July 27, 2013 by Dan Swinhoe
The long-awaited Phil Anselmo solo album was always going to go one of two ways; either a mellow, swampy album akin to Southern Isolation and Down’s softer moments, or the most vile, venomous and disease-ridden album it was possible to make. Looks like he chose the latter.
It may have taken over 20 years, but with Walk Through Exits Only, Phil has finally struck out under his own name with his band, The Illegals in tow. The album was recorded over the last couple of years at Anselmo’s own New Orleans based studio, Nodferatu’s Lair and features Anselmo & Michael Thompson in the producer’s chairs.
The War Of The Gargantuas split with Warbeast was a good indicator of where this album would go. Conflict and Family, “Friends,” and Associates were incredibly raw; less punk than Superjoint Ritual, more unruly and blackened than Pantera, and this trend continues on the album proper, but taken up a notch.
It opens with Music Media Is My Whore, a marching rant of a track, documenting Anselmo’s often fractious relationship with the press while the guitars screech, and leads directly into the first track proper Battalions of Zero, and that’s where things get nasty. Phil’s chants of “Hands Up, Hands Down!” prelude a volatile, sludge-laden thrash assault on the senses, before Betrayed pummels you like a steamroller.
The excellently named Usurper Bastard’s Rant continues the trend of unpredictable time changes, off-kilter turns in the riffs, and throws in a brilliant searing solo too. Every track painfully abrasive; the drums pummel, the guitar squeals in pain, and Phil screams even louder. The overall effect is one that mixes Great Southern Trendkill-era Pantera with the vitriol that was A lethal Dose of American Hatred with elements of Blackened Thrash and 90s Death metal thrown in. It’s an unpredictable mess on paper, it makes an even more unruly listen.
Anselmo has a habit of surrounding himself with quality bandmates, and The Illegals are no exception. Made up of Marzi Montazeri on guitar, bass player Bennett Bartley and Warbeast drummer José Manuel Gonzales, they do an amazing job of creating the barely-contained musical chaos that goes on. Gonzales’ drumming is incredible as ever, keeping the tempo high without ever getting repetitive, while Montazeri is a revelation. He let’s rip over every track, it’s frantic, heavy, full of squeals, dives and solos. That one man can create so much chaos with one guitar is almost frightening.
The title track is probably the highlight. Phil screams “It’s ruined!” while Montazeri sends a flurry of squealing notes along Gonzales’ machine-gun drumming. It’s possibly the most ferocious moment of the album, which is no mean feat. The sole exception to the relentless sonic abuse is the outro to final track, Irrelevant Walls And Computer Screens, where the band meanders off into almost post-rock territory, but it’s a brief respite to relax you after 40 minutes of pure extreme metal.
Lyrically, this is a stream of consciousness leading to almost violent nihilism. If he’s not lambasting the music media, it’s a dour self-analysis; Bedridden most likely looking at Phil’s struggle with chronic back problems before he had corrective surgery, played over a sludge-punk soundtrack. Phil’s voice has taken a beating over the years, and while he’s not the singer he was circa 1995, his rasping snarl gets the job done, never more than a few seconds away from a rage-induced aneurism.
Overall the record is unweildly, unpredictable, and unlike his previous efforts, or much else you’ll hear this year. It’s relentless and unsettling, to the point it could easily become unlistenable for anyone used to the more lethargic tones of Down or the more radio-friendly Pantera tunes. And because of that many fans of will hate this, and maybe even some of the more Punk-orientated SJR fans. Walk Through Exits Only is a record Anselmo made for himself, channelled his love of extreme metal because he wanted to. It’s not some all conquering metal masterpiece, but that’s ok because no one expects the Phil Anselmo of 2013 to deliver one.