An Angry Album Only He Can Do: Walk Through Exits Only by Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals
Walk Through Exits Only

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To use a word I recently learned from Philip Anselmo, I “guaran-damn-tee” you that Walk Through Exits Only – Anselmo’s first solo album – will be the most relentlessly brutal metal assault you’ll experience this year.

The legendary Pantera frontman has established a band of incredibly gifted musicians to assist him in his full-on aural attack. The Illegals feature guitarist Marzi Montazeri, one of the most versatile players in metal, who can offer up moments of atmospheric wonder and then a second later crush you with pummeling riffs and noisy freak outs; drummer Joey “Blue” Gonzalez, an ambidextrous wizard, who can play in any time signature that a song requires and pound the heaviest blast beats imaginable; and Stephen Taylor, whose bass work is the key ingredient in thickening the sonic stew and binding all its elements together.

From opening cut “Music Media Is My Whore” to album closer “Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens,” the songs on Walk Through Exits Only slam into each other in a way that recalls such classic extreme-music records as Slayer’s masterpiece, Reign in Blood. In so doing, the record doesn’t give you the chance to avoid its intensity. Once you hit play, Anselmo and his brothers create a room that holds you prisoner to its ferocity – but the room is such a creative place that you’ll be a content convict. You won’t want to walk through Anselmo’s exit until you’ve experienced every note on his record.

For starters, Anselmo and the guys demonstrate their expertise in metal by making a noise that blends many different styles but never sounds repetitive or redundant. That is, almost all styles of extreme metal are on full display – black, death, and thrash metal, in particular – sometimes within the same track. And Anselmo, as you’d expect from his experience singing with Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, and even Morbid Angel, shows his mastery of all of them. Anselmo again proves that he’s one of the greatest – if not the greatest – vocalist in metal.

In addition to his virtuosity in a diversity of styles, Anselmo knows how to sound like he’s a part of a band and not a flamboyant dude who thinks he’s better than the guys who provide a platform for his voice. His voice adds to the music. Just listen to the vocal-drum interplay that he and Blue Gonzalez have on “Battalion of Zero,” one of the most dynamic and exciting tracks on Walk Through Exits Only. Philip and Blue sound like a heavier version of Daltrey and Moon on this track – that’s how locked in they are.

Guitarist Marzi Montazeri comes to the fore on “Usurper’s Bastard Rant,” “Bedridden,” and “Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens” – and he complements Anselmo’s vocals extremely well. Marzi riffs hard on all three tracks, but his noise freak outs lend them an experimental texture that makes Walk Through Exits Only that much more of an original listen.

But let’s not forget about Anselmo’s lyrics in all this talk of The Illegals’ tremendous musicianship. Philip, as always, unflinchingly wears his emotions on his sleeve like a badge of honor. Think about the confidence that he both demonstrated and made you feel in yourself when you first heard tracks like Pantera’s “A New Level” and you’ll have a sense of what’s going on lyrically on Walk Through Exits Only.

The title track provides a clue. Anselmo sings, “There’s no reading between the lines,” proudly proclaiming the importance of examining life experiences with realism and earnestness. But the line can also offer a commentary on the rawness of the music, Anselmo’s voice, and the rest of the lyrics on the record.

Take, for example, “Bedridden,” on which Anselmo takes an introspective look at his own tendency toward laziness (which is kind of funny because I, for one, can’t think of a harder worker in all of music). But what’s so cool about this tune is that Anselmo finds the humor in his self-loathing, even as he rages against it.

When you hear “Bedroom Destroyer” – another track that somehow manages to be angry and absurd at the same time – you get the sense that Anselmo’s lyrical ability rivals his vocal ability. He can sing songs with lyrics that express straight-up anger just as easily as he can tunes with more subtle words.

Anselmo has said that Walk Through Exits Only is “an angry album that only [he] can do.” Well, I can guaran-damn-tee you that that anger comes in different forms and different metal styles.

Hold on to your hats, you cowboys from Hell. Anselmo & The Illegals are on the loose, and Walk Through Exits Only is ready and waiting to knock off your hat – if not lop off your head.