Phil Anselmo of Down: "It's Like a New Lease on Life"
Phil Anselmo is known by many things in the metal community. He's been called "fucking brutal" when he takes the stage and the "Evel Kneivel" of heavy metal because of all his stage injuries. To some, he's a brother and a tough guy; to others, he's an asshole whom they'll only cross once. But one name stands above the rest: a legend. It's a title that he earned fronting two of the biggest names in metal: New Orleans-based metal super group Down and, of course, the legendary Pantera.
But it was Anselmo's tough guy persona mixed with his throaty rasp and falsetto screams that helped to establish the Arlington boys in Pantera as an unstoppable metal force throughout the '90s and early 2000s. He was like an evil Superman soaring across the stage. And it's the same attitude that he'll be unleashing on Friday, May 23, when his band Down appears with Black Label Society as part of the Revolver Gold Gods Tour at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie.
"I'm always looking forward to coming back to the DFW area," says Anselmo. "It's my second home. I love the people. And I think the area has probably one of the most unbelievable talent pools. I mean think about it: Mike Scaccia and Dimebag Darrell came from the same fucking place. That's magic, Jack. That's something that doesn't happen twice."
In the '80s, Pantera was a prominent glam band in the DFW metal scene. Guitarist Diamond Darrell, drummer Vinnie Paul, bassist Rex Brown and singer Terrance Stamp were known for their stage show and crotch metal attire, silken jump suits and big hair. It wasn't until the band discovered thrash metal from the likes of Exodus, Slayer and Metallica that another form of magic would lead them to Anselmo.
Anselmo joined the band in the late '80s and brought a level of horror and depth to the band's music, creating some of metal's most notable songs, like "Cowboys from Hell," "I'm Broken" and "Walk." The guys traded their jumpsuits for jeans and t-shirts, Diamond changed his name to Dimebag, and they soared to stardom in the early '90s.
Anselmo's public life has been full of controversy from a back injury that led to an addiction and cost him his band Pantera and nearly his life, to his public dispute with Dimebag and Vinnie Paul, fueled in part by the music media. Anselmo is a survivor who took his new lease on life and created Housecore Records to promote metal bands like local favorites Warbeast, a band that includes former members of Gammacide and Rigor Mortis.
It was while living with bassist Rex Brown and "a bunch of crazy motherfuckers" in the DFW area in the '90s when Anselmo first came across a Rigor Mortis' demo. "I popped it in and pretty much stole it," he says. "I loved it." Shortly after, he met the local metal legends: singer Bruce Corbitt, guitarist Mike Scaccia, bassist Casey Orr and drummer Harden Harrison. "They were killer," he recalls.
Sadly, Scaccia died of a heart attack while playing onstage at The Rail Club in December 2012. Down will be headlining the "Rock the Heart" benefit show on Saturday, May 24, at Emo's in Austin. Proceeds will benefit the Mike Scaccia Heart Rock Foundation.
In 1991, Anselmo formed Down with longtime friends Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, Kirk Windstein and Todd Strange of Crowbar and Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod. Inspired by bands like Black Sabbath, the metal supergroup created a sludge metal sound that drew an almost cult-like following. Their first release was NOLA, which one fan to described as like, "smoking NOLA chronic while playing a drop-D guitfiddle. It's metal." They followed with Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow (2002), Down III: Over the Under (2007) and Down IV Part 1 - The Purple EP (2012). Their current release, Down IV Part 2, hit internet shelves on May 13.
"For me, I think the songs are better," says Anselmo. "I think some of the stuff from the first EP were stuff left over from 2006. Shit like that. We got the material. We may as well release it and let people have it. But on the new EP, everything is really organic and off the cuff."
There's also been a change in the lineup. Rex Brown of Pantera replaced Strange on bass and stayed with the band until 2010, when a bout with pancreatitis and personal issues forced him to leave the band. He was replaced by Patrick Bruders. Then in 2013, guitarist Kirk Windstein quit the band, and longtime guitar technician Bobby Landgraf slid into his spot.
"For the core members left in Down -- Jimmy, Pepper and myself -- who've been writing Down songs since 1991, to have guys like that [join the band], it's like a new lease on the whole Down vibe," he says. "it's great shit, man."
This "great shit" includes new tracks like "We Knew Him Well," a song that takes brutality to the next level, and "Bacchanalia," which offers something unexpected to fans: a mellower, more laid back tune. And the third installment of Down IV, explains Anselmo, may be more ambitious with textures and sounds.
"I kind of like to paint a picture, so to speak, create an atmosphere," he says of his song writing. "I never like to spoon-feed the listener and tell them exactly what songs were about or anything like that. I like people to read into them. Take away from it what they take away from it. Then, honestly, hear about it later, what their concepts are. It's like, 'Wow, I never thought about it like that.'"
Touring to support their new EP with Black Label Society has also offered fans another unexpected surprise when Anselmo joined his BLS brothers onstage to pay homage to his fallen brother Dimebag by singing a Pantera classic, "I'm Broken."
"There's a pretty good percentage [chance that it will happen in Dallas], but then again you never know," says Anselmo. "Every show is a little different, brother." He says that it was BLS front man Zakk Wylde who first invited him to join them onstage. "Since we've been out here, it has been spur of the moment. We don't want to do the same fucking thing every fucking night. But I'll say Black Label Society has a pretty fucking good professional sound going on, and for them to throw down Pantera, they deserve some credit learning how to play the song and playing the fuck out of it."
DOWN opens for Black Label Society with Devil You Know and Butcher Babies, 6:30 p.m., Friday, May 23, at Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Pl., Grand Prairie, $29.50 - $35.00
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