By Patrick Douglas
Just as the city of New Orleans is experiencing a rebirth, its native son of metal has begun healing both physically and mentally from a series of personal catastrophes. It nearly goes without saying that Philip Anselmo helped revolutionize the genre with his biting lyrics and aggressive vocal style as the frontman for both Pantera and Down. Today, you’ll find Anselmo lending a helping hand to up and coming bands that have caught his attention or even peers who might need a few hours of studio time. Down just released their live compilation album Diary of a Mad Band, and Arson Anthem (a band Anselmo plays guitar in) just came out with Insecurity Notoriety. It’s business as usual for the avid Saints fan, although a little less hectic and a little more stable than in previous years.
A decade ago, Anselmo was dealing with chronic and debilitating injuries that became nearly unbearable to a man who lived a good part of his life on the road. That was compounded with a nasty rift that shattered the core of Pantera and the brotherhood it represented for so many years, a rift that ultimately included band members and the fans who followed them. By 2005, Anselmo could add mass destruction to his list of devastating experiences as his life in southern Louisiana was rocked by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Despite all of the hardships, things would take a turn for the better.
Whether you’re a grocery store clerk, professional athlete, doctor or musician, there’s no fighting the ticking of the clock. People get old and their bodies start to break down. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that spares no one. Former Pantera and current Down bassist Rex Brown is on the slow recovery from surgeries to relieve his acute pancreatitis, a process Anselmo says has left Brown “learning how to keep his body strong.”
Anselmo has had his fair share of surgeries in recent years to alleviate a tremendous amount of discomfort and pain both in his back and knee. So much pain in fact, that he refers to those dark years before his surgeries as being the catalyst of the much publicized back and forth bad blood between he and the Abbott brothers of Pantera. “During those times, I was wacked out of my f*cking mind. I was confused, I was young, injured beyond belief,” said Anselmo. “I was in so much fu*cking screaming pain and the fact is, neurosurgery and neurology had not f*cking come to where it did eventually. In 2005, it wasn’t up to par. The type of surgery I had, I had a three-level fusion (and) believe me, I went to a lot of different doctors who just would shake their heads (and say) ‘You don’t want this surgery. You’re too young. This is basically gonna ruin the rest of your f*cking life.’ And that’s all I would get out of people. I was very confused, man. I was like a cornered animal, I guess, lashing out. Wounded. Wounded as a motherf*cker.”
With his mind constantly focused on his pain, Anselmo regrettably jumped into media induced traps that pitted the previously close members of Pantera against each other. Even with a legitimate excuse, Anselmo wholeheartedly admits responsibility for his part on the ugly war of words that ensued. “Guys would come in and before the recorder would even click, the windup game would start – ‘Oh yeah, we just came back from Dime and Vinnie and they said they hate you,’ and all this f*cking sh*t. Sure, by the time record would be hit, I’d be nice and surly. That’s dumb of me. This is no cop out. This is only the truth. It’s my fault. It’s completely my f*cking fault for buying into it and it’s my fault that my brain was f*cking compromised.”
Anselmo thinks about Pantera with fond memories these days and wishes things would’ve happened differently. Dimebag’s onstage murder in 2004 assured that the band would never be whole again and there’s still a substantial wall built between Anselmo and Dime’s brother Vinnie.
“I’ll just get it out in the open right here. If Dimebag was still alive, do I think Pantera would be together? F*ckin’ absolutely I think we’d be back together,” Anselmo said. “I think we would’ve been back together a long time ago. Do I think about what if? Sure. I see bands out there, Slayer, Anthrax, all good friends of mine still together, still touring. I think, God damn, if we were still together, we’d still be humping it, man. F*cking the hell out of it, man. Jamming. We’d still be there, we’d still be doing it. I think about Pantera a lot. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about it. I think about Dimebag a whole lot more than I can even tell you. It’s a lot. I don’t know if I dwell on the negative. You take those positive things, those positive memories. Believe me, I’ve got so many awesome memories of Dimebag, they’re very inspirational. Very inspiring. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing guitar or I’m working out, I know what he would think. I know what he would be saying and I know that he would want the best out of me. (He’s) definitely a very prevalent force in my life still.”
Things are certainly healthy between Anselmo and his bandmates in Down. Hoping to cool off highly anticipatory fans anxiously awaiting new material – material Anselmo says is already in the making – the group is excited to release the first official live record Diary of a Mad Band.” Originally called a “super group” when they first formed, Down is comprised of Anselmo and Brown as well as Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan, Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein, and Eyehategod’s Jimmy Bower. Having kept a bond for nearly 20 years as a band, there is little chance this group of dudes will meet the same fate as Pantera. “We all bring so many different elements of influences betwixt us. We bring all this sh*t to the table,” Anselmo said. “We can step away from each other for six months and the second we get back in the room together and everybody’s got their instruments ready to roll, the chemistry is there. It just happens. Making Down music, inspiration comes out of nowhere.”
With Arson Anthem, Anselmo leaves the vocal duties to Eyehategod’s Mike Williams while Hank Williams III handles the drums and Collin Yeo pounds the bass. Anselmo and Hank III have been working together for years, specifically with Superjoint Ritual. “There’s some real chemistry between me and Hank,” says Anselmo. “We’ve been playing music together for a long time. Hank is a multi-faceted f*cking musician. He’s f*cking great on the drums. The chemistry on this record’s awesome. It’s almost like listening to your old favorite hardcore record from way back when but it’s not, it’s new.”
Happy and content, Anselmo is forging ahead with his label, Housecore Records (www.thehousecorerecords.com) focusing on some of his up and coming bands like haarp and working with friends like Crowbar on future releases. With the death of the major label in plain view, Anselmo has strong words of advice for young bands trying to make a mark in a saturated business. “There ain’t no stopping music so really any advice I can give to young bands is to play the f*cking gig,” he said. “Don’t just be visible on Myspace. Play your f*cking gigs. There’s an element there where as a band, you have to be seen. My touring days, I’m not gonna tour that much anymore. I’ve made my mark (but) I’m not gonna quit making music.”