Published Nov 29, 2010"The human being is an imperfect machine and I'm a perfect example of that," declares Philip Hansen Anselmo, one of extreme music's most revered, respected, reviled and recognizable artists. Over the course of his 42 years, this New Orleans native has been through more trials, tribulations and torment than one man should ― and often can ― handle. From his earliest days as Louisiana-based club singer through to becoming one of heavy metal's most prominent visages fronting legendary quartets Pantera and Down, Anselmo has endured praise, public feuds with former mates, drug addiction, debilitating physical injury and dissolution of both personal and professional relationships. Yet, like some brimstone-clad phoenix rising from its own ashes, Anselmo has never allowed himself to succumb to oppressive encounters. Overcoming his demons, the past few years have seen Anselmo reconfigure into a stronger, meaner heavy metal powerhouse, re-releasing some his own greatest material as mastermind behind DIY-inspired label Housecore Records, become guitarist for old school hardcore brigade Arson Anthem, producer, engineer and eventually solo artist. While preparing to release Arson Anthem's obliterating sophomore full-length Insecurity Notoriety recently, Anselmo took time to pause and reflect on his storied history, enviable present and bright future. Discussing those monumental aspects that have created his legacy, Anselmo pares his core down to the three key sentiments: honesty, sincerity and always putting the next foot forward. "I'm one massive fuck-up of an animal," he chuckles in his inimitably casual baritone rumble. "But with that comes a lot of positive things that have happened in my life. Too many, even though we can't get enough. I've had an overabundance of luck, good fortune and if I were to sit here and complain, it would be unjust to the gift of life itself. I just keep putting one foot ahead of the other, 'cause I don't know any other way."
1968 to 1984
On June 30, 1968, Philip Hansen Anselmo arrives unto decidedly young parents. Growing up in downtown New Orleans with his mother as primary caregiver (his father is a restaurateur who will be forced to close the business after its decimation by 2005's Hurricane Katrina), Anselmo is introduced to a plethora of divergent musical genres and cultures from an early age, developing not only a healthy appreciation for disparity but also a wealth of material to cull from in later years.
"Living in New Orleans and more directly in my earliest childhood memories, we were living in the French Quarter," he says. "You were surrounded by street musicians and musicians in bars all night 'cause there's no real closing time. You hear music 24/7. The popular music of [my mother's] generation ― hearing it with her young friends ― there was no escaping the sounds of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. Even the great radio bands of the day. I can't count 'em out but I think about 'em a lot."
Embracing influence brought on by the era's welcoming, laissez faire mentality amongst certain movements, Anselmo quickly discovers his artistic medium of choice. "I got my first acoustic guitar when I was nine. I begged for it," he continues. "My folks' friends had guitars ― long-haired, hippie-ish 20-somethings ― and I couldn't keep my damned hands off 'em. I was attracted to the instrument." Preferring creation over imitation, he instantly begins to pen original compositions and shun simply reiterating tunes of the day. At the same time, his musical tastes are honing with the influx of New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands flowing through the underground metal circuit as well as standards such as Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Judas Priest.
"When I got [that] first guitar at nine, I wrote my first song. There was really no turning back from there. Even that young, I knew deep in my heart, no matter what phase of life I went through like sports or whatever, I'd always come full circle back to music. When I picked up the guitar, it wasn't like I begged someone to teach me this or that song. I didn't wanna learn other people's music. I wanted to make my own. That's a whole different level of attraction."
At the age of 13, Anselmo enlists the aid of area friends in forming his first band dubbed Samhain, preceding former Misfits vocalist Glenn Danzig's New Jersey-based act by two years. Relegated to little more than garage performances, Anselmo splits both guitar and vocal duties, scraping together equipment wherever possible. These limited means later prove advantageous, as they prod Anselmo to push himself, forming a solid musical foundation.
"We'd go through finding members, having a great guitarist and an awful bassist. We went through the stages of trying to find something to sing through. I've sang through little recorder microphones rigged up through 20 different home stereo speakers, guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers... I went through all that fuckin' stuff," he laughs.
1985 to 1987
By 17, Phil Anselmo has graduated beyond pre-teen juvenility and is looking to form a serious act. He eventually comes across local club-circuit band Rapid Phaze who are disillusioned with their current vocalist. While not entirely enthralled with their borderline glam rock direction, he seizes the opportunity to advance into bona fide performing. Taking to the lifestyle quite readily, Anselmo opts for a life of singing over scholastics, quitting Grace King High School and taking on Rapid Phaze full-time. In return, the band rename themselves Razor White after one of Anselmo's recently-penned tunes.
"I was always the youngest guy in the band and we'd hooked up with some musicians who'd been playing in the local club circuit so that's how I got introduced to playing shows. I had to get snuck in but by the end of the night, I'd be the drunkest guy up on shoulders screaming and getting in fights. All kinds of shit. I cut my chops early getting thrown in front of the supposed grownup audiences of clubs across Louisiana and Texas. I quit high school and did my home work onstage. It paid off eventually though, all that goddamn club gigging."
