By Ola Mazzuca
Be it that gnarly scream, outspoken attitude or empowering stage presence, Philip H. Anselmo can do it all. The multifaceted musician from NOLA is everyone’s favourite frontman of aggression; from shaping sub genres in Pantera to forming the supergroup Down, Superjoint Ritual and many side projects in between.
“Let’s not confuse things here,” Anselmo interjects. “When people hear an angry record, they think that the content is angry lyrically, which I don’t see. I think it’s the nature of aggressive music, so to speak.”
This opinion mirrors his current endeavour and first solo project, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals. After years of collaboration, Anselmo is a free man. Released through his own Housecore Records, Walk Through Exits Only is a brash aural experience (not a glimpse, for image isn’t necessary) of Anselmo writing about himself and many facets of the world around him.
I chatted with the artist on his current work, what has been fueling his creativity and how he has been reciprocating support in more ways than one.
Music is missing originality
On the record’s title track, Anselmo spits lines; “everything piles up, everybody’s ruined music.” He believes that current sounds are heavily image-based and lack originality. “A lot of bands might listen to two or three bands and start writing songs that sound like those two or three bands,” he says of artists posing as innovators that produce content of complete imitation. “If you take 20 or more of those bands, and conglomerate that, at the end of the day, you come out with something original.”
Walk Through Exits Only is all about free speech
“When the gloves came off in Pantera, it was a very big deal for me,” Anselmo says of writing raw, genuine content about his life. Songs like “Ursurper’s Bastard Rant” call the crowd to “rant” with him about fakes and frauds while “Bedridden” evokes isolation. “If you look at the lyrical content, it’s a lot of me screaming at me, because there’s a type of self-examination going on there.”
Anselmo “isn’t playing the tooth fairy”
It ain’t no dress up party for the artist, who believes that image shouldn’t overpower sound. He “goes to sleep in the same clothes” that he performs in the next day and thinks that content should speak for itself. “Back in the days of Pantera, when I completely abandoned the bar band thing, it was a very concerted effort to let the music do the talking,” he says. Anselmo only makes few exceptions, and one is for Portal – Australia’s cloak-clad blackened death metal gem. “There’s are a lot of bands that tote around an image that are excellent with that they do,” he says. “ They have this crazy image and what not but the music backs it up.”
The strongest audience member could be the one struggling most
Anselmo and The Illegals began the tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they invited a special guest to join them onstage to perform the Pantera classic “Walk.” Thirteen-year-old Peyton Arens hit the stage, tuned up his guitar and started chugging those eminent riffs. “He had a better attitude than anybody in the building and got up there with the utmost confidence,” Anselmo says of Arens, who is fighting Rhabdomyosarcoma cancer. Anselmo fulfilled Arens’ dream through Make-A-Wish Foundation and is supporting the young man’s donation page on his blog.
Digesting fresh content, even when it’s raw
The artist believes that his audience still needs time to wrap their heads around Walk Through Exits Only. Although Anselmo still does a lot of touring with Down, where the songs are “pretty sacred” to their particular crowd, he asks the audience for one thing during each performance. “All I want is participation in one way or another.”
Going solo has been a rewarding experience
During its first week of release, the album sold 8,700 copies and charted at #35 on the Billboard 200 list. As someone that likes to “spread the word about music” and give back through his craft, Anselmo is stunned that his fans are still buying physical copies, including vinyl. “I can’t put a price tag on it,” he says of the support received over the years, from the golden days of Pantera to his vital role in Down. But Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals is a whole different game, and ultimately, his most liberal venture to date. “When you have a solo band, you can really create anything that you want,” he says. “There’s a great freedom there.”
Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals play The Opera House in Toronto tonight – Saturday, August 10.