Metal Heroes: Phil Anselmo
Five Indian metal artists tell us about their biggest heroes, who shaped their music. We track down these iconic artists for their stories
Chintan Chinnappa, guitarist of Bengaluru thrash/death metal band Inner Sanctum, talks about why Phil Anselmo is the most badass frontman in metal.
Which Anselmo album is one of your favorites?
I don’t have favorites. I’m not a huge fan of Pantera, but the reason I chose Phil Anselmo over the rest is not as a musician but as a personality, in terms of qualities of a frontman and the way he carries himself on stage.Â Though I think Cowboys From Hell and Reinventing The Steel are both good albums, for me, my choices aren’t purely based on music. Phil Anselmo is a badass. He’s the perfect frontman, if I can even say there is one. He is, in my view, the best frontman in metal.
Was there any particular incident that made you feel that way about Anselmo?
When I see videos of Pantera, though Dimebag (Darell, guitarist) is an icon by himself, Phil Anselmo kind of led the band. He carried the band through. He was the face of a band that defined an entire era of music. For me, it’s true. He seems to be in control of the whole thing when he’s on stage and show aggression. He portrays himself to be a badass, but I don’t know how he is personally. That’s what most frontmen should be like.
A possible incident is one of the concert videos from Down, when he actually stops the song halfway through and tells the crowd to stop looking at him and bang their heads and mosh. The way he did it affected me quite a bit, even though it was just a video I saw online. This guy really knows metal. Now, it’s become more of a science ”“ everyone just plays from start to finish, there’s absolutely no crowd interaction, nothing which happens, just music and a little bit of headbanging. No one seems to get this kind of aggression from the crowd like Phil Anselmo.
What are you expecting from his new album?
I just know him with Pantera and Down are concerned, but the solo will be quite interesting. It depends on who is doing the music with Anselmo. I would like to give it a listen. If he’s doing his entire clean-vocals thing, then probably not, I don’t think he’s very great at that.Â
Why do you think he’s more suited to metal vocals than clean vocals?
He is a metal vocalist, there’s no doubt about it. If he tones his persona down to be a little bit mellower, then it defeats the purpose of him being a vocalist itself, of being aggressive and badass.
Phil Anselmo, the man who shaped Pantera tells us about the challenges he faced driving one of the biggest metal bands in the world and his new music
When Philip H. Anselmo speaks ”“ or rather, drawls that slow and measured Southern drawl ”“ it takes you a moment to wrap your head around the fact that it was this very voice that screamed out metal classics like “Cemetery Gates”, “Walk” and “Five Minutes Alone.” While Pantera shut shop in 2003, Anselmo, the vocalist and principal songwriter of the groove titans would go on to become more active with Down and Superjoint Ritual (both bands he had been working on while in Pantera), amongst others.
Surprisingly, it is not until early this year that he put out any material under his own name. War of the Gargantuas, released in January, is a split EP featuring Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, and Warbeast. But this EP, with two songs from Anselmo, barely serves as a primer for his debut record, Walk Through Exits Only, releasing on July 16. In fact, if you are expecting Pantera, Down or Superjoint Ritual from this new record, you are going to be grossly disappointed. This is a heavy record no doubt (“One of the heaviest I’ve done,” says Anselmo), but not heavy in a groovy Pantera sort of a way.Â
The last time I spoke to you two years ago in June 2011, you were working on the Down EP. You had said you hoped to get a Down album out and then get the solo CD out. What made you change plans and get down to your solo album?
We did do the Down EP [Down IV, Part 1: The Purple EP] and that was the objective. During that recording I was going back and forth between Down and the solo project, which took on many different forms of life. They were almost written simultaneously, to some degree. But really the objective was to do the Down EP and the solo record. All of that is fulfilled. And just for you to know, we are already working on the second Down EP, so that’s in the works. And right now, I’m practising with the solo band. So I’m keeping myself very busy [laughs].
I’ve been listening to your new record for the last few days. And you sound pissed off, Philip. What are you so angry about?
Oh man. It’s a musical expression that I haven’t had the opportunity to convey in a really long, long time. You know, extreme music flows through my blood, extreme music flows through my brain every fucking day of my life. Everyone is very well aware of how much I damaged my body throughout my career. Broken my back, broken my knee, broken ribs, broken bones. Broken bones and bloodied head”¦ So there are times in my life where I may get frustrated with my condition but these days I very much choose not to speak about those things so much in conversation anymore because I am very fucking used to it. At this point in time, I feel so much better. But, still everyday is a challenge. Once you have major back surgery, you have to maintain it. You have to keep maintenance on your body, the core of your body and stay strong. So within that struggle sometimes, it’s a different topic for extreme music. So it’s really for me to get all this anger out in music. It’s much more healthy than me talking about it in interviews or expressing it everyday to my loved ones, my family. So I keep it to myself and maybe let it come out in music. And that’s the sound you are hearing, as far as anger goes.
One of your fans from India, Chintan Chinnappa of thrash metal Inner Sanctum, picked Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell as one of his biggest influences. That was your second album with Pantera. But it was almost like a completely different band, in terms of the sound. What really happened in those two years between Power Metal and Cowboys From Hell that brought about this change, Philip?
