It’s been said that heavy metal is a young man’s game, that the community’s elder statesmen should pass the torch sooner rather than later to avoid becoming stale, or worse, a parody of their former selves.
Well, Philip H. Anselmo turned 50 this year, and, instead of coasting on the wings of his Pantera past, he upped the ante with a retooled lineup of The Illegals and an album suggesting that he won’t be mailing it in anytime soon. “Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue” is 46 minutes of organized chaos more akin to “The Great Southern Trendkill” than “Vulgar Display of Power,” which makes for one of the most punishing metal records of 2018. Anselmo’s lyrics may come off as deceptively intellectual to those unfamiliar with the genre, but, beneath the often indecipherable wailing, he’s always been a songwriter whose rage is surpassed only by his intelligence. With a powerhouse ensemble around him, his latest ideas are able to flourish in terrifying fashion.
I caught up with bassist Walter Howard IV recently for a quick chat about his experience working with Philip and how he expects the band’s upcoming tour with Australian grindcore collective King Parrot to unfold. If you’re a fan of Anselmo and want to see an example of how to stay relevant in an industry where youth is allegedly king, come to Rochester, NY on Sept. 20 for further information.
MNOD: How did the title for the new album come about?
Howard: We all pretty much agreed on it from the beginning. It just felt like an accurate description of what the album sounded like and was about from a lyrical perspective.
MNOD: What was the recording process like?
Howard: It was very laid back, which was great. We were all just jamming together in the same room with no pressure whatsoever. The songs came naturally and we all knocked out our parts pretty quickly. I was super happy when I heard the finished product, because it captured the rawness of the band perfectly. Our live show is going to be unrelenting. The pure sonic brutality of the material really translates well to the live setting and even the old songs are bolstered by the new lineup, so we’re excited to finally bring the material out on the road.
MNOD: What is Philip like as a bandleader?
Howard: He’s great. It was a total trip to work with him, because it was fascinating to watch how his early ideas morphed into completed songs. To see his initial concepts go through the process of appearing on the album was awesome. He’s very encouraging to us as a band, as well, because he always listens to our ideas and is never one to turn something down without careful consideration. At times, I’d be curious as to where he would take a particular idea, but then I’d go ‘Holy shit’ once I heard how the song’s structure came together.
MNOD: How did this experience compare to previous bands that you’ve been in?
Howard: I was surprised by how similar it was, because we were all just stoned and jamming out together in a room for 10 to 12 hours a day with no fear of fucking up. This will be my first time out on the road with the band, but I’m not expecting the vibe to be anything different.
MNOD: What is your favorite track from the new album?
Howard: “Choosing Mental Illness” is probably my favorite. I laughed when I first saw the music video for that song, because the making of it was just a crazy day. We were getting crazy baked and loopy for a six-minute video. It was a lot of fun and that song really sets the tone for the rest of the album.
MNOD: When was the moment that you realized that music, particularly metal, was what you wanted to do with your life?
Howard: Terrorizer and Morbid Angel were bands that influenced me as a bass player in the early days. I also loved Metallica and Slayer, but the first show that really impacted me was seeing Kreator at a venue called Trees in Dallas in 2005. It was my first club show and the sense of community and camaraderie of the metal scene was just overwhelming for me. We’re actually playing Trees on the upcoming tour, which promises to be a very sentimental moment for me.
Catch Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals at Montage Music Hall in Rochester, NY on Sept. 20 with King Parrot.
“Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.