REVIEW: Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals – ‘Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue’

Review by Greg Maki
Typically, rockers mellow as they age. Success and perspective combine to relieve the anger and angst that fueled their younger days, often taking their careers in new directions, especially if they choose to go the solo route. “Unplugged” or even country projects are not unheard of, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.

But then again, “rocker” doesn’t seem like a proper descriptor for Phil Anselmo, one of the most iconic and enduring frontmen in the history of heavy music. This man is metal through and through, and as he closes in on half a century on this earth, he’s making the most extreme music of his storied career. The 2013 debut release from Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, “Walk Through Exits Only,” showed inklings of this, but in no way does it prepare the listener for the sonic onslaught of album number two, “Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue.”

From the title to the artwork to the music, this is a mean, ugly record that makes Pantera, universally regarded as one of the greatest and most influential metal bands of all time, sound like “active rock.” It even makes Superjoint sound slick and polished.

The 10 tracks are full of fitful stops and starts, machine-gun drumming and a dense mass of guitars engulfing the listener at every turn. Over top of it, Anselmo growls, shrieks, spits, croaks and gurgles his vocal lines with such unbridled vitriol that I’m genuinely concerned for his state of mind. It’s shocking to think this is the same man who hit those high notes on “Cemetery Gates” and sang with such soul on Down’s “Stone the Crow.”

The production is raw and murky, which I suspect is intentional, necessary even, to keep Jose Manuel “Blue” Gonzalez’s (Superjoint, Warbeast) relentless drumming from overwhelming the entire recording. (The Illegals also feature Stephen Taylor [Superjoint] on guitar, Mike DeLeon [Flesh Horder, Being Killed, ex-MOD] on guitar and Walter Howard [Grieved, Oppressive Force] on bass.) That sound is part of the record’s charm, if such a word can be used to describe this kind of music. It feels like you’re hearing Anselmo and his buddies jamming in a ramshackle shed hidden deep in the swamps of Louisiana, making this specific music for no other reason than because this is what’s inside them and they have to let it out.

For the record, Pantera and Down are much more my speed than this. “Choosing Mental Illness” is not an album I’m likely to spin too many times, but I respect the hell out of Anselmo and the Illegals for making it.

Rating: 8/10

(Housecore Records, January 26, 2018)


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