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Phil Anselmo: The Best Metal Singer?

Updated on August 11, 2013
Phil Anselmo in concert with Down in Prague in 2008.
Phil Anselmo in concert with Down in Prague in 2008. | Source

Heavy metal is a musical genre that people either really, really love or really, really hate. The crunchy guitars, fast drums and screaming vocals are not for everyone. It can also be difficult to be a heavy metal fan. The general public perceives us as loud, rude and aggressive lunkheads that would rather drink a case of cheap beer than read a book (that doesn't have pictures).

Metal music doesn't get a lot of mainstream media attention, so it's difficult for a band to stand out and make themselves heard. Many amazing metal bands have made fantastic albums but have never achieved chart or financial success because of this, though they may have huge fan followings.

One man has managed this feat, with three different bands. This Hub will take a look at Phil Anselmo, the lead singer for Pantera and Down - among other bands.

But who is Phil Anselmo, and where did he come from?

Phil Anselmo at Gods of Metal in 2009
Phil Anselmo at Gods of Metal in 2009 | Source

Who is Phil Anselmo?

Philip Hansen Anselmo was born on June 30, 1968 in New Orleans, Louisiana and grew up in the inner city. He went to high school in Metairie and, until Hurricane Katrina, his father owned a restaurant in Metairie called Anselmo's.

There isn't really much known about Anselmo's early life, as his is a very private person. Part of his public information includes the fact that he worked on fishing boats when he was young, he has a brother and a half-sister and, at fifteen, he burned down his family's house by starting a fire to scare his sister. By his own admission, he was a quiet, isolated child with an abusive, alcoholic father.

One thing that Anselmo does talk about regarding his formative years is that he developed a very early love for heavy metal. He was part of several bands as a teenager, one of them called Razor White, who played original material and also covered Judas Priest songs. This love of metal and interest in performing at a fairly early age would serve him well. As the singer of Pantera, one of the most influential bands in the history of the genre, as well as Superjoint Ritual, Down and his many other side projects, Phil Anselmo's name is now nearly synonymous with 'legend.'

Among Anselmo's passions are counted horror films and culture, boxing and New Orleans Saints football.

Anselmo's life has taken many twists and turns, and the abuse of drugs that is so prevalent in the world of entertainment did not spare him. In 1996, he overdosed on heroin and reportedly died for up to five minutes. His battle with alcohol is nearly legendary. As a result of severe back pain from an onstage injury, Anselmo used liquor to dull the pain, exacerbating his problems.

Substance issues aside, though, as a heavy metal superstar, Anselmo is known as a bit of a loose cannon, but is also respected as an artist and as an honest, straight talking guy. His interviews are forthright and honest.

Pantera

Pantera already had a following as a glam-metal band based in Arlington, Texas before Anselmo joined the group. He had been working hard to build his own following, and was beginning to want something out of the box, a harder, more powerful brand of metal. This was the beginning of the mainstream popularity of metal and some of what would become the biggest names in genre were releasing important albums that would write the blueprint for thrash metal. Metallica's Master of Puppets, Slayer's Reign in Blood and Megadeth's Peace Sells... But Who's Buying were lighting up the charts and helping Anselmo define the direction in which he wanted to travel.

At this time, Pantera consisted of brothers Vinnie Paul and 'Dimebag' Darrell Abbott (who, at this time, was known as Diamond Darrell) on drums and guitar respectively, Rex Brown on bass and singer Terrence Lee. Pantera had decided that they wanted a harder sound and Lee wanted to continue the glam image and music that they had been making, so the singer and the band parted ways and the remaining members went on the hunt for a new vocalist.

In 1987, Anselmo was given a plane ticket to Texas to meet with the members of the band. The guys clicked and heavy metal history was about to be made. The lineup complete, the band released their first record together in 1988 called Power Metal. Though this record was marginally heaver than anything Pantera or Anselmo had previously released, it was only a foreshadowing of what was to come.

While Nirvana and their grunge band brothers were preparing a run on the record charts to devour hair metal, Pantera were headed in a completely different direction. In 1989, Pantera was formally signed to a recording contract with Atco Records and, in 1990, the first record that was to define their sound was released. Cowboys from Hell showed the new direction in which Pantera were moving. A hybrid of power metal and groove metal, Pantera dubbed their new sound 'power groove.' Fans and critics alike were impressed. The record was followed by a worldwide tour.

