The final guttural growl emerges from the beast that is Phil Anselmo right before the song ends. He is performing one of the 8 songs that appear on his very first solo album, Walk Through Exits Only with his new backing band, The Illegals. We’ve just heard some of the most brutal, extreme and difficult music to have ever graced the stage of Heavy Mtl, with no head left unbanged (Yes, that is a new word) and now that the song has ended we find Anselmo, in no shortage of breath talking about…middle age. In a self-deprecating, funny way.
Today, we find a sober-looking albeit beer-swigging Phil Anselmo having fun and, quite honestly, surprising us with a ridiculous amount of charisma. He’s cleaned up long ago, he’s cleaned up his image, and he’s hungry for what seems to be a rebirth of some sorts. It isn’t that he has not been active since the Pantera days – his band Down has recently released The Purple EP, and in the early 00’s he kept busy with the ever-aggressive Superjoint Ritual. But it is clear that right now Phil Anselmo is doing what he wants to be doing (as he should), and what he wants to be doing, musically or otherwise is what most of us have not been expecting. He’s not too busy revisiting the Pantera classics (at least, as far as this show proved). We had the cutup of Domination/Hollow as you can find it on Pantera‘s Official Live: 101 Proof album, but otherwise this 45 minute set was purely focused on Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals material. It should be noted that he’s also been busy founding his own record label, Housecore Records and October 24-27 will see the inauguration of the first ever Housecore Horror Film Festival. Pretty cool stuff.
This was my first time seeing Phil (yep, I call him by his first name). Phil’s been around for a very long time in my life, starting at the age of 12 when I first discovered Cowboys From Hell. 15 years later, I finally get to see him live, after years of watching live clips from dvds or youtube. That’s great, but then what do you get when you finally get to see a metal legend when said legend is now at a musical age where so many dwell in a comfort zone? I didn’t really know. I mean, I’d read reviews and comments of this tour, and they were generally positive. Well, I will say, even though I’ll sound like a tired old cliché, that I wasn’t expecting something this good. His stage presence is as commanding as anything I’ve ever seen, his band is musically ridiculously tight and technically proficient – this is another thing that could have fallen flat, with the amount of time signature changes each song has, and Anselmo’s voice itself sounds as aggressive as it’s ever been.
Here’s the thing about his current project: Your mind is used to the 4/4 metal breakdowns and song structures, even if only subconsciously, so when the band somehow switches it up to one of its many odd time signatures, you’re not seeing it coming. You’re just not used to it. You get locked in a groove and then suddenly, bang, another part abruptly starts. It makes the entire band sound insanely heavier, as a result. I have to admit that on record it’s hard to digest at first, but I guess it’s designed to be that way. When you see it live it’s very different, somehow. It’s like you “get” it. It’s in your face and you can’t help but go along with it. I was grinning while headbanging for 45 minutes, and judging from the crowd I wasn’t the only one. I even saw all 4 members of Godsmack by the side of the stage for the entire duration of the show, smiling from ear to ear. They weren’t just smiling with empathy at Phil Anselmo’s lyrics (How’s about “It’s ruined/Everybody ruins music/Not just me” or “Rant with me/Rant!/And I’ll slip/And shake/then slip/And stick/Let them fall on their asses/With a fist and a fuck you/Rant!”), they, Godsmack, were just smiling with admiration. I saw Shannon Larkin, a super-influencial drummer, grinning at what the Illegals’ drummer Joe Gonzalez was playing – I mean, he makes it look so damn easy. The entire band does. I swear I even saw a glimpse of Rob Zombie taking a picture by the side of the stage (I may be wrong, as tall dudes with dreads and beards often look like Rob Zombie).
You see, by making an album void of first-listen noticeable melodies, Anselmo shows at what point a lot of metal right now is in a safe and repetitive state. He’s pointing out a problem by showing a solution. He isn’t saying all metal should sound like what he’s doing, but he’s showing that there are still ways to make it sound fresh, which in itself is innovative. I believe this album, Walk Through Exits Only, will be regarded as quite influential in a few years time. I believe this tour proves that although you don’t see him jumping around anymore, Anselmo can still show you how it’s done. That’s important for a style of music that is so physically demanding. The ” I can’t see myself doing this at 50” argument has now been completely rendered false, and that selfishly gives me hope that some of my favorite metal bands right now will still be around in 20 years, cranking out albums and touring.
I don’t think this is lost on Anselmo. His new album is often about music, or the state of music. Even though he is a household name in the world of metal, the massive fan he is deep down shows someone trying to keep a style of music close to his heart very much alive and well – and most importantly, honest. Second best thing to watching this live? Watching Phil Anselmo watching Mastodon by the side of the stage live. See Phil geeking out by playing air guitar, air drums, headbanging, singing along while making stage moves. That was in itself worth the price of admission alone. They don’t nickname him “The Kid” for nothing.
And there you have it: the show, like the album itself is uncompromising, extreme, vulgar (he doesn’t just spit on stage, but snots too! Hits himself on the forehead with the mic and bleeds!) but it’s also very smart, and very true and not without a sense of humor. It’s not always the case that, after seeing the show, you really want to listen to the album again. It’s even rarer that on top of this, you feel like after seeing the show you will understand the album better.
Job well done, sir.