Phil Anselmo returns with a de-facto solo album, Walk Through Exits Only, backed by a motley assortment of musicians in the form of his new band The Illegals.
Walk Through Exits Only is simultaneously the same as, and yet fantastically different, to anything Anselmo has put out before.
This album is manic. If you’re one of those people who likes to blare out non-mainstream music in public to persuade strangers of your individuality, I can recommend nothing more highly than Walk Through Exits Only. Challenging, at times mind bending, and always aurally invasive, this record will take a nanosecond to convince any passers-by of your distaste for the conventional.
There’s no beating around the bush here, just beating around the cranium – with a ferocity and technical precision previously unseen and surplus to requirement in much of Anselmo‘s body of work. The opener, the not at all offensive Music Media Is My Whore, is a meat grinder of the track, and an effective statement of intent; short, snappy, and lyrically indecipherable. It pays to remember that Big Phil is 45 years old now, so his vocal range isn’t quite what it was elsewhere in his glorious past. We’re presented with the more earthy Anselmo that first surfaced around the time of Down‘s Over The Under. Phil’s current default setting allows for much more in the way of brutality and heaviness in the music these days, something that The Illegals exploit to the fullest.
Battalion of Zero goes in a more conventional direction but is no less unrelenting. This is dense thrash; thoroughly meaty and with some vintage screaming from Anselmo. The channel switching of the lead break to give a dueling guitars effect is a nice touch that adds plenty of depth, without ever sounding over the top. Betrayed, challenging and frenetic, is no less merciful. It takes us from A to X via B then back to Z; an unrecognisable destination in the form of a weird electronic outro. The award for best track name though goes to Usurper B*stard’s Rant; its arrangement every bit as unhinged as its title suggests. The jerking industrial riff provides the perfect platform the for the towering vocals, as tangled leads and a cacophony of strings sit harmoniously side by side with brutal blasts, courtesy of Joey Gonzalez’ overworked feet.
Of course, anyone who hears Phil Anselmo‘s name immediately thinks “Pantera“, so it’s no surprise when the album’s titular track rears its head. Harking back more so than anything else on the record to Phil’s heyday with the Texan groove metallers (albeit with Marzi Montazeri’s guitar owing more to Kerry King than Dimebag Darrell), Walk Through Exits Only has a structure likely more palatable to the uninitiated then the rest of the material on show. “Like rabies among rats,” Anselmo bellows midway through the song. It’s funny, because as I was listening to it, the claustrophobic, grimy intensity that it purveys had me picturing a hoard of rats barreling down a sewer tunnel in mortal panic. Pleasant, I’m sure you can imagine.
Bedroom Destroyer, clearly winning the award for oddest title, is an odder song still; an industrial chug with elastic riffs leading to a low galloping outro. It’s probably the least intense moment of the album. Bedridden‘s undiluted savagery in its intro may be an intentional allusion to The Great Southern Trendkill, but its staccato riffage updating it for the 21st Century.
Irrelevant Walls And Computer Screens is the album’s longest track by a mile and maybe the most unusual. Because of its superb breakdowns, and wild fiddly wah-wah solos galore, you kind of want it to go on all day – but it doesn’t. What you think is going to be a laid back interlude turns into a long, drawn out ending. Windswept and torrid, the musical landscape created by the band in closing out the album is as apocalyptic as anything you’re likely to hear. The sound of a rusty swing that comes to dominate the mix, which you then realise is actually a creaking guitar, adds an air of atmospheric menace to put the icing on a particularly filling cake.
Phil and his crew are on fine, experimental form here, and long may that continue. So long as this doesn’t collide with his work with Down, we should all have cause to celebrate. Though Walk Through Exits Only isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and maybe not even every Pantera fan’s cup of tea, it is an interesting album.It pushes accepted song writing conventions to their limits without becoming avant-garde; in other words, you kind of know what you’re listening to, you’ve just never quite heard it played like that before.
Verdict: One for the collection.