"Dude, you ready for this?" asks Phil Anselmo as he answers the phone. Given that Anselmo has played in some of the heaviest and most extreme metal bands in the world (like Pantera and Down), the question is a loaded one. So, no, actually, we're probably not ready.
"I'm stuck in my bathroom because this is the only phone working right now," he says, practically barking into the receiver and flushing the toilet to make it clear he isn't lying. "We just had a bolt of fuckin' lightening hit the house and the power is out."
It's somehow appropriate that Anselmo, who curses like a sailor, would be trapped in the bathroom at his house. Anselmo who has lived on an enormous plot of land just outside New Orleans for the past 13 years, is one of heavy metal's great screamers. He's a recovering drug addict who's alienated friends and fans along the way. On his just-released new album, Walk Through Exits Only, he channels that rage into a noisy set of eight songs that pack a powerful industrial punch.
A rough guy who has led a rough life, Anselmo grew up in a single-parent household. One day while raiding his mother's collection he came across a Led Zeppelin album that changed his life.
"I lived with my mother because divorce was a way of life, and my folks got divorced when I was still a shrimp," he says. "I lived with mom and there was Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and King Crimson and Janis Joplin. One of the first songs that really caught my ear back in the day was Led Zeppelin's ['Rock 'n' Roll'] with the line 'lonely, lonely, lonely time.'"
He got his first guitar when he was only 9 and quickly taught himself how to play, bucking convention along the way.
"I remember one time going back to the instructor, and I had made up a chord that sounded good to me," he says. "I was writing a song around it. He told me flat out, 'That's wrong.' Right then and there, I didn't believe him and to this day I'm glad I didn't believe him. There is no right or wrong way to play an instrument. I was never interested in learning how play other people's stuff."
In 1987, he joined Pantera, a Texas-based metal band that had been kicking around for a few years and was looking for a new singer. The band's sound became instantly more aggressive and it wasn't long before the group was selling albums by the millions and headlining arenas.
"Once I joined Pantera, it was three or four sets a night," he says. "All that work pays off. After we got signed, everything came in a flurry. One tour after the next. One album after the next. Side projects in between tours. Living in New Orleans, there were always musicians around. Whenever there was dead time, we would create bands. There was always a big rush of music in my life."
That rush came to an end when Pantera split in 2003. The tragic death of guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was killed onstage in 2004 while playing with his band Damage Plan, ensured that Pantera wouldn't ever play again. So Anselmo continued with heavy hitting bands like Down and Superjoint Ritual. He also formed his own label. And he's finally gotten around to releasing Walk Through Exits Only, his first solo album, with a band he calls the Illegals.
"My whole intention with just calling it Phillip H. Anselmo and the Illegals, of course, is just me fucking with my band," he says. "They'll be something else on the next record. The butterflies or something. My intention is to not clutter up people's perception any more. If I were to start a new band and call it this outrageous name, it would be a whole other thing. This simplifies things for people. I did write these damn songs from the ground up. I take a lot of pride in them. The record is just out, but I'm ready to go write some new shit today."
While the album doesn't exactly show an entirely different dimension to the singer's music, Anselmo maintains he has plenty of material that deviates from the style of hard rock for which he is known.
"I got more unreleased music here at my house than the general public has ever heard," he says. "I got so much of it. A lot of it is not heavy metal. I explore several genres and subgenres over time. I'm just a songwriter, so to speak."
An angry songwriter. Tunes such as "Usurper's Bastard Rant" lurch with intensity as Anselmo grunts and growls.
"It's the nature of the music," he says. "It's a strong point within my songwriting to be aggressive and aggro. Lyrically, I'm not necessarily coming from an angry place unless that anger is aimed directly at myself. There's a lot of sarcasm. There's brief commentary here and there. I hate spoon-feeding the listener. I want the listener to take the lyrics and take the songs and apply them to your own life. I leave room there for speculation and for people to think for themselves and draw conclusions about how 'Betrayed' will fit your life. You can run with it and fit it in your own lifestyle. Even the album title I picked because it's vague enough that people could apply it to their lives."
Album closer "Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens," which clocks in at 12 minutes long, is intense even by Anselmo's standards.
"Everything on the record is very calculated," he says. "To hammer these songs out did take some time and rhythmically, I wanted my drummer to do different things. I didn't want speed for the sake of speed or double kicks for the sake of double kicks. I wanted rhythmic bursts that created their own experience for the listener. Take the outro, for instance, the big, slow scraping outro. That was in my guitarist's repertoire for a long time. I knew he would be my guy. I wanted him to have that opportunity to shine. I wanted him to utilize that stuff I know he's had in his arsenal for so long. It's not a one take thing. It was all heavy-duty construction, so to speak. Hopefully, it's even more powerful live."
And what about the long-rumored book that Anselmo is alleged to be writing. Any chance it'll be out by year's end?
"Hell, no," he says. "It's a snail's pace. There's so much going on that it's hard to commit to a book. I'll probably do that over the holidays. It will be a head's down thing. It's not just a Pantera book. That was a huge part of my life, don't get me wrong. But a lot happened before Pantera and a lot has happened since. It is a long journey and I really hope to get some key stories in there that are humorous and enjoyable to read."