Phil Anselmo embodies the deepest, darkest spirit of heavy metal itself; that corner of our minds that we fear to tread. Phil’s lived there most of his career, and he’s lived to tell the tale. Through substance abuse issues, band fallouts, and basically coming back from the musical dead a handful of times, Anselmo’s cut a swath through the metal underbrush – always delivering something intense, heart-stamped, and a notch heavier than whatever his last project was.
Although best known for his tenure as Pantera vocalist, Anselmo’s pushed the limits of the “heavy” in heavy metal with his multitude of bands like Down, Superjoint Ritual, and Arson Anthem. On this, his first solo album, released on his well-established Housecore Records label, Anselmo digs into the abyss of his oft-tortured existence and hurls tracks at us like “Battalion of Zero” a syncopated nightmare of riffs and caterwauls. Anselmo’s scream, which honestly hasn’t been this startlingly graphic since Pantera’s “The Great Southern Trendkill,” lacerates through sobering thought processes like the very regression of society into chaos, with “caustic dissolve.”
Tracks like “Betrayed” seem to rail against Anselmo’s feeling of being scapegoated for situations like the breakdown of Pantera a decade ago, with infected lines like “I’ve been betrayed, revoked!” while questioning “How do they sleep with themselves at night?” The animalistic quality to the rhythms are unlike anything any of his previous projects have contained – akin to a madman’s violent, aimless stabs in the dark: angry, heavy, and purging of any sense of regret.
There are elements of the frenetic-paced death metal grooves on cuts like “Bedridden,” while “Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens” has a trace of the groove metal of Pantera past; albeit with an almost dizzying, pseudo-industrial sonic topping. Anselmo’s writing here is creatively volatile, a little disconcerting, and free of any sort of self-limitations.
The gathering storm of a man wrestling with his sanity, Anselmo’s solo debut is urgently impulsive, putting a stranglehold on the formulaic foundations of metal itself.
Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ Rating: W W W W
-Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent