Can we truly separate the art from the artist? It’s the question I’ve been ruminating in my dining room while listening to Phillip H. Anselmo & The Illegals’ Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue (Season of Mist). An onstage stunt involving Nazi salutes transpired at a tribute show in early 2016 and ever since then I haven’t had the keenest impression of Anselmo. Several non-apologies have ensued and I’m not sure if we’ll ever get any closure.
I attribute these feelings to a myriad of factors. Firstly, we’re living in a day where the president can label non-white countries as “shitholes” and a Breitbart editor held a White House position. I also live in “progressive” New England, which means substitute teachers were confused by a boy wearing a Metallica shirt whose last name is Lopez. Anselmo’s 2016 indiscretion was enough for me to cut the Pantera patch off my vest. That stunt isn’t a grand declaration or won’t fix anything any societal ills, but I couldn’t fly the flag of an artist who possibly doesn’t like people like me. That, also, is not a not an indictment of Pantera’s other members and Dimebag Darrell was an amazing musician, so keep your tweets at home, kids.
Early into Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue, it is clear that Anselmo himself has grown annoyed with the constant call for comment and scolding’s from his detractors. On ‘Little Fucking Heroes’ he’s quick to bellow “Just finally admit you’re jealous of the riddle that is me, It’s evident and a sickness.” And there’s more of that to be found within the hard-charging grooves of ‘Delinquent’ as Anselmo expresses “Original thoughts publicly shamed… Parroted groupthink nonsense exalted… This culture rewards intellectual deviance.”
And while Anselmo is getting some stuff off his chest, he’s backed by some explosive tunes. ‘Photographic Taunts’ switches from frantic blast beats to deep chugging guitars and pummeling double kicks from drummer Jose Manuel Gonzales. ‘Invalid Colubrine Frauds’ comes out of the gate with enough ferocity and swagger to tear down walls. The first half of Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue is all greasy grindcore speed, but they do risk bleeding into one another. The more drawn out and dynamic compositions in the second half are the best displays of the Illegals’ chops.
It’ll take me some more time to accept and or forgive Anselmo’s past antics, but I can’t deny that the work on display here is his strongest in some time.