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Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals, ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ (Housecore)

Don't request any Pantera songs / Photo by Danin Drahos
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Label: Housecore

In the 13 years since Pantera dropped their final studio album, frontman Philip Anselmo has led two additional Southern-metal titans — the still-active Down and the now-defunct Superjoint Ritual — through varying degrees of crossover success. He’s returned to touring after being sidelined twice by surgery, and worked through addictions brought on by the associated pain. He’s also helmed a label, Housecore, that’s not only given upstart black/death/grind bands an outlet, but provided a home for his own more anti-commercial inclinations. (Hands up, who remembers Christ Inversion?)

The latest of these, Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals, is technically his first solo effort — meaning, the first post-Pantera incarnation with his name at the center. But this debut album also marks a move into uncharted territory, as befitting the guy who once barked to Pantera fans that “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit.”

Surprisingly (at least for those of us who know how music marketing works), Down and Pantera are the two Anselmo projects Walk Through Exits Only recalls the least. Even Superjoint Ritual’s galloping death dirges sound like garden-variety metalcore in comparison to this stuff. Yeah, guitarist Marzi Montazeri (also ex-SR) dive-bombs his pickups in a clear nod to longtime friend/departed Pantera shredder Dimebag Darrell. And, okay, José Manuel Gonzales (of fellow Housecore band Warbeast) and bassist Bennett Bartley open the 12-minute paint-peeler “Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens” with some Southern-fried chug. But these are fleeting moments in a debut whose 39 minutes otherwise flip the bird to fans’ expectations. Meaning: Anyone picking this up expecting Anselmo to thread a needle back to Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile” or Down’s “Stone the Crow” won’t find a safe place here.

Instead, “Bedroom Destroyer,” the most aptly titled song on an album that’s overflowing with room-clearers, feels like Black Flag’s suicidal-depression jam “What I See” as translated by radial saws. “Battalion of Zero” is a more straightforward (relatively, at least) thrash tune/rallying cry for the downtrodden that finds Anselmo defying his vocal cords’ pain threshold. “Betrayed” and “Usurper’s Bastard Rant” stack mathematically impossible guitar peals atop his staccato bellowing in ways that feel like every Dillinger Escape Plan breakdown happening at once. (Listeners with longer memories might also make a connection back to faded ’90s math-metal rippers Deadguy and Kiss It Goodbye.) And the title track — one of several tirades against a music industry that’s never stopped tying Anselmo to past glories — finds our host roaring, “A comeback doesn’t come gently / It’s as ugly, as ugly is.” Walk Through Exits Only might not be a comeback in the way we’re used to hearing one, but damn if it doesn’t feel like comeuppance.