Looking back on the band in 2010 however, Anselmo admits that while it was crucial in shaping his career, stage presence and undeniable abilities as songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Razor White was less than stellar.
"I can't say Razor White was awful but it was, too," he chuckles. "The mentality of clubs back then catered to popular bands of the day, which were glammier. That's what I went through with those bands, doing a lot of covers and shit. We did more Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, though. The first gig I ever did, we opened up with 'Neon Nights' and I could not fucking sing that song to save my life. God, it was so bad. I came home with a cassette playing it for my mom, I was so proud. Just the look on her face was like, 'Oh my God. My son has no talent at all. I don't believe in this band business.' She became a fan later, though."
Incidentally, it is at this time that Anselmo finds a nemesis in punk kid Mike Williams. While the two are initially at odds due to the era's punk/metal feud, they will eventually become one of extreme music's most dominant allegiances, forming hardcore outfit Arson Anthem and bringing Williams' long-standing extreme metal band Eyehategod and side-project Outlaw Order to Anselmo's independent label Housecore Records some two decades later.
"Mike Williams ― we're great friends now. We grew up in the same city going to the same shows but I was a metal kid and he was a punk kid. Those lines were very thick, hard to cross. It was a social statement, a trendy-ish feud but you come to find out years later that we were both listening to the same stuff and just wearing different clothes. We laugh at it now but at the time, it was tough to struggle through. Me and Mike Williams had more than one 'Fuck you, asshole' thrown at each other.
"For all his lack of parenting, crazy ways and and what-not, he lived that punk thing up," Anselmo smiles. "He was the first to break a bottle and smash it on his head or someone else's. By the same token, I was the guy out with friends who were basically five bar stools away from him and his gaggle. We'd be fuckin' brawling in the same bars but never against each other. As many times as I threatened to knock Mike Williams' head off his shoulders, I never did. And here we are today. He's one of my best friends."
Life with Razor White quickly fades to a dull grey for Anselmo. After a mere year-plus, he is frustrated with their direction/limited abilities and begins to explore options. At the exact same time, six-year-old Texas-based metal outfit Pantera are in a similarly disinterested situation with their vocalist. In a strange twist-of-fate, both parties are familiar with one another's reputation, prompting an invite for the New Orleans sensation to try his pipes with the Texan metallions.
"Pantera were legendary, even in New Orleans," Anselmo asserts. "Dimebag Darryl [Abbott, guitarist] was considered an incredible guitar player. They were known as the band that was probably the next band to 'make it,' getting signed, taking off and having a career instead of just a local gig. They were also known as the band that were putting out vinyl shrink-wrapped with lyrics, pictures and artwork while everyone else was just doing cassette demos. That was a big step above your average fare."
At the time however, the Dallas-based act is far from the pivotal thrash behemoth they will eventually become revered as. Still looking for mainstream success, gallons of hairspray and spandex dominate their appearance; limp hard rock infiltrates their sound. With Abbott's flailing guitar and brother/drummer Vinnie's smashing time-keeping though, Anselmo admits he can hear their potential.
"I heard my first Pantera about '85/'86. I can't say it was my cup of tea at the time but neither was Razor White's original music either. I was in a spot. I could hear the potential, especially on their third record [1985's] I Am The Night. Dimebag's a monster on that fuckin' record. I knew they had this reputation and it just so happened that ― I guess at the height of the Pantera hype while I was still in New Orleans ― I was coming into my own, getting to be known as the guy; this killer new lead singer with stage presence and all this bullshit. I was starting to get a reputation and outta nowhere it seemed like Pantera's singer up and left them. That was kind of ironic timing."
Looking to see if the two up-and-coming stars would gel, Pantera contact Anselmo, flying him out for jam sessions at their Dallas rehearsal space. The sessions go so well, the future is obvious to both parties, forcing Anselmo into a hard decision. By the end of 1987, he is crowned front-man for Pantera.
"It's not like I left Razor White because I was unhappy with the situation but in hindsight, I was unhappy with the situation a bit because they were limited. I knew in my heart and it might've been spoken aloud that they wanted to move in a more commercial direction, which totally turned me off. There's enough of 'em out that type of music out there and I was looking for something different. Definitely the heavier edge but not just sit next to something. I wanted to crush things; break the mould if I was gonna fuckin' do anything.
"Joining Pantera and moving to whole different city at a young age like that was taking a big risk. That one trip to Dallas when they flew me in to try out, after I played with them, there was no denying that I'd been in the room with ― much less jammed with ― a tighter band. My God, Pantera was just so fucking tight and not limited. The potential was there. Vince could do whatever the fuck he wanted with the drums. If I was to advance with a band, the limitation of Razor White versus Pantera, Pantera had a lot more potential."
1988 to 1993
Inspired by their new singer, Pantera opt to re-record the vocal tracks for their fourth independent full-length Power Metal. While still steeped in glam influence, Power Metal does offer up thrashier tendencies ostensibly taken from the influence and realism of releases such as Slayer's 1986 affair Reign In Blood and Metallica's epic Master Of Puppets. When coupled with Anselmo's tougher edged vocals and undeniable attitude, Pantera begin to reveal inclinations towards shedding affected image and preparing a more down-to-earth approach.
