Following up 2013’s Walk Through Exits Only, Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals return with Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue. Anselmo’s band has changed a bit since Exits Only. On this new LP the singer is joined by Mike DeLeon (Flesh Hoarder, M.O.D.) and Stephen Taylor (Superjoint) on guitars and Walter Howard (Vaginal Bear Trap) on bass. Joey Gonzalez, who also played on Exits Only (and also played drums on on Superjoint’s Caught Up in the Gears of Application), remains behind the kit. Collectively, the team has produced an album that is pure mayhem on the surface and sublimely intelligent underneath.
Indeed, if all you want to do is play it loud and bang your head, this album won’t let you down. But, if you’re also interested in peeling back the layers to discover something more, you’ll find this album has a lot to offer. Through the first few listens, the album strikes you as a dogged pursuit of the extreme. Ruthless and uncompromising, Mental Illness is 10 tracks in 47 minutes that never once gives you room to breathe. From the opening song, “Little Fucking Heroes,” to the final track, “Mixed Lunatic Results,” the album is a loud, angry monstrosity of rapid-fire guitar riffs and battering drums. Nearly every track (but, especially “Utopian,” “The Ignorant Point,” and “Photographic Taunts”) switches gears unexpectedly. Opening with a slow chugging riff and switching to a punk/thrash free-for-all is typical, as is Anselmo’s vocals going from a scream to a guttural roar. The relentless pace that this occurs is, at times, overwhelming.
But, beneath all of this auditory chaos is something more cerebral and musically taut. Alongside DeLeon and Taylor on guitars, Anselmo adds a layer of guitars, too. This three guitar attack adds a veneer that is often lost on other albums of the ilk. Put on some headphones and zero in on each individual song and you’ll discover there’s a gluttony of musical passages pulsing under the loud explosions of guitars and drums. These are the parts of the songs that elevate them above those of their peers and show Anselmo’s artistic prowess that’s often lost on the casual listener.
Likewise, the album’s lyrics will have you Google-ing words like a grad student. That’s not hyperbole, I did look up more than one word to see what the hell he was talking about. Not to suggest the lyrics are some high-brow show-off, but as Anselmo told me: “I’m like the Zodiac killer. I’m sending out ciphers to people, man.” Or put more simply, the lyrics here are open to multiple interpretations, though you might have to do some research to see what you discover.
Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue will either fulfill your desire for extreme metal or offer you something greater, if you choose to go all in. It’s a powerful album that will surely satisfy longtime fans, but will also surprise people who think they have him all figured out.
– J. Kevin Lynch
Want more info on the new album? Read our review with Phil here.