Review Summary: Phil Anselmo returns with his angriest project yet. Is it a return to form, or an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle once again?
Before we start talking about the matter at hand, let us first get rid of some pre-conceptions. This is not Pantera. This is not Down. This is a new project from Anselmo and his new band The Illegals; while it takes influence from each of those bands, this is its own monster. While Anselmo has stayed in the murky waters of the heavy metal scene for years, this project is his first foray into the style that made him a household name. Not since The Great Southern Trendkill have we been given a project from the versatile lead singer with this amount of anger and damnation.
Joining Anselmo this time around are The Illegals. Marzi Montazeri handles the guitar duties here. A decent mix of groove and nu-metal riffs with the occasional foray into the more subtle aspects that fans of Down will appreciate. Stephen Taylor is on bass and Jose Manuel Gonzales sits the throne. Both are apt musicians and play with appropriate hostility and skill on the record. I am not sure if it is the lack of Seth Putnam's (RIP) layered into his screams, or his age creeping up on him, but Anselmo just is not the same here. Yes, it is nice to hear him go back to the venomous vitriol that influenced generations of fans; but the weight of those generations are pressing. While his voice maintains some of the old swagger, at times it feels painful and forced; almost like it is giving out. There are moments of the old brilliance, but sadly it is not a constant.
Decent musicians and a skilled (if not aging) vocalist with years of experience should make for a decent collection of songs. Wrong. I was astounded by the lack of decent hooks on this release. Yes the songs are technically well done, and there is a mountain of hate in the delivery, there just is not any substance to the songs. “Everybody ruins music, not just me” Anselmo berates on ‘Walk Through Exits’; and while I would not call this release ruined, it is far from the return to form many were hoping for. There is not enough fire here to even call this a hot mess. The opener is woefully out of place and just left me scratching my head wondering why the song had not kicked in yet. It was like reading a chapter out of one book, only to turn the page and find that you were reading a different story. This may be forgivable if it did not happen repeatedly on the album. The track ‘Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens’ best exemplifies this release. Like the memoirs of a schizophrenic it is all over the place, and in the end meanders on in a tangent that had me repeatedly wondering out loud “why isn’t this over yet?”
Painful in parts, while average in others; I wanted to like this release, I really did. I grew up on Pantera and Down and maybe I walked in with higher expectation from Phil’s “return to form” as many were hailing this. Maybe I should have taken the bands advice and ‘walked through the exit’. I was left just trying to find something redeemable from the album; at this point I am still looking…