Review: Phil Anselmo & The Illegals Have No F*cks To Give in ‘Walk Through Exits Only’
Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Phil Anselmo. To some, he is a heavy metal deity, a man who walks the earth simply to bring us the gospel truth. Others find Phil to be a poser, a man who doesn’t think before he speaks, and often aligns himself with superior talent just to look better. There are very few who are in the middle about Anselmo. He is to metal what Morrissey is to pop music. Walk Through Exits Only is his latest release. His first solo album, Anselmo delivers eight tracks that are all rage, anger and harsh brutality.
Walk Through Exits Only is interesting on two levels. First, it’s a really surprising album. This doesn’t sound like anything else Anselmo has ever done. It isn’t Pantera II, or a new collection of southern garbled Down songs. Walk Through Exits Only is made up of pissed-off blasts of heaviness that spew everywhere as if being shot out by a snake with Tourettes. There is no finesse here, no subtly, no southern swing or mosh breakdowns. Imagine Pantera’s Southern Trendkill without grooves, melody, or dynamics. Yep, it’s all just abrasive blasts of music, played while Anselmo rants and raves.
The second interesting part of this album, is how polarizing it has been for fans. Recent tracks streamed online, have been met with a large amount of disdain from some Anselmo purists. Most of these folks only want Phil to pump out Down albums, or new Pantera material. They tolerate Superjoint Ritual, or any of Anselmo’s other bands, in hopes that a kernel of southern groove metal will fall to their hungry mouths. I was never a Down fan, and I only enjoyed Pantera through Vulgar Display Of Power. Not being one of the salivating masses, I was actually refreshed at Anselmo’s balls for putting something like this out.
Is it good? Eh, I’m not even really sure you can judge it that way. Walk Through Exits, structurally speaking, is a lot like the turmoil of John Zorn albums. Explosive drums and pummeling guitar, feedback, and Anselmo screaming. It’s all a hundred different ideas crashing together at once. The album sounds like Anselmo started screaming into a microphone, and the band was left to make the music up as they went along. Improv metal? Yeah, that’s essentially what Anselmo is dealing in here.
Opening with “Music Media Is My Whore”, Anselmo is quick to unleash his hatred of the music media. I’m glad he opened with this song, as hearing Anselmo whine about his treatment from the varied music journalists, is a beaten pile of dust that was once a horse. Musically, “Music Media” is very militaristic. The band plays like a marching band that have had their horns replaced with guitars and feedback. It’s Anselmo’s speech to the troops about the evils of music media.
“Battalion Of Zero”, is a jarring wall of sound made up of blasting shreds of guitar and speeding drums. “Betrayed”, is another bite off that plate. During the barrage of sound, The Illegals (Anselmo's back up band) attempt to add some groove, only to betray it by breaking up every third chord strike with a full stop, tossing in a quick blast part, and then a returning to the groove. You can almost hear Anselmo screaming “TOO MUCH GROOVE! KNOCK IT OFF”.
The title track is my favorite. A mix of 90s extreme metal and a bit of death metal blast for good measure, Phil and Co then bake that in the clay oven of unforgiving improvisational metal. During “Walk Through Exits Only”, when Anselmo screams “It’s ruined. It’s ruined”, the combination of his delivery, and the music, is chilling. It is one of the best moments on the whole album.
“Bedroom Destroyer” takes the Walk Through Exits Only blueprint, and ups the ante in regards to making the tune not one song, but the summation of ten different parts slammed together. Anselmo brings this howling fit to and end with “Irrelevant Walls And Computer Screens”, a twelve minute opus that skirts ever so close to complete self-indulgence. Saving it is the band, who creates some interesting chaos. The last six minutes of the song is feedback and noise, but done with a flair of “Hey look at us, we’re being artistic”, that drags the entire tune down. I have no problem ending a record with a twelve minute tune, but not when it should have only been six minutes.
Anselmo is trying to do something different here, and I applaud him for that. The secret weapon to Walk Through Exits Only is the band. Guitarist Marzi Montazeri, bassist Bennett Bartley, and Warbeast drummer Jose Manuel Gonzales, play incredibly tight for a band that sound like they’re making it up as they go along. The lion’s share of the songs, were recorded over the last few years in Anselmo’s Nodferatu’s Lair studio in New Orleans. That could be the most surprising thing about Walk Through Exits Only. Something that sounds so stream of consciousness being the product of years of recording? There’s something appealing about that.
Pantera and Down fans will fight about this album. People who hate Phil Anselmo won’t be swayed by this chaotic catharsis, and those who worship him will continue to think everything Phil Anselmo does is genius. I enjoy the fact that you can’t easily describe this record. Any judgment made must be made after listening to it. In short, you will find yourself saying “I don’t know what to call it. You’ll have to hear it for yourself.” I thought this was a good record, not a great one, but a solid effort from a fairly prolific talent.
The one thing Walk Through Exits Only does prove, is that Anselmo does not give one single fuck. He will do what he wants, whenever he wants, and you have to respect that.