In 1992, Pantera released Vulgar Display of Power. Heavier guitar riffs coupled with more aggressive vocal styles put Pantera on the forefront of the post-hair metal movement. It is from this album that some of Pantera's most well known songs have come. F*****g Hostile, Mouth for War, This Love and Walk are all on the track listing. Vulgar Display of Power is generally regarded as the best album in Pantera's catalog. Of this record, media website IGN said, 'This album makes the list because it took heavy metal and made it heavier.' Vulgar Display of Power is invariably included at or near the top of most lists of influential metal albums.

Far Beyond Driven, released in 1994 was equally respected and actually earned Pantera a Grammy nomination for the song I'm Broken. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. This album is heavier than their previous, and the lyrical content much more personal.

During the recording of The Great Southern Trendkill in 1994/95, Pantera's eighth studio album, tensions between the guys in the band were at an all-time high and remained high for the rest of the life of the group and beyond. Anselmo had become addicted to heroin which caused him to behave erratically, and his vocals were recorded at a different studio than the rest of the band's tracks. Though some considered that fame had gone to his head, Anselmo blamed chronic back pain from an on-stage injury as the reason for his behavior coupled with his use of alcohol and narcotics to dull the pain.

The band would release two more albums together, Official Live: 101 Proof in 1997 and Reinventing the Steel in 2000. After touring the globe in support of Reinventing the Steel, Pantera played their last concert together on August 28, 2001 in Japan.

In 2003, Pantera was officially declared broken up by Vinnie Paul and Dimebag. They insisted that Anselmo had abandoned the band for other projects and would not be returning. This resulted in a public feud between Anselmo and the Abbotts, which was played out in virtually every rock and metal magazine in the world. It devolved into a he said/he said mess, with words being taken out of context and the most sensational of quotes being advertised on magazine covers.

In 2004, the Abbott brothers released an album with their new band, Damageplan. Though considered to be less powerful than Pantera's recordings, a lot of the lyrics revolved around the Abbott brother's ongoing feud with Anselmo.

On December 8, 2004, Dimebag was shot and killed while performing with Damageplan onstage in Columbus, Ohio. Three others were killed in the incident, and seven were injured. The shooter, Nathan Gale, a paranoid schizophrenic, was rumored to have gone on the killing spree in retaliation for the breakup of Pantera, his favorite band. He blamed the Abbott brothers for ending Pantera. Many people blamed Anselmo, his involvement in other projects that caused the breakup of Pantera and the feud with the Abbott brothers as being the reason for Gale's actions.

After the shooting, the metal media went into a frenzy with the Anselmo/Vinnie Paul feud. Words were thrown around, accusations were made and the whole thing turned into the biggest mess metal had ever seen. To this day, Anselmo and Vinnie Paul have apparently not sorted out their differences or, in fact, even spoken. In a recent interview regarding the reissue of Vulgar Display of Power, Anselmo said that all contact with Vinnie Paul regarding the release was conducted through e-mail and a third party.

Kirk Windstein and Phil Anselmo of Down in concert in Prague, 2008.
Kirk Windstein and Phil Anselmo of Down in concert in Prague, 2008. | Source

Pick Your Favorite Phil Anselmo Band

What's your favorite band that Phil Anselmo's been a part of?

See results

Superjoint Ritual, Down and Arson Anthem Among Other Things

Phil Anselmo is one productive musician. Not only did he achieve success with Pantera, he did it again with two other bands.

Down is a supergroup that was formed by Anselmo, Pepper Keenan from Corrosion of Conformity and Pat Bruders from Crowbar and Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod. To date, Down has released three studio albums, NOLA, Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow and Down III: Over the Under and one live album, Diary of a Mad Band: Europe in the Year of VI. They have released several singles, notably Stone the Crow and Ghosts of Mississippi. Though the lineup has changed some over the years, namely to include Rex Brown, the bassist for Pantera, the four original guys are current members, with the addition of Kirk Windstein, also of Crowbar, on guitar. Because Down is comprised of musicians from several other bands, they have officially gone on hiatus twice so that the members can return to their original groups.

