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A virtue too abstract to appreciate. - 51%

hells_unicorn, February 10th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Season of Mist (Digipak)

The post-MTV world of metal music is a bizarre one for those with a memory spanning more than 20 years, in part because a number of veterans of said era have seen fit to remain locked within the constraints that the medium demanded, but even more so because others of said era have gone so far in the opposite direction as to be all but unrecognizable today. Not withstanding their ongoing feud, Robb Flynn and Phil Anselmo are arguably the most obvious representatives of these divergent paths, as Machine Head is still firmly nestled in the musical and lyrical orthodoxy of the 1990s, whereas Anselmo has been largely off in his own world and throwing the mainstream a clumsy musical one-fingered salute. Though this pioneer of NOLA's ongoing metal scene has a growing list of current and former projects too numerous to recall, his recently birthed sludge outfit Philip J. Anselmo & The Illegals is arguably the least accessible.

The characteristic sound of this band is on the progressive side, if for no other reason than the fact that Anselmo throws just about every stylistic niche he's ever explored into the proverbial blender and laid it out on a sludgy smorgasbord. It's a sound that is far less doom-oriented than the predictable dual mixture of fast and slow that typifies Crowbar, not to mention loaded up with riff and vocal work indicative of a blackened death metal influence. Where things see a slight improvement on their second studio outing Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue is that the sectional transitions are a tad less abrupt and the songs are a bit more moderated in their duration, but overall this is the same sort of disjointed musical misanthropy that made Walk Through Exits Only an album that was hated by about as many people as liked it.

As with any effort, this album stands and falls by songwriting and execution, and it is largely in the former category where this album fails. Granted, the performance factor suffers a bit given Phil's voice sounds extremely haggard and gimped from decades of torture, and his high points are when he abandons his Anal Cunt inspired yells from his Pantera days for a mixture of fairly competent blackened shrieks and what I assume to be him emulating a Chris Barnes bark, but overall things suffer due to a second round of incoherent ideas being strung together in less than digestible bites. Whether it be the relentless chaos in shorter packages with a blackened, sludgy, dissonant splash such as "Little Fucking Heroes" or "Utopian", or longer and even more randomized mixtures of extreme rage like "Individual" and the album's closer "Mixed Lunatic Results" where the technical chops of the drums and guitars just ooze from each moment, coherence is definitely not on this album's radar.

In all fairness, it isn't wholly beyond the pale of understanding as to why a large number of Phil's dedicated fan base would like this band and this album, as it is a go-to place to get a little of everything from his past and present creative arsenal. There is an art to throwing together a highly frenzied collage of jarring twists and turns, communicated through one of the lowest fidelity modes of metal production that typifies the sludge sound, but all art is a matter of taste and the author of this review just can't really say that this is his thing. All the same, there is a certain honesty to how Phil Anselmo has been approaching his craft, as he is essentially pulling aside his fairly insular clique of friends and followers for an in-group discussion, rather than trying to jump on the latest semi-mainstream bandwagon or revival craze. At the end of the day, this is music for people who are perpetually pissed off, a disposition that Phil himself might be wont to trademark were it possible to do so.

Choosing Mental Illness And Running With It - 23%

Larry6990, January 29th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Season of Mist (Digipak)

I’m not sure if anyone takes Phil Anselmo seriously anymore. I’m not seeking to disparage his past talents as a formidable frontman for groove and sludge acts which scour (pun intended) the length and breadth of the southern states. Hell, I’m a massive Pantera fan, and you’ll always catch me in the pit first whenever Down’s “Bury Me In Smoke” comes on; but has anything that the lumbering oaf has done in the past half-decade, except for racially ambiguous controversies, been memorable or worthwhile? The awkwardly-named Phil H. Anselmo & The Illegals is yet another crossover project he started up back in 2011 with yet more members of bands like Scour, Superjoint, Eyehategod, Crowbar etc. (I honestly lose track with how incestuous the Louisiana sludge scene can get). First release Walk Through Exits Only was a messy affair which divided opinion between the die-hards and the don’t-cares. I poised myself firmly on the latter side, and still don’t particularly care about how angry Phil is, or how much he ‘doesn’t give a fuck’.

