I’m always a bit uncomfortable identifying myself as a Pantera fan. This has nothing to do with any member of the band or any of the music they released. It has everything to do with the countless number of horrible bands that they inspired. There are a handful of metal bands that really managed to catch lightning in a bottle in terms of creating something that is seemingly impossible to duplicate. Pantera were one of those bands.
In the 13 years since the release of the last Pantera album, Phil Anselmo has been the most prolific of the remaining members. While projects like Down and Superjoint Ritual have earned him a strong fanbase of his own, I have never been genuinely impressed by any of the post-Pantera material. Walk Through Exits Only, the debut full length from Phillip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, was not an album that I expected to like. In fact, the odd production/mixing job and the structure-shirking nature of the songs made for a rather confusing first listen. But then, something happened. I wanted to listen to it again. Suddenly, everything made perfect sense. This is not an album that is intended to go down smoothly. This is the product of a man who is simultaneously embracing and rejecting his entire career. It is the album I never knew I always wanted Phil Anselmo to make.
You would be hard-pressed to find anything conventional about this album. While it is obvious that Anselmo has learned quite a bit from the musicians and songwriters he has worked with over the years, it is also clear that he feels the pressure of being considered an icon of a music scene that seems all too willing to kick its own heroes when they are down. The result is an extreme metal album that is relentlessly confrontational, yet strangely cathartic. Walk Through Exits Only is polarizing like a great metal album should be. While many bands are still content with following the original Pantera blueprint, Phil Anselmo has carefully rolled it up only to set it on fire.