Still fucking hostile…
Phil Anselmo will need little introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in heavy music. He has quite the impressive resume, his work with legendary metallers Pantera being what he is most famous for. Since the breakup of the heavy groove godfathers he has been reviled and revered in nearly equal measure. His story is going to make a great bio one day. It has been a long time coming but big Phil has finally unleashed his debut solo album. And he is still pissed off.
Right from the get-go the aural assault is on. Anselmo’s voice in fine form, here he is sounding as deep, demented & demonic as he ever has. When the opening track is named ‘Music Media Is My Whore’ then you should be under no illusions that you are about to be skullfucked into satisfied submission. This album is heavy & abrasive.
One thing that becomes readily apparent after the first few tracks is that solo Phil has some sonic difference to any of his previous output. This is not anything like the Sabbath-like riffery of Down or the or groove laden metal of Superjoint Ritual or Pantera. The sound here is much of conglomeration of disparate elements and influences – punk, hardcore, metal, sludge and thrash.
The standout early track is ‘Betrayed’ a vicious call to arms that shreds into life before chugging and stomping as Phil rants angrily over the top of chaotic bursts. For me the outro is a highlight as it offers such a point of difference to the unrelenting attack that the album has represented to that point, even having a bit of piano in the mix. The album barely lets up over its eight tracks with other stand out moments for me being the barrage of the title track and the 12 minute finale ‘Irrelevant Walls & Computer Screens’ which is made all the more interesting and different due to a wigged-out mid section and outro.
The highs here are as high as the Pantera guys were back in the ‘Vulgar Video DVD’ and there are enough of them to mean I truly enjoyed listening to this album. But the fact that the some of the best & most original ideas seem to be only briefly present in the most unexpected sections becomes a pattern of this album. The variety I crave from music is found mainly in these sections with a lot of the rest tending to blend into one heavy, blurry mass at times.
I am left with the feeling that Anselmo is a good songwriter with good ideas who has had the benefit of spending a career with great songwriters who can turn good ideas into great songs. Whilst the individual songs found here are all really solid, as a complete work the album suffers a little from same-same scenario.
I love Phil’s vocals – he shows an inflection he doesn’t show off much anymore, a truly guttural roar that few can match the depth and intensity of. I am also very impressed with the musicianship here. The Illegals are certainly not completely overshadowed by their overlord – Marzi Montazeri on guitar wails away and shines throughout whilst the work of Joe Gonzalez on drums is equally impressive. The production is fantastic and balanced beautifully.
My main criticisms of this album come from the aforementioned lack of real musical variety and from the lyrics. I have never found Phil to be the best lyrist and his work here is no exception. One reason I eventually moved on from Pantera worship as a teenager was that I could no longer relate to their tough guy posturing and found their words a bit naff. This album is slightly worse off due to containing that same fault. Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics aren’t terrible, they just don’t appeal to me like I desperately want them to.
Also whilst the mish-mash of influences given space here may mean new musical ground for Phil that doesn’t necessarily mean the same for the listener, so much of what is present here has been done before. Luckily it is done well enough here not to be a major drawback.
It is hard not to, if a little unfair, compare this to some of Anselmo’s previous acts. He has made an obvious effort not to attempt any replication of those canonised bands and as a result it is difficult to make direct musical parallels. I think that is a savvy move. Phil is still angry, inked and intimidating as when with those acts but his method is slightly different here.
In summary I will say that should I be driving around with my ipod on random and a track from this album comes on then I will be thumping the wheel, nodding my head whilst throwing up horns and mouthing “fuck yeah” to the family in the station wagon next to me at the lights. But I can’t see myself putting it on from start to finish. Solid and enjoyable but not brilliant.
3/5 Snake Tattoos.