Well, when I first joined Pantera they were very stuck in the ballroom scene. And you have to understand, in America, in order to play in ballrooms at that time in the late Eighties ”“ middle Eighties to late Eighties ”“ you had to cater to the look, the sound, the image, everything of what was popular in the day. Which was the shitty Motley Crue and all the fucking stupid suck-fuck glam bands”¦ So when I joined I told them this is not what I want to do. Let’s get heavier, in a progressive way. Of course, it was a very tough chore to reprogram these guys’ heads and get them on the same page as I was. Now, that never happened really. What happened was I brought my influences in and everyone else did their own take on what I was trying to get across.
You have to understand that Pantera was a band of gigantic compromise. At that time, maybe I couldn’t see it because I was a young man. But today, obviously I see it. The compromise worked. So a couple of things happened. First and foremost, the production of the records, the sound of the records were lightyears away from say, Power Metal, because we had a producer in Terry Date, who worked very, very closely with Dimebag on his guitar sounds, which were always great. But back in the old days when you were taping everything on tape, instead of digitally, sometimes it would be hard to get one sound and put it on tape and make it really come across. The sound really grew.
There were several events that happened that led to the other guys in Pantera really accepting where my brain was at. One of those things was me introducing them, musically, to Slayer and then Slayer coming to play and me befriending Kerry King. We became very close. Kerry King would come down and jam with us. I know for a fact that when [Pantera guitarist] Dimebag [Darrell] saw and played with Kerry King and he saw and felt and learnt firsthand how extreme and demanding Slayer parts really were on the guitar, he found like a completely new respect for extreme music.
The last song we wrote for that album was “Primal Concrete Sledge” and if you listen to that song, it really is more like a song that would be on our next record, Vulgar Display of Power than the rest of Cowboys, all put together. Understand this: We’d been playing all the material from Cowboys From Hell since 1988. We really didn’t get to record it until ’89 and then we released it ”˜90. So by the time that record came out, I think all of our attitudes were much more Vulgar Display of Power than Cowboys From Hell. It’s a little bit of a crazy story but it really is the truth.
This is a difficult question, but if I were to ask you to name one musician or band that was your hero when you were growing up, could you?
That’s tough, man. A very tough one. When I was a young boy, it was Rob Halford from Judas Priest, no doubt. But later, there’s guys like Roger (Miret) from Agnostic Front that very much influenced me. I can’t leave out Slayer either. Slayer was a gigantic fucking influence. So one of the three. I know it’s not like one guy, but I’m sorry, it’s a tough question [laughs].
Speaking of Slayer, you were at the Golden Gods alongwith all of metal’s royalty when news came in about Jeff Hanneman’s passing. What was the atmosphere there at that time?
I was on my way to soundcheck when news broke and immediately, it put a dark cloud over the whole event. I’ve known Jeff Hanneman since 1987 and he was in one of the greatest bands in the history of bands, Slayer. Maybe one of the most influential bands in my life at one point. So I think when everybody came together ”“ me and Zakk Wylde and the guys in anthrax, Corey from Slipknot ”“ we were very sad. But then with all of us there, we made a conscious decision to celebrate his life and give him our best attitudes. When you play guitar in a band like Slayer and when your music has touched my life so drastically, you have to celebrate the person’s life, not the death. The death, I take that and I’ll go back to the hotel room, get on the plane, go home, lock myself up in the bedroom and then feel sad. On my own time. But in the public eye, I want to express that Jeff Hanneman was not only one my heroes in one of my favorite bands, but also a very, very cool motherfucker that I will miss tremendously.
If everybody after reading this interview, goes home and puts on Hell Awaits, you’ll find yourself celebrating his life. Hell AwaitsÂ is one of the heaviest records ever written in the history of heavy records.
That’s your favorite Slayer record, right?
Oh god, yes, easy. Then again, my question goes out to everyone, is there really any song written in history that’s heavier than “Angel of Death.” I’m not so sure. It’s so fucking heavy, it’s so relentless.
I believe you are also working on an autobiography. Do the book and your new album actually complement each other?
Well, I think by the time the autobiography comes out, this record will be old news. But the thing is I have so much more music written already, all ready to go, after this record that I will be touching on several other subjects anyway. To answer your question, there are parts of the book that absolutely could be connected to some of these songs, particularly the “Bedroom Destroyer” and “Bedridden” songs. There will be parts of the book that will touch upon those types of struggles. But I want people to realize that this is not just a Pantera book, like [Pantera bassist] Rex Brown’s book [Official Truth: 101 Proof]. This book is about my life, about how I became a 45-year-old version of myself. It goes through many, many, journeys, many, many, changes, many things throughout my life that helped shape the person I have become today. Pantera definitely was a huge part of my life. But there’s a lot that went on before I was in Pantera and there’s a lot that’s happened since Pantera broke up and then Dimebag was murdered. So there’ s a lot to go into the book.Â
The article appeared in the June 2013 edition of Rolling Stone IndiaÂ