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Interview: Philip Anselmo Talks Down, Dime and Lost Iommi Tracks

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Brian Ives
Brian Ives
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(Maria Ives/ Radio.com)

October is Metal Month at Radio.com. Throughout the month, we’ll have artist interviews as well as mini-documentaries about metal, metal fans and the birthplace of metal. And book reports: reading is fundamental, even for headbangers, and we’ll have reviews of some of the best recent metal biographies and retrospectives. Horns up!

Philip H. Anselmo has always been a band guy, most famously with Pantera, but also with Down. He’s also been in the now-defunct Superjoint Ritual, along with a few other projects like Arson Anthem and Christ Inversion. So it was somewhat surprising when he announced plans to tour and record fronting a group called Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals. He told Radio.com that he decided to go with his own name this time around as a matter of truth in advertising.

“If you’re a fan, you know what to expect, to a certain degree. You’re not having to buy into a whole new band moniker.” And he’s quick to note that it isn’t a so-called “supergroup,” as was the case with bands like Down (which also featured members of Corrosion Of Conformity, Crowbar and Eyehategod) and Superjoint Ritual (which also featured county music royalty Hank Williams III).

“I really wanted to make it a point to get guys that were under the radar instead of putting together another supergroup. We are guys from the underground. Despite my success with Pantera, my heart has always been in the underground of metal and extreme music. That’s where I shall dwell.”

As Pantera moved from glam to a more thrash sound, they parted ways with original singer Terrence Lee, and hooked up with Anselmo who accelerated their progression: “When the clubs were packed, that was the point when I said, ‘Hey, I don’t like glam music, I don’t like popular rock and roll. I want to do what I want to do.’ And when we were packing these clubs, I said, ‘I am never wearing a pair of spandex again in my life!’ I shaved my head into a mohawk, threw the damn spandex into a pile of flames and never turned back.”

He cites Roger Miret of New York hardcore legends Agnostic Front as a major influence. But that scene was a bit foreign to the other guys in Pantera.

“They were more straight shooters, heavy metal guys. Metallica was about as ‘heavy’ as they got. Dimebag [Darrell], if you look at him, was very much from the school of guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. For me to turn him on to Slayer, who took big cues from their leads from Greg Ginn from Black Flag, it was a bit of a task. But I do remember the day in ’87 when I said, ‘Dimebag, come here. Listen to this.’ And I put on Slayer, Hell Awaits. He sat there, we toked one. It was before his hair was long, it was like he had a big q-tip on his head, and I saw that q-tip start rocking, and I knew right then and there that we broke a little bit of ground.”

One thing that all the guys in the band had a love for is Black Sabbath, and Anselmo got the ultimate fan wish when he got the call to record some songs with Sabbath’s Tony Iommi for his 2000 solo debut, Iommi. While “Time Is Mine” made the album, two other songs were recorded, and have leaked to YouTube, among other places.

Anselmo notes that the titles that he’s seen need some corrections: “They’re all out on YouTube, but all the song titles are absolutely wrong. I wrote those songs in three days, I had three days with Tony. I was very, very inspired. The more uptempo song is called ‘Inversion Of The Saviors,’ and the other song that we did was ‘The Day That Never Comes.’” Which, he points out, was “Ten years before Metallica” had a song of the same name.

Having gotten the ultimate metal wish, he’s recently paid it forward, inviting a special young guy onstage to jam with him and his band. Peyton Arens, a young boy with terminal cancer, requested to play with Phil’s band at their soundcheck, via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His selection was “Walk,” one of Pantera’s most celebrated headbangers… and not one that usually make’s Phil’s setlists – he prefers to avoid his more well known songs. In that case, Phil was happy to revisit past glories: “I asked him what he wanted to play. It was his choice. And really, his wish was just to get up with us and jam at soundcheck. He tore it up on the guitar and I said, ‘Well, man, why don’t we have you up during the normal set?’”

He continues, “I think the term ‘terminal’ might be a bit too strong for him, because he’s a fighting kid! I’m hoping for the best, we had a great time with him, he’s a beautiful child.” Learn more about Peyton here.

Moving forward, Anselmo plans to stick with the Illegals, and also to keep working with Down. He reports that fans should hear some new music from the group in 2014.

“We already have some awesome riffs, I’ve been writing lyrics for a year now, just to be geared up and have my ammunition, so to speak, ready, There’s really no reason in the world why it shouldn’t be out the first quarter of next year.” Some of those songs may show up in the group’s shows. They have a string of Australian gigs set for February. Before that, they’ll play this Friday night (October 25) as part of Anselmo’s record label, Housecore Records’ “Housecore Horror Film Festival.” Get more information here.

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