As each year passes, it becomes more and more apparent that Pantera were probably the last of the great globe-conquering true-to-the-bone metal bands. And so, regardless of any of his other recent projects, the news that Down’s frontman is poised to unveil a full album of solo material – and, more importantly, that he has declared it to be very much of the viciously metallic persuasion – should be enough to have any self-respecting metalhead drooling.
Of course, you would struggle to find many fans of heavy music who haven’t regularly thrilled to Down’s commanding, whisky-sodden reinvention of the Sabbath blueprint, but those languorous grooves and psychedelic detours have never seemed the most fitting outlet for the bug-eyed rage that has always seems so integral to Phil Anselmo’s creative spirit.
War Of The Gargantuas is our first chance to hear what Anselmo, the solo artist, really sounds like. A four-track EP comprising two new Anselmo joints (performed by Philip Anselmo And The Illegals) and two songs from his Housecore Records protégés (and recent Down support act) Warbeast, it is precisely the kind of low-key and fervently underground release that keen observers of Phil’s post-Pantera output will expect.
Many superstars are forever lost to the demands of the mainstream, but Phil’s always been a passionate advocate and devotee of underground metal music and culture. If you’re expecting his solo work to either sound like Pantera or to conform to some record label’s polished and polite version of what metal should sound like in 2013 then prepare to be horribly disappointed and, in all probability, a little bit terrified.
The opening seconds of Conflict tells you all you need to know: this is ugly, brutal and ridiculously intense extreme metal, informed by all the grim and raw thrash, black and death records that have long been a major part of the great man’s listening diet, but pushed to an exhilarating and wildly idiosyncratic level of intensity that simply couldn’t come from anyone else. Drums flail and pummel, guitars scythe and slash, and Phil’s vocals – incensed, belligerent and hoarse as hell – scream their own statement of uncompromising aggression and hate. It may be a slight exaggeration to say that it makes Far Beyond Driven sound like Black Veil Brides, but let’s say it anyway.
Conflict is fast, furious, savage and obscenely exciting. Similarly, Family, “Friends” And Associates re-imagines the slamming hardcore punk attack and dirty metal bellicosity that made Superjoint Ritual so briefly invigorating, adding lurching, dissonant grooves and a dash of breathless thrash’n’roll to proceedings, as Phil wrings fresh spite from his indestructible throat. Age has not mellowed him, folks. Get out of the way or get flattened. The two Warbeast tracks are fantastic too: scabrous, grotesque missives from the filthy end of the thrash spectrum that suggest that their label boss’s patronage is well placed and should lead to bigger and better things.
But let’s not kid ourselves; War Of The Gargantuas is all about the monstrous and maniacal rebirth of Philip Hansen Anselmo. He’s still the baddest motherfucker on the planet and that solo album is going to destroy everything.