All of these aspects prompt Vinnie Abbott to utter words Anselmo has been dying to hear from a band mate for years, as Abbott reveals on a 2006 VH1 Behind The Music: "These magic clothes don't play music; we do. Let's just go out there and be comfortable ― jeans, t-shirt, whatever ― and see where it goes."
The glam imagery is duly dropped and soon after (as later proves to be the case in many of Anselmo's major life-changing moments), a natural disaster manages to create a chance opportunity. After years of being refused by labels, Atco Records representative Mark Ross catches Pantera while stranded in Texas by Hurricane Hugo at the tail end of 1989. Impressed by their ability, songs and lack of fluffy hair, he signs the band to their first bona fide contract and Pantera enter the studio to record fifth outing Cowboys From Hell. Amusingly, during that show the band is initially disturbed to see Ross leave partway through their set, thinking he is disgusted. They later learn it was only to assert that they be signed post-haste.
Released on July 24, 1990, Cowboys From Hell not only displays a completely fresh sound for Pantera boasting harsher guitars, heavier drums and more groove-laden tendencies but showcases Anselmo's impressive range between shrieking Mohican-sporting, tattooed punk and guttural, Mohican-sporting, tattooed metalhead. The album tops out at #117 on Billboard charts but receives universal accolades for its originality, spirit and attack, eventually spawning a musical movement deeply rooted in its own idiom and being declared one of heavy music's most vital campaigns. With Cowboys From Hell, Pantera become a household name to the international metal community.
While on tour in support of Cowboys From Hell however, Anselmo realizes that not even the mighty Pantera is capable of maintaining his undivided attention. In the grips of a plodding metal addiction, Anselmo rediscovers a love for the loose structures and patient progressions of acts such as St. Vitus, Black Sabbath and more.
"It was on the Judas Priest Painkiller tour in Europe. It was our first time there and we were sharing a bus with Annihilator. God, I drove those poor motherfuckers crazy. [Guitarist] Jeff Waters can attest that I owned the fucking bus stereo. I was on a St. Vitus, Black Flag, Suffocation and Morbid Angel trip. It was more of the slow trip, though. I was talking with Jimmy [Bower, Eyehategod drummer] who was living in Atlanta but moving back to New Orleans. Pepper [Keenan, guitar] moved outta New Orleans before I did to join Corrosion Of Conformity. We were all on the same page and knew us three wanted to do this thing. We weren't all, 'Hey, we're starting this new band,' though. We just wanted to jam, get out and play some slow shit; see what would happen. It wasn't a big plan. It just happened."
Pantera's popularity confirmed, Anselmo feels comfortable with moving back to the familiar confines of New Orleans, thereby giving rise to the opportunity for those long-anticipated slow jams. His first side-project Down is born, the group rounded out by second guitarist Kirk Windstein and bassist Todd Strange of Crowbar.
"When I moved back to New Orleans, I had this house right in the middle of the city itself, all the musicians would come party and hang out. We'd end up jamming together. Some things started out as a joke and next thing you know, you're practising six times a week. Hence Down, hence Superjoint Ritual, hence Christ Inversion ― anything I've done like that. I've become one big side project. That's my life. There's no main focus here. I'm just fuckin' makin' music."
Following up ― and surpassing ― the success of their Atco debut, Pantera issue Vulgar Display of Power in February, 1992. Often considered the band's official "breakthrough," it reaches #44 on Billboard and cements their notoriety forged on the success of Cowboys From Hell with staple tunes such as "Mouth For War," "Fucking Hostile" and "Walk," all covered by adoring bands for years to come. World tours ensue during 1993 but still Anselmo feels the twitch of "extramarital affairs," generating the idea for a thrash/punk/sludge hybrid band that will eventually become known as Superjoint Ritual (again featuring Bower as well as eventual members Hank Williams III and Kevin Bond of Crowbar).
Outside of musical endeavours, in the fall of 1992, Anselmo and friends Ross Karpelman, and Jay Gracinette create a haunted house attraction dubbed House Of Shock that initiates in Gracinette's backyard. Over the years, it becomes so popular thanks to pyrotechnics, actors, bloody interaction and a mock Church of Satan, the House Of Shock is moved to a more accommodating warehouse space. Growing annually, it garners international attention for stellar presentation, being temporarily shut down by New Orleans officials due to fear of bona fide Satanist activity and most notoriously for being so scary, one patron suffers a heart attack and dies. They are revived by paramedics, however.
1994 to 1995
Capitalizing on the success of Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera quickly enter the studio for seventh full-length Far Beyond Driven. Released on March 22, 1994 it instantly debuts at #1 on U.S. and Australian charts and garners the band their first Grammy Awards nomination for Best Metal Performance in 1995. While touring the album circa June 1994 however, Anselmo is charged with assault in Darien, New York for allegedly hitting a security guard with his microphone after witnessing him refuse to allow fans onstage. Taken into custody, he is released on $5,000 bail the following day but the incident haunts him for a year as trial delays push his hearing to May of 1995. During the court appearance, Anselmo apologizes and pleads guilty to attempted assault. He is sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
Post-Far Beyond Driven touring, Anselmo hosts another of his many spontaneous jam sessions in late 1994, spawning blackened death metal project Christ Inversion. Short-lived, he records two demos and promptly deserts the idea for no discernible reason, eventually re-releasing the first recording on his own Housecore Records in 2008.
