There should probably be a law against this type of thing – still being this intense after 25 years. Really. It can’t be healthy for a man’s sanity. But then Philip H Anselmo has always gone at life harder than his contemporaries. This is the guy who used to take a boxing trainer on tour with him to help him hone his ass-kicking skills and who once issued a press release telling people he had died from a heroin overdose (he had, for five minutes, then kicked death’s ass too). His primal holler is the embodiment of modern metal rage and his general demeanour is still that of a creature that has crawled from the primordial soup of Louisiana to punish humans for their spineless wrongdoings.
But it’s usually around about now in their careers that dudes like Anselmo start getting reflective. The acoustic guitars come out for tales of regret, forgiveness and fluffy kittens or they start moaning about America going to hell in an ecologically friendly Toyota Prius. They mellow and soften. Not Anselmo. Fuck no.
Here on Walk Through Exits Only opener, Music Media Is My Whore, he sets out his stall early, barking lyrics that are nothing less than a manifesto for reform for the rotten music industry and those bands content to regurgitate and rehash: ‘The remarks will imply, “This not music”,’ he sings. ‘But the rebuttal is truth: regurgitation is boring! Emulation is death!’ Second track Battalion Zero cranks things up further and it’s apparent that some weird Dorian Gray-style anti-aging process is happening here. Anselmo is reverse aging. But unlike the Oscar Wilde character who sells his soul to retain his youth and beauty, he is also getting (musically) uglier.
Betrayed delivers with a death row demeanour that expresses a real sense of anguish, and it’s this approach that separates him from so many vocalists who followed in Pantera’s wake. He’s the real deal. Behind him, The Illegals – including one-time SuperJoint Ritual guitarist Marzi Montazeri and Warbeast drummer Jose Gonzales – whip up a swirling storm of sludge and thrash with an edge that is black metal in dynamics and outlook.
Title track Walk Through Exits Only is pure velocity, five and a half minutes that feels like five hours in the ring, while Jose delivers a particularly relentless display throughout, with forceful rhythms that pummel like a prizefighter’s knockout flurry as Anselmo sings ‘A comeback doesn’t come gently/ It’s as ugly as ugly is…’. Which could almost be a tagline for this entire collection. Album highlight Usurper Bastard’s Rant, meanwhile, comes complete with a thrillingly mangled guitar solo. It’s just one more example of Phil Anselmo and his crew’s ability to take an idea and stretch it way beyond the point of pleasure and into the nerve-overloading realms of pain and punishment.
There are only eight songs on this album because any more might be hazardous to listener’s health. Pitch-black in tone and outlook, Walk Through Exits Only is a ferocious solo debut. It’s about as subtle as a car bomb and it answers that over-reaching question as to what that ‘H’ stands for. Heavy, obviously.