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Album Review: Phillip H. Anselmo & The Illegals: Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue

Frontman Phil Anselmo remains prolific in middle age, though he seems to have nestled into an extreme sludge metal sweet spot between Superjoint and his solo band. His first album backed by the Illegals since 2013’s Walk Through Exits Only offers much of the same eclectic style energized by flurries of manic musicianship. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates the same unfocused redundancy as its predecessor.

The songs on Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue are defined by their constantly shifting tempos as well as influence from sludge, hardcore, thrash, and even black metal. The drums are at a near constant blast and the guitars navigate the changes well, alternating between mean punk speed runs and grinding breakdowns with plenty of angry static to go around.

Unfortunately, the actual compositions aren’t very memorable. The structures are set up without any real intent guiding them and individual ideas fail to stick around long enough to really stick. There are promising segments like the ambience of the closing “Mixed Lunatic Results” and some of the riffs do stick out, but the songs are largely incoherent exercises that not even the most aggressive band can keep from going in one ear and out the other.

It also doesn’t help that Anselmo’s voice continues to decline. The Scour EPs prove that he can bust out some solid black metal screeches when he feels like it, but his hardcore shout comes out as a tired wheeze that sounds more annoying than intimidating. It’s bad enough that his performances make poor songs like “Individual” and “Finger Me” even more unpleasant, but his cringe worthy rants threaten to completely derail the otherwise decent instrumentation on the opening “Little Fucking Heroes” and “Choosing Mental Illness.” Phil’s obnoxiousness has been a part of his appeal since the Vulgar days, but it makes the experience much harder to tolerate when there’s nothing else to really focus on.

I suppose Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue lives up to its “love it or hate it” marketing, but there’s some serious suspension of disbelief involved in legitimately loving it. There’s talent involved but there’s no real sense of payoff when the structures are this purposeless and the vocals this grating. You won’t find anything that wasn’t done better by Trendkill-era Pantera or Superjoint Ritual, and Scour is the best outlet for Anselmo’s more extreme talents nowadays. Fans will still gravitate to this regardless, but I’ll stay over here wondering when Down will get its act together…

“Little Fucking Heroes”
“Choosing Mental Illness”
“Mixed Lunatic Results”

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