By 1995, the Abbott brothers and Pantera bassist Rex Brown feel distance from Anselmo, a point driven home by erratic behaviour culminating in intensified alcohol consumption he claims is in an effort to stave off back pain from years of wild performing. During the aforementioned Behind The Music, Anselmo admits alcohol was, "putting some worry into the band," and affecting his abilities onstage. Refusing medical advice that surgery would address the issue yet take him out of commission for a year, Anselmo turns to heroin as a painkiller, a decision that will cause unending issue for years to come.
Adding to the situation's stress, Pantera make negative headlines after a March, 1995 concert at Montreal's Verdun Auditorium. During the show, Anselmo babbles forth in a stream-of-consciousness rant that is perceived as racist, uttering statements including, "rap music advocates the killing of white people." Taking issue with the comments, a small number of security personnel and attendees engage in an altercation with the singer. The Montreal Gazette reports on the situation, causing an international flurry and resulting in Anselmo releasing an open apology (which they reprint) stating: "I must take responsibility for the harmful words that may have racially offended our audience. First, to the black girl who has seen Pantera six times, thank you for telling me how upset you were at me; it made a difference and I was very sincere with my apology. Second, I'd once again like to apologize to the security guards at the show. They were classy and professional, and came to talk to me after the show when they really didn't need to at all. They opened my eyes. And yes, they were black men. I have much respect for them. I extend my apologies and a thank you to them."
This, in turn, causes more issue/debate about Anselmo's sincerity, which takes some months to taper off. Undaunted, by autumn Anselmo has finished recording Down's official debut NOLA, an offering that matches Pantera's success, hitting #55 on Billboard and certifying platinum sales.
In the midst of this hoopla and ensuing 13-month Down tour (after which they will go on hiatus for four years), Anselmo and girlfriend Stephanie Opal Weinstein find time to create their own acoustic rock project Southern Isolation. The band will not release any music until 2001. He also forms black metal-influenced side-project Viking Crown with Necrophagia front man, Killjoy (aka Frank Pucci) at this time, performing under the pseudonym Anton Crowley, the conjoining of personal heroes Anton LaVey and Aleister Crowley, personalities infamous for degrees of occultism.
1996 to 2001
The perceived spike between Anselmo and Pantera is driven down further during the recording of 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill when the vocalist opts to record his tracks at home in New Orleans instead of with the rest of the band in Texas. Supporting that opinion, while the album is initially revered, debuting at #4, it quickly fades out of public eye and is largely overlooked, taking almost a decade to attain the same platinum sales status of its predecessors.
Two months after the album's release, internal difficulties reach an apex when after a performance in Dallas on July 13, a heroin overdose sends Anselmo into cardiac arrest. Despite his heart stopping for almost five minutes, paramedics are able to revive him with a shot of adrenaline to the chest, Pulp Fiction-style. Upon gaining consciousness, his nurse casually announces, "Welcome back to life. Oh, and you have overdosed on heroin." Embarrassment prompts Anselmo to apologize to his bandmates and assure them he will abstain, yet both Abbotts are mortified by the situation.
Four days later Anselmo issues a press release about the incident stating, "I, Philip H. Anselmo, immediately after a very successful show in Dallas injected a lethal dose of heroin into my arm, and died for four to five minutes. There were no lights, no beautiful music, just nothing. And then after 20 minutes (from what I heard later) my friends slapped me and poured water over my head all basically trying to revive me. The paramedics finally arrived and all I remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance. From that point on I knew all I wanted was to be back on the tour bus, going to the next gig. Instead I was going to the hospital where I was released very shortly. You see, I'm not a heroin addict. But I am (was) an intravenous drug abuser. The lesson learned here is that every nightmare ever heard about ODing, and/or heroin is terribly true. And for my friends and family as well as myself and our fans, I since then have recovered completely, the Pantera Tour uninterrupted. I intend to keep it that way! Special thanks to my family and friends who supported me, and the fans who pump me up to the hilt. One message to everyone in this fucking world. I am not a weakling groping for sympathy. I WILL NOT DIE SO EASILY! I'm here to piss off the music press for a long time to come. Very sincerely, Philip Anselmo." He will relapse twice more before being wrought with guilt and eventually kicking the drug.
During a 2009 appearance at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana, Anselmo addresses his drug use candidly ― and with some degree of contradiction ― admitting, "There is no reason, really, that I can point to (for why I started doing drugs)," while also asserting that after being lauded as a matchless frontman by press despite a degenerative disc disease in his back, "in order for me to be this Superman that the media had built me out to be, I had to quell that pain. So I started off with regular painkillers and muscle relaxers. Eventually, you climb up the painkiller ladder, because painkillers lie to you; they will magnify that injury."
