who had been previously wary of embracing the band because of their "silly" side. The biggest single off the album was a cover of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time". Jackson himself even claimed that he enjoyed Anthrax's cover version of his song. "In My World" and "Belly of the Beast" were also successful.
During 1991 they collaborated with pioneering rap artists Public Enemy on a joint version of "Bring the Noise". This was a hit, and the band played a successful joint tour with Public Enemy. The EP "Attack of the Killer B's" was recorded during 1991, featuring a new version of "I'm the Man" and a cover of "Bring the Noise" on which Scott Ian did some of the vocals. A short time later during 1992, Joey Belladonna was fired from Anthrax.
Shortly after Belladonna was fired, he was replaced by John Bush, formerly of the then-recently disbanded Armored Saint. Ten years earlier, Bush had been approached by Metallica to sing for them. The band also left Island Records and signed with Elektra Records to release Sound of White Noise in 1993.
Though it was quite a change from their earlier work with a dark, rockier feel, Sound of White Noise received mostly positive reviews and "Only" was a major hit (in the liner notes for Return of the Killer A's, Ian says James Hetfield once told him it was a "perfect song"). In keeping with the band's eye for unlikely collaborations, classical composer Angelo Badalamenti provided music for the track "Black Lodge," a tribute to the TV show Twin Peaks. Importantly, the album demonstrated that Anthrax had at last shed its sometimes cartoonish outlook in favor of mature, thoughtful songwriting, a trend which had begun on the previous album Persistence of Time.
During the hiatus between Sound of White Noise and Stomp 442, longtime guitarist Dan Spitz left the band to quit music and become a watchmaker, leaving Anthrax officially a quartet for 2 years. In 1995, the band released Stomp 442,, on which Charlie Benante played much of the lead guitar parts, assisted by Paul Crook – who would become the band's touring lead guitarist for several years – and Dimebag Darrell from Pantera. Elektra refused to provide real promotion for the album and it quickly disappeared without a trace. Upset at what they felt was an attempt by the label to kill the album, Anthrax severed ties with Elektra.
Anthrax signed with independent label Ignition Records for the 1998 release Volume 8: The Threat Is Real that once again saw Benante playing lead guitar alongside Crook and Dimebag. Pantera's Phil Anselmo also guested. Unfortunately, almost immediately after the album's release, the label went bankrupt and disappeared, making the album difficult to find. Regrouping, the band signed Beyond Records and released the greatest-hits album Return of the Killer A's, although Beyond soon went out of business as well. During this period, a two-vocalist tour featuring both Joey Belladonna and John Bush was proposed and set to go, until Belladonna decided to pull out at the last minute.
During the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, the band altered its website to provide information about the disease after people began simply typing anthrax.com into their browsers. Amid what could have become a PRnightmare for the band, Anthrax issued a press release on October 10, 2001, that jokingly mentioned that they were going to change the name of the band to "something more friendly, like 'Basket Full of Puppies'." They later sank all name-change rumors that erupted from the press release at the New York Steel 9/11 benefit concert in November 2001, when they took the stage wearing boiler suits with a different word on each one that spelled out the sentence "WE'RE NOT CHANGING OUR NAME". A picture of the band wearing the suits can be seen on the inner tray card of We've Come for You All.
Despite the hardships and various legal entanglements regarding who had the rights to certain albums, Anthrax managed to continue. In 2001, new lead guitarist Rob Caggiano joined, and two years later, the band released We've Come for You All, through Sanctuary Records—an album hailed by the metal press as a return to form.
In early 2004, the band returned to the studio to record The Greater of Two Evils—a "live in the studio" re-recording of the band's early work with the then-current lineup. Shortly afterward, bassist Frank Bello announced he was leaving the band to join Helmet and was replaced for touring purposes by Fates Warning and Armored Saint member Joey Vera.
