Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals // Walk through Exits Only
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Still fucking hostile after all these years
Label: Season of Mist | Housecore
Release Dates: US: 07.16.2013 | EU: 2013.07.19
The long-rumored Phil Anselmo solo album has been the subject of some extremely high expectations. Since day one, Walk through Exits Only was billed as Anselmo’s return to hyper-aggressive, high-testosterone metal, a style which was largely created by him and has spawned countless imitators since. That’s great and all, except that Anselmo 1) hasn’t made a metal record in about a decade, and 2) has gone through some serious health issues since then. Can you blame me for being skeptical? More importantly, does Walk through Exits Only hold up its end of the bargain?
In a weird way, this album is exactly what you’d expect from Phil Anselmo left to his own devices. It’s rhythmic, complex yet somewhat catchy, and ridiculously pissed off. As many have already pointed out, there’s an obvious resemblance to Anselmo’s little-loved Superjoint Ritual project. Pantera‘s The Great Southern Trendkill is also a fair reference point, as is the disjointed approach of Anselmo’s New Orleans neighbors Soilent Green.
“Battalion of Zero” is like an invading army, with Anselmo barking “Hands up, heads down” like a conquering warlord over a tense marching rhythm. “Bedridden” has that classic NOLA metal groove, staggering along like a guy with one leg that’s much shorter than the other. The title track alternates between dissonant guitar squeals and shitkicker groove riffs, as Anselmo delivers the ultimate comeback: “Everybody ruins music/Not just me.” There’s a couple of surprises as well, like the Downward Spiral-esque piano that concludes “Betrayed,” and the 6 minutes (!!!) of effects-pedal playtime at the end of the album. But for the most part, it’s pretty much wall-to-wall rage here.
Interestingly, this is the first promo I’ve received in my entire time at AMG that included lyrics. So what’s on Anselmo’s mind these days? Well, he’s still not a big fan of music media (see: “Music Media is My Whore.”) He also has some words for those who doubted his return: “A comeback doesn’t come gently/it’s as ugly as ugly is.” A few tracks seem to deal with Anselmo’s lengthy recovery from back surgery, such as “Bedridden” and it’s inevitable follow-up, “Bedroom Destroyer.” The ridiculously blunt titles imply that he has gained some self-awareness and even a sense of humor, much to his credit. You can hear Anselmo’s voice itself coming back to life as the album progresses — he sounds questionable on the first couple songs, but gradually regains his ’90s-era roar, and by the record’s end, he sounds downright vicious.
The rest of the Illegals do alright for themselves as well. I have no idea where the fuck guitarist Marzi Montazeri came from — supposedly he was in Superjoint, though I don’t recall seeing him during their short existence — but it’s been much too long since we’ve heard Phil’s crusty voice accompanied by some shred-ass lead guitar. Montazeri is no Dimebag Darrell, but he has a similar instinct to balance Anselmo’s relentless anger with somewhat melodic and entertaining solos. Drummer Jose Gonzales (Warbeast) also deserves credit for coming up with some creative rhythms and avoiding clichéd metal drumming.
Ultimately, Walk through Exits Only is everything it claimed to be. It’s definitely not for everybody, and it may not warrant a lot of repeat listening. The douchebag at your gym who listens to “Walk” while doing deadlifts will not like it [I hate THAT guy! — Steel Druhm]. Anselmo has gone to great lengths to rehabilitate his image over the past decade, and lately he comes off as non-threatening or even goofy. Let Exits Only be a reminder that appearances can be deceiving. Just like the BTK Killer, Anselmo simply took a long vacation, only to return years later and commit more acts of violence.