Phil Anselmo could never be accused of lying idle. From angry young man in front of Pantera to genre defining Southern sludge masters, Down and alongside projects like Superjoint Ritual, his attention turned to a new wrecking crew: his very own Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals. Their debut album, 2013’s “Walk Through Exits Only” found the artist releasing a new brand of fury. Anselmo polarises, he’s a master of his craft and viewed as a kind of elder statesman and a survivor. He has also courted socio-political criticism and found himself firmly in the cross hairs. One thing has remained steadfast though and that is the man’s commitment to his art. New release, “Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue” is unlikely to be a timid affair, the title alone being a confrontational statement with the band standing defiant.
The intent is fast to arrive. “Little Fucking Heroes” appears to be more of a grindcore torrent than the sludge we’re familiar with. The anger of Pantera styled rage but without the groove, the crust of Down but blitzed and thrown mercilessly against a wall, there’s a relentless Napalm Death dynamic and a uniqueness to the sound that represents a soapbox for the angst that Anselmo needs to release; a roar of demons that need to be exorcised. One might ask how Anselmo maintains this level of rage so far into his career. Clearly motivated and with plenty left to say, his bellow has deepened and there’s a growled edge to the scornfulness that flows into the churning “Utopian”. A visceral blast that feels like it could grab you by the face and make you bend the knee, it’s a sludge, doom and grindcore mix making for a potent brew. There’s a poignancy to the utterance of “I swear if I could merely shake it off, I would” on “Choosing Mental Illness” – the enormity of so simple a line not lost. Underlying all is the taut ferocity of Jose Gonzales on drums and Walter Howard on bass steering the band through mesmeric time changes.
The latter half of the album doesn’t lose any of its’ brutality but finds tracks that come in a little longer, albeit around the five to six minute mark. What is striking is the myriad shifts in direction and the clinical, razor sharp riffs of Mike DeLeon and Stephen Taylor whose dual efforts have an unforgiving coldness that compliments the battering ram vocals. Indeed, the versatility of the vocals is a standout, highlighted by the vitriolic “Individual” where Anselmo defiantly bellows “shut the fuck up!” – not only a basic confrontational statement but it destroys latter day pretenders to the angry throne; after all, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. What permeates through the album is the sense of a man who has been there, seen it, done it. “Finger Me” has the feel of an individual whose youthful, unbridled rage of yesteryear has been replaced by a lifetime of hard earned experiences and a simmered anger that has been borne of a harder road. The vein popping intensity of “Invalid Colubrine Frauds” with its’ constant sense of a caged animal pacing sets up closing track “Mixed Lunatic Results”, combining lurching riffs, knife edge textures and machine gun-like blasts. There’s an ugliness to it all that is strangely compelling and irresistible. The only sedate moment on the track, or album for that matter, signals the gentle shift towards the close and has a certain retrospection given the level of extremity that has gone before; a relief after the vent perhaps?
“Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue” feels more like a prescription for rage and brutality rather than a get-your-cranky-pants-out moment. Very few artists could deliver this sort of work as vehemently and effectively; a statement indeed from a man who appears to have much left to say.
(8/10 Johnny Zed)