On April 1, 2005, the band announced that the "classic" lineup of Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Dan Spitz, Joey Belladonna, and Frank Bello would be reforming. On some dates of the resultant tour, they performed Among the Living in its entirety for the first time. At the conclusion of the tour, it was expected the reformed line-up would begin a new album, but on January 24, 2007, Scott Ian posted a message to Blabbermouth.net,
Finally, we're going back to work. We're going to Chicago to work our asses off and write a record. [...] One problem... no singer. We were offered a direct support slot on a major tour this spring and Joey [Belladonna] decided he did not want to move forward. The reunion is over. We tried to make it work but I guess that's the problem, you can't 'make' something work. [...] My curiosity was piqued by the idea of what Anthrax would sound like now with Joey singing. Over the last few months we've discussed this endlessly to no avail. The problems that were there could not be fixed no matter how hard we tried and in the end Joey made the decision.
Following that announcement, speculation was cast over whether John Bush would return. Bush had stated on February 7 that he was not ready to commit to Anthrax again. In May 2007, Scott Ian said that the announcement of who will be singing for Anthrax would be made at the end of June, though the actual announcement did not come until December.
In June 2007, Bush was interviewed by Rock Hard about being asked to return to Anthrax, and whether or not he was bitter about the reunion. He replied:
"No. Bitter is not the way I wanna be about anything. I'm not bitter at all. There was probably not a perfect way to do that, what they did. It was like, how are they gonna say...? I mean, they asked me to do it—the tour with Joey—and it just wasn't right for me, I couldn't do it. So, whatever...if they felt they had to do that, I understand. It wasn't like I was going, 'Yeah, do it. That's great.' But once it happened, I was like, 'okay.' It was like a book ended. It's okay. I mean, it's much better to look at it that way than to be angry or frustrated, 'cause I really don't feel that way."
When asked if he was approached to rejoin the band once Belladonna left the group, Bush said,
"I was asked to write, and it just wasn't right for me. I couldn't go back and say, 'Here I am...' It would be like coming in with my tail between my legs, and that's not right for me. I just couldn't do that. It just didn't feel right to do that. It was about soul, your gut. How does that feel? Does it feel right? Good enough. Sold. Answer."
Dan Nelson era (2007–2009)EditAnthrax at the 2009INmusic festival
On May 28, 2008 Anthrax played their first show in 19 months at The Double Door in Chicago. Appearing for the first time with Nelson, the band played new material which was well received by the sold-out crowd despite some equipment problems. Anthrax then played in South Korea for the first time on August 17, 2008.
In his monthly Food Coma column, which was posted on December 22, 2008, Anthrax's Scott Ian revealed that he'd "been in the studio working on the new Anthrax album since November 4." Ian went on to say that drums, bass and rhythm had been laid down on a total of 19 tracks, and that the process of laying down vocals had begun. "We should be mixing at the end of January and soon after that giving birth to a really pissed off, loud, fast and heavy child." In a subsequent May 2009 Food Coma column, Scott announced that the album was being mixed by Dave Fortman whose previous credits include both of Evanescence's multi-platinum selling albums and Slipknot's album All Hope Is Gone. In a post to the Anthrax website, Charlie Benante stated that "Worship Music should be out in May".
On Saturday March 7, 2009 Anthrax played Bogota, Colombia for the first time in their career, opening for Iron Maiden. Then, on July 21, 2009 manager Izvor Zivkovic confirmed the departure of Dan Nelson, due to illness. Nelson has since denied this, saying:
"I was never seriously ill or sick at all, as reported in Anthrax’s July 17, 2009 press release. This extremely inflammatory statement hurt me tremendously. This statement misled fans, friends and family members into believing that I was seriously ill when I was not. I was not aware such a statement was being issued and it came as a total shock to me, as I’m sure it did to all of you. It was the other band members’ decision to cancel the tour dates, not mine. I was ready, willing and able to do my job. After issuing the press release the other band members decided, on their own accord, that I had 'resigned' from the band. I never resigned from the band.".
All following performances were canceled, except the UK Sonisphere Festival in August 2009, with John Bush performing vocals. Due to the overwhelming fan response following his performance, a 'Bring Back Bush' campaign was set up and subsequently endorsed by Scott Ian.
On September 3, 2009, it was announced that John Bush would be yet again singing with Anthrax at the Loud Park '09 Festival in Japan on October 17.
