Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals - Walk Through Exits Only

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals
Walk Through Exits Only
Season Of Mist/Rocket Distribution

Philip H. Anselmo doesn’t really need an introduction. Anyone who’s remotely familiar with metal will recognise the name and know that the man is nothing short of a living legend through his long association with the now defunct Pantera, and his ongoing commitment to the highly regarded southern metal outfit Down. But despite the numerous projects Alselmo has involved himself in over the years (Superjoint Ritual, Viking Crown, Christ Inversion, Arson Anthem, Necrophagia and Southern Isolation are just some of the said acts that come to mind), it’s taken up until now for a solo album to emerge under Anselmo’s own name.
Promising an angry, bare bones and stripped back album, Anselmo gave fans a sneak peak of what could be expected from the full-length album with the release of the split E.P. ‘War Of The Gargantuas’ earlier in the year with Texan thrash metal outfit Warbeast (Who happen to be signed to Alselmo’s own label Housecore Records). And while the E.P. only featured two tracks from Anselmo, the tracks more than delivered on Anselmo’s initial promise – unearthing a newfound viciousness and aggressiveness that hadn’t been heard from the icon since Pantera’s ‘The Great Southern Trendkill’ release from 1996.
Six months after leaving fans hanging off the edge of their seat with anticipation since the release of the E.P., Anselmo has finally returned with his backing band The Illegals (Who comprise of ex-Superjoint Ritual guitarist Marzi Montazeri, bassist Bennett Bartley and Warbeast drummer Jose Manuel Gonzales) to deliver ‘Walk Through Exits Only’. And true to his word, Anselmo has delivered one of his angriest, ugliest and downright vicious albums in years.
Right from the opening track ‘Music Media Is My Whore’, it’s clear that Anselmo isn’t interested in subtlety on the lyrical front or toning down his seething anger towards the music media in general. Musically, the band is just as venomous, with the menacing military march-like drum and bass underpinning Montazeri’s bizarre squeals on the guitar front. The lack of melody from Anselmo makes listening to the song tough going, and the music sounds every bit as chaotic as Alselmo’s gruff vocal delivery, which makes me question what the band were thinking when they selected this song as the opening track? And more importantly, what does the rest of the album hold for the listener?
There’s no question that the opening track had me scratching my head a little. But any lingering doubts were crushed with ‘Battalion Of Zero’. Coming on like a battering ram, ‘Battalion Of Zero’ is a relentless barrage of churning riffs and a rhythm section that sounds like an army at war. Unfortunately, while Alselmo does manage to inject a little more melody into the loose chorus structures, his vocals lack the necessary bite to inflict any real damage, with his vocals more akin to Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead), albeit with just a little more variation.
Much like the former track, ‘Betrayed’ is a full-on assault from the very start, but does at least shift in tempo from time to time – which is something the former was sadly lacking. But variation in tempo doesn’t necessarily mean better, with the song lacking in any real sense of direction and structure, which leaves it coming across as a chaotic and noisy vent from Anselmo over a thrashing mess of a soundtrack.
‘Usurper Bastard’s Rant’ is one of the album’s genuine highlights, with Anselmo putting more thought into his vocals, and the Montazeri’s Pantera-like guitar riffs pitched perfectly against the rhythm section’s darker thrashing moods. But just when you think the album maybe redeeming itself with a solid track, Anselmo once again brings things down a step with his one dimensional ranting tone on the title track ‘Walk Through Exits Only’. Unlike some of the criticisms drawn at the some of the other tracks, it’s Anselmo that’s at fault on this song, because musically, the band actually manages to offer up some interesting grooves. It’s a shame that it’s wasted.
‘Bedroom Destroyer’ is another of the album’s gems, both from a music and vocal perspective (Anselmo adds a touch of a black metal rasp on his higher end notes, and the differing effects on the screams and the aggressive growls provide a much needed shake up from Anselmo’s monotone angst driven bellows), while the follow on track ‘Bedridden’ is a solid run through blasting southern styled groove metal, if a little short on melody ideas on the vocal front.
Finishing up the album is ‘Irrelevant Walls And Computer Screens’, which is noteworthy for a genuine guitar solo from Montazeri, and the last seven minutes of the twelve minute track merely consisting of a bunch of effects and noises (Although the last minute and a half does resemble an outtake from one of the band’s jam sessions).
Although I found a couple of tracks that I enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel let down with Alselmo’s debut solo effort. I can understand the recording was supposed to be raw, angry and in your face sounding, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of structure and song writing on the album.
If you’re looking for something that’s unapologetically pissed off sounding, and don’t mind things a bit loose and raw, then ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ might just be what you’re looking for.
Personally, I was hoping for something a little more coherent and professional sounding from Anselmo than this. ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ has the right amount of aggression I was hoping for. It just falls below par on every other level for me to truly enjoy more than every now and then.

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© Justin Donnelly

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