Interview: Philip Anselmo Reflects on Past Regrets With Pantera + Current Motivators
In a recent interview with Loudwire, Philip Anselmo is uncharacteristically self-examining. His history is coming full circle. He may be finding catharsis in a new style of music, but then there’s the Pantera sets of the now dredging up memories and professional and personal regrets.
His foreseeable future is rife with reevaluating suppressed emotions—from Slayer’s blessing of the Vulgar Display of Pantera set and angrily writing about his childhood in En Minor to how he wasn’t supposed to be “that guy.” But, after all, he says, he is an imperfect creature who tries to learn from mistakes.
An Illegal Past / Pantera Present
At present, most notable is Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals; the latter half of which grew into a crucial fixture for Anselmo’s solo efforts, especially over 2018’s Mental Illness Is a Virtue. Their extreme metal is chuggingly aggressive and instrumentally elaborate with abrasive vocals hinging on the verge of destructive.
On occasion, a Pantera song found its way into the set list, but after Vinnie Paul’s 2018 passing, things shifted. The Illegals lineup began to transition seamlessly between their own jams such as “Photographic Taunts” and “Bedridden” and Pantera classics. Most fans were elated—but it also brought up the question: “Why now?”
“After Vince passed away, people were really . . .” Anselmo trails off. “Wanting to hear more Pantera. I could’ve done more Pantera songs in the past, but . . . it didn’t feel right. Then my inbox was full of requests, man. It felt like whoa—this influx of people I respect asking me to pay tribute to Abbott brothers? Just before we kicked off the Mental Illness tour, it sunk in that it was important to do.” Shortly thereafter, a growing YouTube catalog of the band playing Pantera tracks spread like wildfire.
“I gotta give huge credit to The Illegals [Stephen Taylor, Mike DeLeon, Jose Manuel Gonzalez, and Derek Engemann] for learning those songs as well as they did,” says Anselmo. “Most of the practice for those songs are done in a live capacity. The Pantera sets . . . is a mindfuck. And joyful at the same time. You gotta be in different headspace.”
But we’re talking about Anselmo’s headspace, here. Twenty-five years ago, he was performing at the height of Vulgar Display of Power. At 51, he emphatically declares what he wishes he could tell that younger version.
“I reflect back to when we were berserk onstage and drunk; how many injuries I could’ve avoided had I been more in control of myself. I wish I’d trained like an elite athlete instead of an elite partier. Had I never injured myself, I would’ve never ended up as a drug addict. I wasn’t meant to be that guy. Also—I’d say look at the good fortune of being surrounded by so many talented players," he adds. “I wish I would’ve taken it a lot more seriously. Done it right.”
In early 2019 Slayer watched The Illegals jam Pantera; pretty quickly the band was given an opening slot on their farewell tour’s final November leg. The special set name: “Vulgar Display of Pantera.”
“[Slayer] would know [Pantera songs] well since we toured with them back in the day,” says Anselmo. “It was uplifting to hear from Slayer that they felt the stuff was great.”
The audience participation so far has been overwhelming, according to Anselmo, with fans who bring their kids and even their grandchildren.
“It brings joy to see kids that grew up in a house with Pantera music. These songs, the Pantera songs—they are everybody’s songs,” says Anselmo.
No Minor Motivations
Anselmo’s influence in punk, hardcore and black metal can’t be denied, but his motivations in what defies genre (and projects that actually gain speed) are only growing—as well as his growing catalog of bands at his Housecore Records, strongly rooted in NOLA metal.
Take Scour, his black metal group with John Jarvis (Pig Destroyer), The Illegals’ Derek Engemann, Jesse Schobel (Cast the Stone) and Chase Fraser (Animosity). Over the course of two LPs, Scour has shown promise with horror movie-esque instrumentals, winding crescendos and Anselmo’s low guttural growls that set the band apart from stylistic black metal. With tracks averaging two minutes, fans want more—and the Black EP is on the horizon.
“The music’s written, and it’s really good, but I like to do projects with focus and an honest approach,” explains Anselmo. “I go through waves of being in different moods for different genres, and I need to get that blackish snotty vibe back. Lyrically for Scour I don’t want it to be your basic black metal.”
The newest addition to his live projects is En Minor, which has been in the making since he was a kid in the French Quarter. Influenced by ’80s gothic rock, the band includes members from The Illegals, Superjoint, Eyehategod—even a former first symphony cellist. The old-school Southern rock vibe coupled with haunting reflection of Anselmo’s past and a grungy, graver vocal style has given the group a breakaway from heavy metal. With an album slated for early 2020, lyrical topics include Anselmo’s departure from Pantera and painful issues relating to his father; a rift he has struggled with since childhood.
“There’s all this anger. I was never really mad at anyone besides my dad,” Anselmo admits. “Putting out this music is a relief for me. I’ve struggled with it, but because of other challenges, too, like singing in the bass voice. And to be dead-on pitch—which I never fucking am—but for me to be close on pitch, it’s like a carrot dangling. I go back and listen and . . . I’m still chasing the carrot.”
Anselmo has more energy than ever, it seems. In 2020, will Down get together for the debut’s 25th anniversary? Strong possibility. Will The Illegals write another full-length, and will Scour garner strong reviews? Hopefully. Because as Anselmo says: “We can always do better.”
“I’ve done some ridiculously stupid shit,” he says laughing. “But I’ve always said as human beings, we are imperfect creatures who learn from mistakes. You can take good advice, but until you fuck up for yourself, you can only really understand why that advice was given. I’ve been an imperfect human being, and with that comes the good and the bad. These days, I’m feeling very fucking good.”
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