Anthrax with John Bush also took part in the February 2010, 5-show touring Soundwave 2010 festival in Australia. Soon after, Benante said that the band is "in the process of regrouping with [Bush]. We played two shows with him, and we are looking forward to proceeding with this lineup."
In late 2009, Anthrax confirmed a "Big 4" event (with Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer) as part of the 2010 Sonisphere festival. This was the first time that all four 'Big 4 of thrash metal' bands played together.
In an interview with metalsucks.com John Bush said,
"we just did these shows in Australia that were really fun. They were for the Soundwave Festival, and they were great. I had committed to doing these shows to these four shows in June as well as more festivals in August. As of now we’re trying to figure out a way to see if we can re-record some of the songs that the band had already recorded [for Worship Music]. We’re just trying to iron out some of the legalities on it. That’s where we are at today."
When asked if he would be re-recording some of Dan Nelson’s vocals he stated
"That is what they want to do, and it’s been a conflict for me, to be quite frank, simply because I kind of felt like I wasn’t part of the creation of it. On all the other Anthrax records, I was part of it when it happened. I just wasn’t involved in this, and it’s something that they’ve already actually completed. I haven’t disregarded it completely, and I know it’s important to them. I realize they made this record and they’re kind of sitting on it. They want to put some of it out, if not everything… at least a single, and we’ve talked about [releasing] an EP. We’re still trying to figure out if we can do that, especially in conjunction with these shows in June. We’ve just got to kind of iron out some specifics. That’s where we’re at today, March 15, 2010."
Bush ultimately decided that he did not want to commit to the band full time, and was again out of Anthrax by early 2010.
Anthrax, along with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth performed on the same bill for the first time on June 16, 2010 at Bemowo Airport in Warsaw, Poland. It was the first date of that summer's Sonisphere Festival series. The show inSofia, Bulgaria on June 22, 2010, was sent via satellite in HD to cinemas and later released on DVD and Blu-ray. They also went on to play in Jonschwil, Switzerland (June 18, 2010), Milovice (Nymburk District), Czech Republic (June 19, 2010), Athens, Greece (June 24, 2010), Bucharest, Romania (June 26, 2010) and then in Istanbul, Turkey (June 27, 2010), Stockholm, Sweden (August 7, 2010), and last in Pori, Finland (August 8, 2010) also as part of the Sonisphere Festival.
On June 24, 2011 Anthrax released the song "Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't" from the upcoming album on their website. It was released as a free download as a way to thank their fans for their loyalty in waiting several years for Worship Music. The album was subsequently released on September 13. On April 30, 2011, Anthrax headlined in the Philippines for the first time in the annual Pulp Summer Slam along with Death Angel, Hellyeah and UAE's heavy metal band Nervecell. Anthrax was confirmed in January 2012 to be headlining the Jägermeister side stage at Mayhem Festival 2012, which is co-headlined by Slayer and Slipknot.
On January 4, 2013, Anthrax posted on their Facebook page that lead guitarist Rob Caggiano had left the band stating,
"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. With the Metal Alliance Tour on the horizon, we have been considering several lead guitarist options, and will be making an announcement on that shortly."
A week later, it was announced that Jon Donais of Shadows Fall would be filling in for the tour.
On January 15, it was announced that the band plans to release the Anthems EP, featuring several cover songs played by the band, on March 19 in North America and March 22 in Europe. Scott Ian also announced in January that the band will start working on their next studio album in late 2013. 
Several members have launched affiliated side projects, such as Scott Ian's project with Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, the original Anthrax bassist/lead guitarist Danny Lilker and Billy Milano called Stormtroopers of Death. After leaving Anthrax, Joey Belladonna began a series of solo albums: Belladonna, Spells of Fear, and 03. John Bush is involved with his former band Armored Saint, while original Anthrax vocalist Neil Turbin has been touring Japan, Europe, Mexico and US with his band DeathRiders. Neil Turbin's debut solo album, "Threatcon Delta", was released in 2003. Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano are currently in a side project called The Damned Things with members of Fall Out Boyand Every Time I Die.