I try not to expect much from you people, but I think it’s safe to assume that one or two of you just may have heard of one Philip H. Anselmo, and this being the case you may (the ‘may’ is silent) have an opinion regarding the man. I don’t particularly care about any of that, but he definitely does, and this is painfully clear on Choosing Mental Illness As a Virtue, Phil’s second full-length endeavor with The Illegals. There’s new blood in the lineup thanks to a new bassist and guitarist (Walter Howard IV and Mike DeLeon, respectively), and I know that I’m playing right into this angry manbaby’s hands with this damnation, but I have one major takeaway from this album and there’s no getting around it: Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals is a very capable death-sludge band that could be pretty fucking good without Philip H. Anselmo.
This fact makes itself repulsively evident within the first few moments of “Little Fucking Heroes,” in which Phil more or less opens the album with his middle finger. By the sounds of things, the hand not busy flipping off the world is hard at work burying itself in Anselmo’s throat. I don’t know if he’s going for black metal rasps or what, but Phil’s voice makes some very ill advised turns during the song and continues to explore this hideous vocal territory throughout Mental Illness. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t manage to pull off some worthwhile moments; when he sticks to deep ‘n growly death fare, Anselmo almost gives hope to songs like “Photographic Taunts” and the title track. These in-between moments are far too few and far between, however, as any given song sees Phil spasming between multiple vocal registers and rarely does he opt for the good ones. More often than not, what we get from Mental Illness is caveman yelling and Chad Grey on an off-er day (I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s not Mr. MudYeah himself on “The Ignorant Point”), and no one is the better for it.
No one fares worse for Phil doing what he does than The Illegals. Ex Superjoint-ers Stephen Taylor (guitars) and Jose Manuel Gonzales (drums) join Walter and Mike in delivering solid, sludgy death in each of Mental Illness’s ten tracks. “Individual” gets into some really cool death-groove territory reminiscent of Slugdge mating with Chimaira, and “Finger Me” is musically on par with old-school Machine Head, inciting Muppet head banging with every listen. Unfortunately, “Individual” has as much Anselmo on it as everything else here does, and “Finger Me” is lyrically on par with modern Machine Head, inciting Muppet head shaking with every listen. Taylor and DeLeon unleash excellent riffs clad in gloriously chugged death tones on “Invalid Colubrine Fraud” which are far beyond driven to meaninglessness by Anselmo’s wrathful dullard rantings, his angry caveman tone and pacing completely undercutting his own delivery and detracting focus from the cool metal things going on.
This dichotomy between the band’s talent and Phil’s Philness is ultimately the most defining element of Mental Illness, one that makes assigning a score something that I seriously don’t want to do yet must if my nightmares are to remain gorilla-free. I did, and I’m sure you little fucking heroes have already drawn your own indisputable and entirely objective opinions, but it needs to be stressed that the only thing truly wrong with this latest offering by Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals is Philip H. Anselmo. The songwriting on Mental Illness is concise and focused, by all means ten tracks in 46 minutes should not feel as painfully infinite as Phil’s shit-throated misanthropy makes it seem. Sure, the mix is a bit rough, with the guitars being so front and center that even Gonzales’ pummeling tends to take a back seat to the strings, but there are far worse things happening here which are beyond the bands control, and even Lord Swanö couldn’t save Mental Illness from the Anselmo plague. All the chugtastic grooves in the world ain’t shit when your vocalist is.
Listening to Choosing Mental Illness As a Virtue is something like trying to capture a picture of an interesting landscape while constantly getting photobombed by Phil Anselmo. There’s definitely something worth experiencing to be had here, but this guy keeps fucking it all up by simply being there. Don’t let the harsh words or generous score fool you, The Illegals are a worthwhile death/sludge act with a worthless vocalist, they are wasting their time and talent being lead by a filterless frontman.