Other than touring, live affair Official Live: 101 Proof (1997) and certified platinum status for Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display Of Power and Far Beyond Driven as well as Grammy nominations for Best Metal Performance for The Great Southern Trendkill, much of the next few years remain quiet for Pantera but not Anselmo who again dedicates himself to the pleasures of side-projects. In 1999, he forms metal supergroup Eibon with Killjoy (after playing guitar on Necrophagia's Holocausto de lo Morte), Fenriz (Darkthrone), Satyr (Satyricon) and Maniac (Mayhem). The project will be another short-lived one when after sole track "Mirror Soul Jesus" is released on a compilation ― in 2000 ― Eibon is placed on indefinite hiatus. Viking Crown simultaneously issue EP Unorthodox Steps Of Ritual before Pantera regroup to record what is to become their final studio album, 2000's Reinventing The Steel.
Issued in March, Reinventing The Steel also debuts at Number Four yet receives mixed-reviews between those still adoring Pantera's inimitable style and those tired of it/caught up in the onslaught of proto-grunge and rap-metal crossover acts of the time. At this time, Viking Crown also issue debut full-length Innocence From Hell to modest appreciation.
Touring for Reinventing The Steel remains relatively uneventful other than being halted after a mishap during the 2000 House Of Shock when Anselmo falls, breaking his ribs and forcing show cancellations. Ten months later, the stint is cut short when on 9/11, attacks on New York's Twin Towers ground aircraft across the globe, leaving Pantera stranded in Dublin, Ireland. These performances will become the band's last.
Almost concurrently, another issue explodes with Anselmo, when after the release of Viking Crown's 2001 Banished Rhythmic Hate album, he admits to Revolver Magazine that while they have issued three efforts, he feels the band is, "a joke band with me, Opal (Weinstein) and Killjoy from Necrophagia. It's like bad, bad, bad black metal." The comments upset Killjoy, leading to the dissolution of Viking Crown and a split between Killjoy's Baphomet Records and anything Anselmo related.
Irrepressible, Anselmo rounds out 2001 by marrying Weinstein on October 31, celebrating with the release of a four-song eponymous Southern Isolation EP featuring the couple on vocals/guitar, Clearlight's Ross Karpelman on keyboards and Crowbar's Sid Montz on drums.
2002 to 2004
Four years after the release of their successful debut, Down reform for sophomore effort Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow, oddly named after a line from Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven." Released in May, 2002, Down II is touted by Anselmo as being recorded at his home studio Nosferatu's Lair in "28 drug and booze induced days." Fans and critics agree, giving the album less favourable reviews as compared to its predecessor. Regardless, the album debuts at #44.
Anselmo's other project for the year fares much better in comparison. After almost a decade in the discussion phase, Superjoint Ritual's (SJR) ranks are filled out by guitarists Jimmy Bower and Kevin Bond, bassist Hank Williams III and drummer Joe Fazzio. The quintet hit Nosferatu's Lair and finally issue their debut album Use Once And Destroy on Sanctuary Records in May.
"Basically, it's a bunch of guys with a love of the music that came out of the mid- to late '80s that miss it terribly and hear what is going on today," Anselmo glows to Billboard Magazine. "We want to get back the fuckin' balls and the reality of the music that was coming out back then. Not dressed up, not image before substance. We're a substance band."
Aggressive and expedient, the album hits #87 on Billboard charts while independent listings see it reach #5. Generous praise and successful tours lead Anselmo to consider making Superjoint Ritual his primary focus. This doesn't sit well with Pantera's Abbott brothers who assert that Anselmo claimed he needed a year off after 9/11 but used the time to work on Down and SJR. By May of 2003, the relationship breaks down, forcing a "hiatus."
"I think it's not just me [needing a break from Pantera]," he clarifies during an interview with Sirius Radio. "I think it's a mutual thing. And more or less, I believe that right now, in our careers, each and every one of us feel… this is where I'm coming from: The last record that we did was everything that I wanted the Pantera record to be, more or less, I took a hiatus and I paid way more attention. Last year was a bit of a screw-up with Down and Superjoint coming out at the same time and people were confused, and this and that, and this and that. I wanted to put all of that on the side and concentrate on one band, as I should, and that band is Superjoint Ritual right now. It feels extremely important to do this band, and that's what I'm doing right now ― no other band."
Still, Anselmo is hesitant at calling Pantera finished, adding, "You're dumb to say [anything is] final, because things change day by day, especially in the music business. There's no hostility towards any other [Pantera members] or anything like that ― it's just how it is right now. In my heart and in my mind, I truthfully feel that Superjoint is a band that, once the public truly gets hold of it and embrace it, it's gonna mean a lot to them."
At the same time, another of Anselmo's long-time relationships falters when he and Weinstein break up, the divorce not official until mid-1993. Revered metal blog Blabbermouth.net issues a report that the announcement is made during an April SJR gig in Austin, Texas where Anselmo is quoted as saying, "my divorce will be final in a month... and it feels great!"
