When we posted the link for the Walk Through Exits Only album stream, you would think the response on Facebook was well…schizophrenic. It was either "Yea Phil Rules!!!" or "Holy shit, this sucks!!!", and I think my favorite reaction was, "Omg, seriously what is this?" I pick this comment in particular because, to be perfectly honest, that was first reaction as well. In fact, the album sounds just as schizophrenic as the reaction to it was. But if you give it a chance, with multiple listens, you start to realize that this was the goal all along. For those who would bemoan the lack of song structures, you've basically missed the point entirely. It's a solid, crushing, screeching locomotive of an album.
So let's back up a moment. I liked the last Down release when it came out last year, and grew to like it even more with time. But I also thought Phil's voice sounded a little worn out and I thought he could use a bit of a rest, and maybe a few throat lozenges. That said however, I was very impressed to hear him howl and scream his guts out on the split with Warbeast, especially with "Conflict". I was also pumped to hear him do such a great job with the Pantera classic, "This Love" at this year's Golden Gods, where he seemed to improve over some of the recent Metal Masters appearances. Sure, he sounds a little hoarse compared to when he was in his 20's, but this of course an unavoidable fact of life and one that at best Phil can use an evolution of his voice rather than a hindrance. So in the context of this album, Phil is clearly on a roll these days, and Walk Through Exits Only is well in line with this.
After a lock-step marching intro with "Music Media is my Whore", we are laid waste with what is undoubtedly my favorite track on the album, "Battalion of Zero". After only a couple listens, I couldn't help but have the "Heads up, heads down!!!" mantra stuck in my head. Truth be told, this album is totally all over the place, but after you get over the initial "huh?" that comes with this, you start to admire just how crazy it is. It's as if Phil took his creative organs and smashed them all over the canvas without regard for structure or a concrete style.
So while this can make songs like "Usurper's Bastard Rant" and "Walk Through Exits Only" difficult to follow at first, it's this approach that keeps you on your toes as you bash your face through the storm of riffs, screams, and rhythms. As one would expect from this record, there are shades of much of his past work to be heard throughout, especially Superjoint Ritual and Great Southern Trendkill-era Pantera, creating a swirling cacophony of groove and thrash that pulverizes everything in sight. At the same time, Phil wisely avoids the trap of simply aping his past successes and makes an album that has its own recognizable sound. Phil has a pretty sweet backing band at his side as well who he apparently called The Illegals only for this album, joking that he might give them a ridiculous, effeminate name on future releases..you know, just to mess with them.
If you can make it through the disorienting sledgehammer to the head that you receive on first listen, there is a ton of chaotic rage and brutality to enjoy on this album. Perhaps its greatest success is to make me eager to hear what Phil does next, as I'm sure there will be at least another Down release to look forward to this year, and who knows what else.
Favorite Songs: "Battalion of Zero", "Usurper's Bastard Rant", "Walk Through Exits Only", "Bedroom Destroyer"
Oh! And be sure to check out Phil Anselmo's memoirs, co-written by MetalSucks contributor and True Crime author, Corey Mitchell!