"I think I have a mental problem because I cannot stop listening to Portal, for God's sake," says Phil Anselmo, over the phone from the headquarters of his Austin, Texas, record label, Housecore Records. He lets out a hearty chuckle. "It's rare that I go a day without listening to every one of their records and demos. And I mean every fucking one."
His earnestness is jarring. It probably shouldn't be: There's no reason someone who spent years fronting a hugely successful act like Pantera shouldn't sound downright giddy when gushing over his favorite Australian death-metal band. It shouldn't be surprising that his low, gravelly voice is so soothing, or that his laugh is so genuine. But then, it's easy to believe the menacing caricature that's been painted of him. After all, he did overdose on heroin once, "dying" for a whole five minutes, and he's famous for his unsavory comments onstage and in interviews.
That's not to mention that the first track on Anselmo's new solo record, Walk Through Exits Only, is titled "Music Media Is My Whore." So, when speaking with a member of the music media, the expectation is that he'd be more aloof, if not confrontational. Instead, he's downright jovial.
"I hate the 'rock star' moniker," Anselmo says. "It's fucking absolutely false when it comes to me. I'm a music fan, honestly. I'm just a big fucking music nerd.â
Anselmo's story is familiar to most metal fans. Pantera officially broke up in 2003, citing a combination of drug use, Anselmo's back problems and in-fighting among members. A year later, guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, while performing with his new band, Damageplan, in Columbus, Ohio, was shot dead by a schizophrenic fan. The Abbott family barred Anselmo from attending the funeral.
Though Anselmo has since had success with his blues-based heavy-rock band Down, he is currently focusing on his solo project, Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals, perhaps his most extreme project since Pantera: The frantic, unnerving time signatures and martial drums leave no room for melody.
If the music on Walk Through Exits Only sounds totally unfiltered, so too are the lyrics. Along with his feelings toward the media, Anselmo bellows about toxic relationships, the state of the music industry and his battle with depression. The brutal realism is partly a reaction against a metal scene increasingly preoccupied with the fantastical.
"With black metal, it's all ideology-based or atmosphere-based or just something invisible," Anselmo says. "It's bullshit. It's fucking fake. I wanted to come from a real place that's actually, tangibly real in my life, and just portray shit like that lyrically—whether I'm being literal, or I'm being absurd, or whether I'm just being an architect with the words and letting people take those words and apply them any which way they want to finish off the house in their heads. I don't like to spoon-feed the listener too terribly much about what I'm talking about."
Same goes for the media, it seems. When asked about the switch to a more formal-sounding usage of his full name, he first responds with a pointed, "I don't know why it's a big deal." He pauses. "If you really want to do your homework, if you check out [Pantera's 1990 release] Cowboys From Hell, they fucking misspelled my name. They put two l's in 'Philip,' and it drove me crazy. Maybe it's demons coming back to get me just to make sure people know itâs Philip with one l, for Godâs sake.â
As someone who has been through many painful experiences in recent years, both emotionally and physically, Anselmo is frank and realistic about the lessons he's learned.
"Sadly enough, I've made every mistake possible, whether it be drinking too much before the show or leaping off of the drum riser or the PA stacks or something that's probably not the best idea," he says. "Take care of your body. Take care of your core.â
[Go here for our top five essential Phil Anselmo albums.]
SEE IT: Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals play the Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE 39th Ave., with Author and Punisher, Hymns, and Proven, on Saturday, Jan. 18. 7 pm. $20 advance, $25 day of show. All ages.