Inspired by the tumult, Anselmo pushes SJR into the studio for sophomore album A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred, released in July (reaching #55 on Billboard and #2 on indie charts). With its controversial lyrics such as "We're clearly heathens, not Catholic, not Christian, not Communist/(we're) barbarians and dangerous the absolute dark horse/Anti Jesus Christ, no more of the coward Muhammeds/extermination of the Catholic guilty (through suffocation)/taking no pity on the Jewish elitists," from "Stealing A Page Or Two From Armed And Radical Pagans," Anselmo makes headlines once again as a perceived racist. During an interview, The Austin Chronicle accuses him of bigotry, to which he responds: "I'm anything fucking but. I know there's shitty people and beautiful people on both sides of the spectrum ― black and white. And I know for an absolute fucking fact there's good Middle Eastern people who live here. And I know there's good Oriental people. But if I'm writing a song and it has to touch on the negatives of certain issues, I'm not gonna beat around the fucking bush and fence-ride, especially with Superjoint. Before, with Pantera, I had to be slightly careful. Now I don't. And I can see from the enthusiasm in the audiences that we're on our way to something extremely relevant; something on top of anywhere anybody thinks we might go."
As the comment unwittingly alludes to, by September, communication issues are insurmountable within the Pantera camp. The term "hiatus" is dropped and the Abbotts announce Pantera's official break-up at the same time their The Best of Pantera: Far Beyond the Great Southern Cowboys' Vulgar Hits! compilation hits store shelves. The brothers blame Anselmo for ditching the band and breaking all ties without proper discussion while Anselmo declares the band never maintained contact on their end.
The dissolution instantly becomes vitriolic, with a war of words between the parties continuing on and off in the press for years to come. Anselmo goes so far as to shout, "Pantera is dead" at SJR gigs while Vinnie Paul tells Revolver magazine that Anselmo's drug use has rendered him, "much less than sub-par at what he does," as compared to his performances with Pantera.
"He was very private about [his post-overdose drug use]," he adds. "I don't know if he was using the whole time or what, but it got to the point where I didn't know which Phil was gonna show up to the gig. One night he would walk in and be a fucking animal. The next night, I'd walk backstage and he'd be lying in the corner and he'd say he was tired. I will never take anything away from that dude from when he was at the top of his game, but where he's at right now... I have a hard time watching him when I see him on MTV talking about Superdope Ritual, or whatever they're called and he can't keep his fucking eyes open."
In response, Anselmo tells SMNnews.com, "I just hear a big and sad yellow-belly crybaby fuckin' knowing that his meal ticket is in a different fuckin' band. You would have to know those fellows to really understand where I was coming from ― they're scared of their own fuckin' shadow. And, all that said, I wish them the best of fuckin' luck. I still love 'em. For Vinnie Paul's information ― and anybody else who would like to know ― I've been fuckin' stone-cold sober for fuckin' two years. I feel like a fuckin' boy scout, for God's sake."
He continues, bringing the other Abbott into the fracas: "There was another thing brought up in that interview where Vinnie Paul said that he knows how to stop drinking, you know, and they can control themselves. And magically Diamond Darrell didn't answer a fuckin' thing. You know why that is? Because his fuckin' friends have to carry him fuckin' home every goddamn night ― every night on tour, he gets carried to the fuckin' bus. Now, you tell me ― me fucking up one time in my life compared to his fuckin' 3,007. Give me a fuckin' break, man!"
The battle climaxes by December of 2004, when Metal Hammer magazine runs an interview with Anselmo. In it, he allegedly states, "Dimebag deserves to be beaten severely." The timing is horrific. On December 8 ― just as the magazine hits store shelves ― Abbott is shot and dies while performing with new band Damageplan at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio.
The assailant is mentally unstable 25 year-old Nathan Gale who kills another concert-goer, club employee and band security guard before wounding a second band employee. He is eventually shot dead by police. Theories as to Gale's motive include everything from being disgruntled at Pantera's split to paranoid schizophrenia causing delusions that the band could read his mind, were "stealing" his thoughts and laughing at him.
Anselmo's unwittingly ill-timed comment spawns deep wounds on all fronts. The Abbott family requests ― not entirely calmly as Darrell's girlfriend Rita Haney sneers she will "blow Anselmo's head off" if he appears at the funeral ― that he not attend services. The mess between Anselmo and Vinnie Abbott continues for years, both claiming differing opinions as to the Metal Hammer statement's validity. Adding insult to injury, the year concludes with an undisclosed dispute between Anselmo and Fazzio, forcing Superjoint Ritual's split.
Reflecting almost a decade (and many admonitions of guilt over the bad blood, most notably during a lengthy YouTube monologue) later, Anselmo sighs, "It's crazy. It really is, just talking about those tough beginnings and early bands. Taking it all so dead serious, oh man. Thinking about where it went, how big it got and how things turned out. Sometimes it makes you sit back and have one of those moments where you think, 'Goddamn it, what if?'"
