Phil Anselmo Talks Pointless Horror Remakes and Three Reasons Pantera Succeeded
"I was playing my first gigs before I was barely a teenager," says Anselmo. "I'll put it like this: I used to come home from school and practice Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East live record, and sing it a couple times over before my folks got home from work. Then I'd go play with my band."
About six years later, when he joined Pantera, he solidified the descent into becoming a music legend when he signed his soul away to the world of heavy music. His vocal influences range from Henry Rollins to Agnostic Front's Roger Miret to Judas Priest's Rob Halford. He's notorious for founding and fronting some of metal's most influential and beloved bands, and by some, held responsible for the demise of one in particular, due to a heroin habit. He wears the intensity of the music that comes out of his mouth on his face, whether it's his furrowed brow and pursed lips, or his eyes rolled up to the sky as he's giving praise to the metal gods.
Anselmo just celebrated his 45th birthday on June 30, and while talking to him, it's clear that his career is still moving forward. In fact, the release of his solo album, Walk Through Exits Only, on July 16 may be the only thing that is on par with his influence in Pantera, in terms of sound, originality, and raw passion.
"Either way, extreme music has been extremely kind to me," Anselmo says.
The eight songs on Walk Through Exits Only are some of the heaviest I've ever heard. The album is incredibly unrestrained, abrasive, and aggressive. Songs like "Music Media Is My Whore" and "Usurper Bastard's Rant" display the artist's penchant for punishing percussion and brutal guitars, while others like "Bedridden" and "Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens" show that the outspoken vocalist can still scream with ferocity and write breakdowns made up of all that is deliciously metal. The album gives a glimpse into Anselmo's raw anger, sarcasm, and even hope for what the future of society might hold.
"Well." Long pause. "I do music 'in mood.' I was in the mood to make a very interesting, different heavy metal record -- an extreme metal record that doesn't really cater to what would be expected from a death or black metal band," explains Anselmo over the phone at Housecore Records, his independent label. It's proved to be one of the most authentic endorsers of hardcore underground music. While everything seems calculated, from the lyrics to the guitar riffs, there's an element of imperfect spontaneity as well. Which describes Anselmo himself just fine. For example:
"My lyrical content -- hold on one second. I'm starting to find these cocksuckers. Illegal downloads -- you motherfuckers, I'm gonna get you."
Short pause as Anselmo grumbles and rapidly types on his computer. Laughter.
To say that Anselmo was distracted and jetlagged at the start of our interview was an understatement -- he had just returned from playing music with some of his favorite bands in Europe, including getting up on stage with Agnostic Front, and celebrating his birthday with Down in Greece.
"The best present I got of all was from my fiancée/manager Kate. Man, this is weird. But I got an artifact from one of my favorite bands from Australia, named Portal. They have crazy, crazy fucking music and great imagery. The lead singer, the curator, sent me his first outfit that he ever wore with Portal," he says. "I'm gonna hang that sucker up in a shrine. And you're the first one to get that news, and that's a fucking big 'un."
Walk Through Exits Only was produced by Anselmo and Michael Thompson and recorded over the past couple of years at his New Orleans studio, Nodferatu's Lair, with his band The Illegals -- Marzi Montazeri/guitar, and drummer Jose Manuel "Blue" Gonzales, Walk Through Exits Only also keeps the listener on edge with experimental instrumentals and that comforting sound of classic recording techniques that his fans have come to love over the years.
"I love recording on tape," says Anselmo, his voice rising from its usual deep gruffness with enthusiasm. "There's absolutely something to say for the sound quality of tape versus digital recording. Figure it; the first four, five records that Pantera ever did were all on actual tape."
Each Pantera album brought a new and challenging element to the industry, from Cowboys from Hell to 1992's Vulgar Display of Power and to 1994's Far Beyond Driven (which debuted at number one in the U.S., the first extreme metal album to do so), to 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill and their final album, 2000's Reinventing the Steel. Right after 9/11, the band cancelled their Europe tour and soon disbanded over communication problems and accusations that Anselmo had abandoned the band.
In Down, Anselmo's main recording and touring band since 2006, he's combined soul and sludge. The lineup consists of members and former members of Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and Eyehategod.
However, this solo album is not the only new venture in the musician's life.
A couple of years ago in a house nestled deep in the Louisiana woods, Anselmo and his fellow horror enthusiast and true crime writer Corey Mitchell were hanging out, discussing Anselmo's biography. As Mitchell looked around at Anselmo's collection of more than 10,000 horror films, most of them on VHS and in their original hard-shell cases, and his walls decorated with hundreds of classic and rare horror film posters, he made a suggestion: Anselmo should host a horror film festival.