Phil Anselmo’s contributions to heavy metal cannot go understated. Pantera kept the pulse of metal alive during the alternative 90’s and his undying loyalty to the genre has been well represented throughout his albums with Down, Superjoint, The Illegals, and his black metal outfit, Scour. The hardcore metalheads among us can’t be faulted for raising a quizzical eyebrow upon seeing the man wearing a suit and strutting out his new self-proclaimed “depression core” band En Minor at Psycho Las Vegas last year. Indeed, En Minor is a different animal from his normal output.
Instead of relying on volume, Anselmo and his gaggle of musicians deliver the heavy by way of atmosphere and naked emotion. The album is largely built upon acoustic guitars, lush instrumentation, and Anselmo’s clean vocals – most akin to Mark Lanegan at the bottom of a well. The band features many of Anselmo’s usual collaborators (like Jimmy Bower, Kevin Bond, and Stephen Taylor – who have all played on either a Superjoint, Illegals, or Down LP), but also features cellist Steve Bernal (former Temple Symphony Orchestra) and Calvin and Joiner Dover (The Dover Brothers). If nothing else is appreciated about this album, you can’t deny that Anselmo has beautifully orchestrated this seven-piece band – who at times recall the Americana-infused tracks from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Tender Prey album or the stark arrangements of the Rick Rubin produced Johnny Cash albums of his late career renaissance. After listening to this album, you will realize this isn’t such an extreme departure from Anselmo’s aesthetic. All of these songs make perfect sense. What’s more, it’s a refreshing make over that fits right into our current existence of fear and uncertainty.
Comprised of 11 tracks, When The Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out has many layers to unpack over the course of a front-to-back listen. While Anselmo isn’t singing his lungs out in the fashion we’ve become accustom, his delivery on this album gives a little more weight to the lyrics. But, his vocals really aren’t the focus of the album. It’s the music that really sets the album apart from his prior output. The band is spot-on as they either build soundscapes or wind up balls of tension around Anselmo’s melancholic croon. Tracks like “This Is Not Your Day,” “Black Mass,” and “On The Floor” are perfect examples. To say these songs are surprisingly great is to suggest doubt. But, let’s be honest, whenever an artist takes a left turn it’s met with skepticism.
Album opener, “Mausoleums,” offers a palpable sense of despair with lonely acoustic guitars and droning swells of cello complimenting Anselmo’s bass baritone. Doubling his vocals and harmonizing with himself provides an added sense of grief. Jimmy Bower’s drums skitter across “Blue,” with electric guitar providing understated flourishes behind the acoustics. “Dead Can’t Dance” is one of the more interesting songs in the collection. The instrumentation and arrangement is the whole album synthesized and distilled into a single track. Don’t let titles fool you, “Love Needs Love” is pure sadness and perhaps the most obvious nod to Nick Cave. “Warm Sharp Bath Sleep” is the highlight of the album. Acoustic guitars jangle against keys and electric guitars, while Anselmo sounds at his most confident in this new setting.
Any hesitation you have in checking out Anselmo’s new project should be put in check. If you’re a die hard metalhead, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t like this album – as a palette cleanser if nothing else. But, you should expect to fall in love with more than a few of the songs. And what a great introduction to Anselmo’s talents for those who wouldn’t touch a metal album with a ten foot pole. There’s plenty here that will challenge your preconceptions of his capabilities.
– J. Kevin Lynch