“Walk Through Exits Only” by Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals is still one of the weirdest albums I’ve heard. Confusing chaos. Totally impossible to predict what rythm or part is coming next. What I love is that this isn’t the underground album he made before he got famous, it’s the one he made at 45 years old. And Phil Anselmo is constantly making new weird things. Last three years he has put out a black metal EP with “Scour”, a follow-up album to this strange one, and a “depression-core” project called “En Minor”, and if you dig deeper into his back-catalog you’ll find stuff like this all the time.
His success with Pantera almost feels like it must have been a coincidence, considering how far away from the mainstream his other projects are. While Pantera reached Billboard #1 in 1994 with “Far Beyond Driven”, Phil Anselmo also played guitar on the extremely lo-fi black metal album “Obey the Will of Hell” with Christ Inversion. How can anyone be this mainstream and underground at the same time?
Phil Anselmo has an interesting way of doing things and this made Pantera interesting. Without him, they might very well have continued being a 80s party rock band instead of going in the heavy direction they did. Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul were among the greatest guitar and drum players in the world, but their music wasn’t that interesting before Phil joined. He added something heavy and special that the rest of the band didn’t have. Listen to Phil screaming out his angst and anger on “The Great Southern Trendkill” and compare it to Dimebag Darrell’s almost happy heavy blues riffs, and you’ll understand that Phil’s energy was difference.
I can’t think of anyone sounding like him at his peak in the 90s, when he almost invented a new vocal style on each new Pantera album (listen to the difference of his vocals between “Power Metal”, “Vulgar Display of Power” and “The Great Southern Trendkill”, and think about that there’s only 8 years between these). And while he developed his unique brutal screams, he also sang more bluesy and soulful in southern rock inspired “Down”, so apparently this is a man of contrast who can sing almost anything, if he wants. Or, he could. Since the 90s his voice has decreased rapidly in quality, and while he’s doing okay for being over 50, most 50 year olds aren’t this worn-out. Luckily he’s more fresh and energetic than ever on the creative side.