2005 to 2010
Drama continues into May of 2005 when Weinstein causes an uproar by auctioning off personal items given to her by Anselmo during their marriage. In her eBay posting, she lists clothing previously worn by Anselmo including a wedding shirt, an Evil Dead jacket, a Nosferatu jacket, and a "jamming" shirt. Also up for grabs are a gold CD award for Pantera's Official Live: 101 Proof, a framed award for Pantera's Vulgar Video 3: Watch It Go and a Morbid Angel/Soulfly concert poster. While Anselmo is silent on the issue, Weinstein wards off potential comments by writing on her auction statement: "To all of you who question my motives for putting items on eBay ― relax ― these are things that will mean more to you than me. I simply am keeping those possessions and memories that I wanted. There's nothing more to it. Thanks & enjoy."
Yet another natural disaster inevitably alters Anselmo's musical course ― which is stagnant at this point ― in August, when Hurricane Katrina obliterates any and all of Eyehategod vocalist/childhood enemy/adult friend Mike Williams' worldly possessions. Taking up residence in Anselmo's spare apartment, the two begin foraging through Anselmo's vast album collection, finding a mutual taste for formative hardcore. It is here the seeds of throwback quartet Arson Anthem (AA) are sewn.
Before Anselmo can tackle this new venture though, on November 21, 2005, he finally takes the medical advice of a few years prior and undergoes surgery to repair his degenerated lower back discs. Months of recuperation/rehabilitation offer Anselmo time to reflect on the past, participate in 2006's VH1 Behind The Music documentary on Pantera, write new songs in an effort to purge emotions and realize Down's third effort Over The Under in September, 2007 on new label Warner.
Openly addressing many issues, Over The Under's lyrics still revolve mainly around Anselmo's upset with Hurricane Katrina and its devastating fallout as well as upheaval with Abbott's death. He even goes so far as to dedicate the track, "Lifer" to the fallen axeman. As with NOLA, it is praised for its completeness and inspired songwriting; reaches #26 on Billboard, the band's highest position to date. Still unsettled with circumstances surrounding Abbott's passing though, Anselmo issues the previously-noted lengthy and emotional YouTube video, offering his sentiments/regret over the situation and his previous behaviour.
Energized by the catharsis of addressing his most tumultuous years, Anselmo ushers in 2008 with both an eponymous debut by his latest enterprise Arson Anthem (Anselmo on guitar, vocalist Mike Williams, bassist Colin Yeo and drummer Hank Williams III) and an independent record label to support it: Housecore Records.
"I actually started the label to get some of the stuff I'd done in the past or will do in the future out there," he says. Recognizing the potential to assist other bands, Anselmo begins to embrace acts including Williams' longtime outfit Eyehategod as well as new, undeveloped bands, issuing, producing and engineering their music. Utilizing his experience in the industry, Anselmo asserts that Housecore will operate only under supportive guidelines.
"I realized I had this distribution channel so I thought, 'Why not?'" he continues. "There are some really good bands out there. I'm not the be-all, end-all record label. Doing an album with me is no headache. I don't cement people into lifelong contracts. No way. We do one record at a time and I consider all my bands free agents as long as they give me that record, they can do what they gotta do. I don't wanna interfere in their careers. I just wanna help out."
As with many of Anselmo's projects, the concept of Housecore has been rolling around for quite a while, being mentioned as far back as his Viking Crown days. Discussing the situation with About.com, Anselmo asserts, "You can scratch that. That was a false start. Nothing was distributed or for sale. Housecore's conception really came with the Arson Anthem album and we were always solo. So that's an urban myth."
Unfortunately, although Arson Anthem is quite popular with hardcore pundits for its abrasive energy and fresh take on an old scene delivered via eight explosive songs in 11 minutes, band members are tied up with their own dealings (Housecore and Down for Anselmo, Williams tackles Eyehategod/Outlaw Order, Yeo's main gig PonyKiller is working on an album and Hank III has a successful solo career). Arson Anthem will not tour and rarely perform live.
This situation is exacerbated when in early 2009, Anselmo goes under the knife once again, this time for a torn knee ligament. Forced into another convalescence, he alludes to working on a fourth Down album that remains in the rumour stages.
Still poking at sore spot, Metal Hammer utilizes its March 2010 issue as a means of addressing the years since Dimebag's death with Anselmo. Taking it in stride, when asked what he would say if he had five more minutes with the guitarist, Anselmo is blunt, stripping away his previously combative side: "'I love you. I love you. I love you.' And I'd tell him I had back surgery. I'd tell him, 'While you're here, let's write a song! I'll drink a beer with you even, and let's write a song... and if you can stick around a little longer, let's do a record, man. Let's do a tour.'"
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cowboys From Hell, Anselmo, Brown, Abbott and his brother's estate collaborate on a three-disc gatefold reissue featuring demos, live and previously-unreleased tracks for release in mid-September. Working on the revised version, Anselmo admits to Billboard.com that, "It had definitely been a long while since I sat down and listened to [the album] from front to back. Basically, it was trickier where I thought things might be simplified. We would build these massive intros into songs and the solo sections, the way they were written was just very, very, very clever. And I can see very clearly how we upped the production. It's been quite an experience."
