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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.