Returning almost five years later with Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue (argue what exactly is meant by the title somewhere else. Is it irony? Who knows? Who cares?) – the general formula has not really changed. This would usually be a plus for any band of this style – I mean this is crust, not prog – but unfortunately there’s only so much abrasiveness one can take without any semblance of emotional impact. Even Pantera’s most aggressive material was always backed up with motivational semi-slogans, to which the likes of “Little Fucking Heroes” and “Utopia” cannot hold a candle. Simply yelling the song-title over and over again in a bullish manner does not a statement make. Everything is engineered to be as vile and rough as possible, from the gritty production (which actually works in the album’s favour), to the almost consistently dissonant guitars that seem to be constantly a semitone apart. Seriously, listen to the trebly strings of “The Ignorant Point” – I love the blessed interval of the minor second more than anyone, but this is overkill to the point where the rough becomes the norm…and therefore loses its edge.

Even the songwriting fails to conform to any semblance of structural familiarity. No groove ever settles for more than ten seconds before flying off the handle into a wild maelstrom of blast beats and irregular rhythms. It’s traits like these which tend to take the ‘sludge’ label and lean it more towards ‘grind’. But even giving the record this categorization wouldn’t forgive the fact that some tracks encroach upon the seven-minute mark! Both “Individual” and “Mixed Lunatic Results” are insanely drawn-out wrecks with no sense of climax or flow. Considering the first four tracks are by far the shortest, listening to the entirety of Choosing… will result in face-desking by track seven. As soon as the cringingly-named “Finger Me” comes crashing in with yet another barrage of blasts and flurry of foulmouthed vocals, one would be tempted to snap the nearest disc…which hopefully would be this one.

To address the elephant in the room bluntly: Phil’s vocal delivery is fucking awful. If it truly is him performing the ultra-low death metal growls, then I will eat my words, because they sound wholesomely awesome. However, the majority of this LP is toneless shouting, mixed with a hideous semi-growl that sounds like Phil’s about to vomit. We get it, you don’t give a fuck and want to show the world how angry you are. It makes me yearn for Pantera’s Power Metal days – and I never thought I’d say that! As an optimist, I’m sure the disturbing cover art and album title conceal a deeper meaning, or perhaps some societal commentary, but it’s such a shame that whatever it is is hidden behind 46 minutes of clusterfucked crust/groove/sludge/grind. Only recommended for die-hards of the southern scene, or any Superjoint fan who found themselves craving something a little less weed, and a little more meth.

You have missed the point - 45%

Twisted_Psychology, January 26th, 2018

Frontman Phil Anselmo remains prolific in middle age, though he seems to have nestled into an extreme sludge metal sweet spot between Superjoint and his solo band. His first album backed by the Illegals since 2013’s Walk Through Exits Only offers much of the same eclectic style energized by flurries of manic musicianship. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates the same unfocused redundancy as its predecessor.

The songs on Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue are defined by their constantly shifting tempos as well as influence from sludge, hardcore, thrash, and even black metal. The drums are at a near constant blast and the guitars navigate the changes well, alternating between mean punk speed runs and grinding breakdowns with plenty of angry static to go around.

Unfortunately, the actual compositions aren’t very memorable. The structures are set up without any real intent guiding them and individual ideas fail to stick around long enough to really stick. There are promising segments like the ambience of the closing “Mixed Lunatic Results” and some of the riffs do stick out, but the songs are largely incoherent exercises that not even the most aggressive band can keep from going in one ear and out the other.

It also doesn’t help that Anselmo’s voice continues to decline. The Scour EPs prove that he can bust out some solid black metal screeches when he feels like it, but his hardcore shout comes out as a tired wheeze that sounds more annoying than intimidating. It’s bad enough that his performances make poor songs like “Individual” and “Finger Me” even more unpleasant, but his cringe worthy rants threaten to completely derail the otherwise decent instrumentation on the opening “Little Fucking Heroes” and “Choosing Mental Illness.” Phil’s obnoxiousness has been a part of his appeal since the Vulgar days, but it makes the experience much harder to tolerate when there’s nothing else to really focus on.

I suppose Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue lives up to its “love it or hate it” marketing, but there’s some serious suspension of disbelief involved in legitimately loving it. There’s talent involved but there’s no real sense of payoff when the structures are this purposeless and the vocals this grating. You won’t find anything that wasn’t done better by Trendkill-era Pantera or Superjoint Ritual, and Scour is the best outlet for Anselmo’s more extreme talents nowadays. Fans will still gravitate to this regardless, but I’ll stay over here wondering when Down will get its act together…

“Little Fucking Heroes”
“Choosing Mental Illness”
“Mixed Lunatic Results”

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