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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.