Friday, 16 February 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, "Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue"

By: Ernesto Aguilar

Full Length: Full length
Date Released: 26/01/ 2018
Label: Housecore Records |
Season of Mist

Songs like "Mixed Lunatic Results" and "Delinquent" are Anselmo at his best, holding court and being the wildman savant his fans adore. Say what you will about his persona, but Anselmo is as spellbinding as ever, and songs like "Photographic Taunts" show you how he's still got it.

"Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue" CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Little Fucking Heroes
2. Utopian
3. Choosing Mental Illness
4. The Ignorant Point
5. Individual
6. Delinquent
7. Photographic Taunts
8. Finger Me
9. Invalid Colubrine Frauds
10. Mixed Lunatic Results

The Review:

A friend once said he loved hip-hop legend Cam'ron because he was the king of ignorant rap. The former Killa Cam has made a 20-year career out of having wealth, screwing women, making trouble and slapping haters. It's just narcissistic music for the club that is blessed by an artist with a seductive flow who knows his lane is the Wraith and Hennessey, and not Black Lives Matter or introspection. He seems to like it that way, as do his fans, who have followed Cam'ron through the various Diplomats reunions, guest spots and feuds.

Metal's Cam'ron is almost certainly Phil Anselmo. No one in the last 20 years has been as polarizing or reliable/predictable as the former Pantera front man and lead for Superjoint and Down. Rage and seething are largely the emotional spectrum. Anselmo's continued stumblings into political commentary have earned him a reputation as a neo-Nazi, a label he has repeatedly rejected, unconvincingly. His excesses would have killed most of us. And, like Cam, Anselmo's worst enemy has been himself. Fans may point to stylistic growth. It's just not terribly convincing either.

On "Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue" Anselmo offers the first glimpses in some time at attempts to prove his haters wrong. Granted, it's done in that pretentious Anselmo way of not caring what you think, but it's evident nevertheless. When the album's title track was released in November, it featured vintage Anselmo alongside elements of his Down and Superjoint incarnations. Guitarist Marzi Montazeri is gone from this version of the Illegals. And Anselmo suggested this go-around was more collaborative, and intended to convey a story of facing mental health issues.

This renewed energy comes at the right time. As with Cam'ron, the music Anselmo once led has steadily been growing beyond him, and some switches were in order. Metal has since Black Sabbath been a convergence of commentary. Social media and growing political divides, however, have sparked more than a few heavy acts to blend critique into their music. For years, Anselmo has had a penchant for voicing his opinion in his music and elsewhere; unfocused, it can become a trainwreck, such as in his white supremacist flirtation. The topic of mental health herein is a loaded one. In mid-February, a 19-year-old man with an apparent mental illness killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida. There's a worldwide opioid epidemic spurred by attempts to deal with psychiatric problems. How Anselmo contributes to the discourse feels interesting, to say the least.

On the first Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals album since its 2013 debut, there is plenty of red meat for Anselmo's hardcore base. He's still mad, still dropping that rumbling vocal and still backed by a bruising metal ensemble. The album's opener, "Little Fucking Heroes," delivers a white-hot blast of fury, driving rhythm section and raw riffs for the vocals to tear into. Anselmo, who turns 50 in June, is undoubtedly grown from the kid who fronted 1988's "Power Metal," though his passion is timeless. Unmoored by a band's larger identity, Anselmo feels freer than usual, roaring into the microphone with the muscle that made him famous. Songs like "Mixed Lunatic Results" and "Delinquent" are Anselmo at his best, holding court and being the wildman savant his fans adore. Say what you will about his persona, but Anselmo is as spellbinding as ever, and songs like "Photographic Taunts" show you how he's still got it.

However, don't hold your breath for Anselmo to go Kendrick Lamar on this album in regard to the mental health crisis. Rather than a slam on Congress, insurance companies, Big Pharma or state failures, the critique throughout "Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue" seems aimed at anyone who's not him. It's the wary eye generations of rockers have cast at politicians, liberal social justice warriors, media, institutions, parents and anyone else who just doesn't get it. The two types of people in the world, Anselmo says on "Invalid Colubrine Frauds" are those who just want to be left alone, and those who won't leave them alone. On "Individual," he declares, "I don't want to be part of your pack. Shut the fuck up, you don't even listen… I'll never be what you created." In these sentiments, Anselmo implicitly opens another conversation, most vividly illustrated in the Nikolas Cruz case: where does the right for someone who is seemingly unstable to be left alone end and the community's safety begin? Amidst the American debate over gun control, issues like institutionalization, mental health and the near-manic desire to be self-involved collide too. There are no easy answers.

"Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue" is available here

Band info: facebook