Sadly, the rift between him and Vinnie Abbott remains and Anselmo strikes down the whim of any sort of Pantera reunion. "I would not want to tarnish the Pantera name," he says. "Vinnie himself said a long time ago that if you take any one of us out of the equation and it's just not Pantera anymore, so I guess I'm just gonna stick to that. And as far as Vinnie and I go, there's a big bridge that both of us would have to cross, and that's an entire subject on its own, before we could even consider making music together."
Instead, Anselmo focuses on his current fixation once more: Arson Anthem. In October, the quartet finally ready their follow-up to Arson Anthem. With 17 songs in 31 minutes, Insecurity Notoriety is no less stunning than its precursor but is an outright epic by AA's ephemeral standards. Anselmo admits he feels that Arson Anthem was strong yet Insecurity Notoriety captures the vitality of hardcore's formative years while still offering something invigorating.
I hate to say it ― and the reason why I hate to say it is because I hate being the old guy saying, 'Hey you youngsters, here's how it really was' ― but anyone under the age of 35, to grow up during that era, it was so exciting and alive. Bands were fresh, different and pointing to a lot of my guitar influences within my playing, I get bands that have done Black Flag before. Some have done it to a science. I get that bands who have done D-Beat, Discharge stuff. I didn't want to repeat that. It's fun for me to find and pick out these little essences of Greg Ginn's guitar style, Agnostic Front's anthemnic style and find my own way within that.
"It's a simple style. There aren't mics on every drum and overheads on each cymbal. I didn't go out of my way ― and never really have ― to get a monster guitar sound. I plug straight in and go. We let the improvisation live. Fine. We didn't look to hard initially. With some records, you get lucky. The second you record it, you get great sound so why fuck with it. I think that's kind of what happened here. We just ended up with these sounds that felt right. There was no need to add in compression, this or that. In fact, subtracting was probably the best thing we could've done here."
Slowing down somewhat, Anselmo embraces studio work, opting to produce bands and push the Housecore Records name over touring/performing. He admits to garnering just as much enthusiasm, accomplishment and pride from seeing that name on record sleeves as his own.
"Seeing a record in your hand with that name on it makes me think, 'Fuckin' right. It's out there now for people to do with it what they will,'" he beams. "I'm having fun with production duties and shit. New challenges, 'cause each band is particular about themselves. There's a big difference between recording bands like Warbeast and haarp. So many different styles, so many different genres and so many different sounds. It's fun."
In typical Anselmo fashion however, he must strike out in new directions, alluding once again to that elusive fourth Down album as well as something purely unto himself without committing to a sound, style or release date.
"I'm laying down drum track for some solo stuff. It's vicious; relentless and once again, I'm not out to repeat myself or imitate. It's very different, man. Reinventing is a big word but this is attacking from a different angle... metallic core music/anthemnic core music with a different style. When I write, I think, 'If I was going out to see a band play, would these riffs, this music be the most interesting band on the bill? Would this music impress me?' I've got 12 songs of it. It's exciting, coming out in bits and pieces. We'll see how people take to it but I hope everyone loves it and gets geared up for it. Jimmy and Pepper have been working on some new Down riffs but I don't know the timeframe. We'll see."
At that, reflecting on the past 20 years of heartache, hardship and fortunate happenstance, Anselmo is thankful for those moments that have shaped him, is proud to be a perfect example of humanity's imperfection, because as he proclaims, Phil Anselmo will not be kept down. He will continue to place one foot in front of the other with the wisdom of age, experience and a healthy dose of mistakes.
I'm pretty happy right here and now. I can't say I'm 100 percent thrilled with how everything has gone in life but I don't think there's anybody who can say that. Not to sound terribly cheesy but for every negative, there's a positive. Using that train of thought, I'm pretty happy even though I'm not in my strongest body ever. I'm still fuckin' strong. I'm not in my greatest band but that band is still great. And I'm in wiser head. That in itself gives me comfort. To know there's no fuckin' way I'm gonna make the mistakes of the young again. They're already made for me. And musically, I like to believe that not all the motherfuckin' notes have been hit yet. It seems like it but it's not true. I'm still searching for the hidden notes."
The Essential Phil Anselmo
Cowboys From Hell
Young, virile and aggressive, Cowboys From Hell may have been Anselmo's second effort with Pantera but thanks to its overt attitude and new found confidence, it will forever remain a vital piece of innovative metal. Re-released this year, it still sounds as scintillating, explosive and enthusiastic.
A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred
Pantera might have been heavy but as this sophomore effort instantly asserts, Superjoint Ritual was downright apocalyptic. Frenzied blasts of down-tuned guitar fire, detonating drums and Anselmo's deepest growl uniting every aspect of his personality from stoner to sludge master, thrasher, black and death metaller make this an unending onslaught of gripping beastliness.
The pristine example of his indelible influence on heavy music be it via vocal or power chords, Arson Anthem proves why Anselmo should be revered as a guitarist/songwriter first and singer second. Shredding, vicious, uncompromisingly bombastic and unforgettably passionate, this 11-minute blast of old school hardcore is a hydrogen bomb to one's mental capacity.