Most people follow, while very few will actually lead. However, the only way to know if you're truly alive is to diverge from the norm. You have to break the mold, dive underground, and veer off into unexpected and uncharted territory. That's precisely where you find out what you're really made of.
Philip H. Anselmo hasn't just paved his own path; he's bulldozed it with his bare hands. His primal, powerful presence led Pantera to Grammy Award nominations, sales of 20 million albums worldwide, legions of diehard fans, and an indisputable heavy metal legacy. Simultaneously, Down carved out a distinct niche with a gold-selling debut and three more critically acclaimed releases, most recently, 2012's Down IV Part I – The Purple EP. Instead of treading the same ground, Anselmo and his band mates "The Illegals"—Marzi Montazeri [guitar] and Jose Manuel "Blue" Gonzalez [drums]—open up another doorway altogether with their 2013 debut album, Walk Through Exits Only, available through the vocalist's very own Housecore Records. It's abrasive, aggressive, and anthemic. In other words, it's purely Anselmo.
The genesis of Walk Through Exits Only proved both comfortable and natural for its architect. In fact, everything began to slowly come together in the frontman's New Orleans home back in 2010.
"It started right there in the fucking black bedroom where I haunt," he smiles. "When I get an itch, I've got to scratch it. The sole idea at the beginning was to be unorthodox. It wasn't about doing a paint-by-numbers thrash or heavy metal record. I've always believed there are different elements of groove. It's definitely not a cemented science. It's an angry album that only I could do. I don't see anybody else out there screaming about the same shit I'm screaming about. I tried to portray it as personally as I possibly could."
Make no mistake about it. This music is as unleashed as it gets from "Bedroom Destroyer" to "Usurper's Bastard Rant." Brash, brutal guitars cut through punishing percussion as Anselmo screams with uncompromising ferocity and uncontainable fire. In that utterly extreme space, the music remains invasively infectious.
"Blue" puts it best, "I think it's going to put the rock 'n' roll back in extreme music. That combination is very different. For as extreme as it is, it's controlled chaos."
"It's meant to be very unpredictable," Anselmo affirms. "When I hear enough of the same thing, I want to rebel. That was a key factor. Right when you think you've got it pegged, it goes in a different direction. That's what keeps things interesting."
In order to harness that unpredictability and realize his vision, he enlisted the talents of longtime friend Houston-based shredder Montazeri. Filling the seat behind the kit is Warbeast drummer "Blue", who entered the fold at the tender age of 19. Back at Anselmo's studio "Nodferatu's Lair", they recorded in spurts between Down's own rigorous recording and touring schedule. In the process of those intense sessions alongside engineer Stephen "The Big Fella" Berrigan, the record was born.
"There's nobody like Philip," says Montazeri. "For years, I've always wanted to do something completely original and meaningful with him. I'm just trying to bring something pure to this. Nothing gets in the way of this band's purity. When all of us get together, it's automatic. If I have an idea, Philip always welcomes it. We share a love for extreme music, and I feel like we've got an unbreakable bond."
"Blue" agrees, "These guys pushed me to limits I didn't even know I could be pushed to. We've been able to create something really special together."
The world's proper introduction to Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals came on the War of the Gargantuas split with Warbeast at the top of 2013. The two songs included on the split—"Conflict" and "Family, Friends, and Associates"—were only a separate and small taste of what was come to come on the full-length though.
In many ways, Walk Through Exits Only embodies the same underground spirit and ethos that Anselmo has proudly possessed for his whole life. Since his career began, he consistently shined light on what was happening beneath the typical "surface" of music, whether by inviting Morbid Angel, Eyehategod, Crowbar, or Neurosis onto a Pantera tour or donning a Darkthrone or Mayhem t-shirt on television or in a major publication. He's gone against the grain, past the tides, and right through the exits.
Now, that sentiment pipes through loud and clear on the record's viciously vital title track. "It does create an unorthodox approach to things," Anselmo continues. "The hook is a powerful line. Why make music the 'right' way? There really aren't any fucking rules. You've got to simply take what’s there and make it your own."
The opener "Music Media is My Whore" lays all speculation to rest with its focused pummeling. About the title, he laughs, "I've gotten my share of fucking licks from the media over the years. I figured I'd give them one back. Lyrically, there was always something driving me though. I couldn't put my finger on it for the longest time, but it's very reality-based. I didn't mince any words."
"The message comes across in a crazy way," adds Montazeri. "That goes for the entire record though. There's no similarity between this and any other band. It breaks from tradition."
Not only does Walk Through Exits Only break from tradition, it lays the groundwork for a new road.
"Fuck another chapter," concludes Anselmo. "This is a whole new book. Some might call it ambitious. I say it's natural. I can do anything I want with this, and I will. I want people to take that unpredictability with them. If you're in a younger band, I want you to realize you don't have to play by the fucking rules. I want everyone to see that there's a lot more to the story than they'd ever realized when it comes to me. You can't and won't be able to tell what comes next from the kid. You can't pin me down unless it's in my own fucking corner which will be painted black and say, 'Reserved for Philip H. Anselmo'. You're very welcome to do that." — Rick Florino, February 2013