Down's next release, Down IV is going to be done a little differently. It's broken into four different EP's. The first of these, Down IV Part 1 - The Purple EP, has a release date of September 18, 2012.

Superjoint Ritual is another supergroup, formed by Anselmo, Joe Fazzio and Jimmy Bower in the early 1990s. Later, the act would be joined by Hank Williams III and Kevin Bond. Where Pantera was pure heavy groove metal, Superjoint Ritual mixed that style with punk and even black metal. because of Anselmo's involvement in Pantera and Down, Superjoint Ritual pretty much sat on the back burner, studio-wise, until the breakup of Pantera.

In 2002, Superjoint Ritual released the album Use Once and Destroy, followed by 2003's A Lethal Dose of American Hatred. The band has also released two live DVDs, Live in Dallas, TX in 2002 and Live at CBGB's in 2004.

Superjoint Ritual was to be a short lived group. In 2004, a dispute between Anselmo and another band member effectively ended the band.

Arson Anthem is Anselmo's newest (relatively speaking) project. Formed with Mike Williams of Eyehategod after Hurricane Katrina caused Williams to lose his home, Hank Williams III and bassist Collin Yeo also signed on. Arson Anthem is more punk than metal, and, in this band, Williams handles vocals instead of Anselmo, who plays rhythm guitar. The band released the EP Arson Anthem in 2008 and the album Insecurity Notoriety in 2010. They also appeared on a compilation album released by Housecore Records in 2009.

Anselmo has had a few other side projects as well.

Christ Inversion was a black metal band formed in 1994 with Anselmo on guitar under his pseudonym, Anton Crowley. Christ Inversion never officially released any music but their themes ranged from horror films to Satanism.

Southern Isolation was a band comprised of Anselmo, his now former wife, Opal Enthroned, Ross Karpelman and Sid Montz. The band released one EP, Southern Isolation, and has a song on the upcoming Manson Family Soundtrack.

Viking Crown as another short-lived band, with Anselmo again using the name Anton Crowley. His ex-wife was involved, as was Killjoy, of the death metal band Necrophagia. Viking Crown's only release, 1994's Unorthodox Steps of Ritual, had Anselmo playing every instrument as well as vocals. This band never played a live show. The record is described as nasty, and very, very heavy.

Eibon was also short-lived and featured Anselmo with several black metal musicians: Fenriz from the Norwegian black metal band Darkthrone, Satyr from Satyricon, Maniac from Mayhem and Killjoy from Necrophagia and Viking Crown. Though the band never recorded an album, their song Mirror Soul Jesus is featured on a compilation album, Moonfog 2000: A Different Perspective.

Anselmo has also been featured on tracks by Soilent Green, Tony Iommi, Vision of Disorder, Crowbar, Anthrax and Jarboe, among others sometimes credited as Phil Anselmo, others as Anton Crowley.

Phil Anselmo on guitar at Hellfest in 2009 - Clisson, France.
Phil Anselmo on guitar at Hellfest in 2009 - Clisson, France. | Source

So, What's Next For Phil Anselmo?

Phil Anselmo is already a man that has done it all. With three highly successful bands and a name that will already live on forever, what could be next?

Anselmo has his own record label, Housecore Records, whose artists embody every aspect of metal. He has also been in the process of writing his autobiography with heavy metal journalist Corey Mitchell since 2010. Recently, news was released that the book had found a publisher and would be released by Gallery/Simon & Schuster likely sometime in 2014.

2010 was the twentieth anniversary of the Cowboys from Hell album and 2012 marks the twenty year anniversary of the release of Vulgar Display of Power with a reissue to be released on May 15. It is still cited as an influence of up and coming metal bands and continues to perform on the charts. For some metal fans (such as your faithful Hub author) it seems almost impossible that those albums were released so long ago.

Phil's very first solo album, Philip H Anselmo and the Illegals - Walk Through Exits Only, was released on July 16,m 2013. This record is loud and aggressive and is a real departure from anything Philip has done in the last decade or so. With legions of fans at his back, this record, released on his own Housecore Records, had enough people behind it that bit did crack the Billboard Chart at number 35 the week the album debuted.

There is again a recent rumor that Pantera may try to reunite possibly with Zakk Wylde, of Black Label Society, on guitar. As of right now, that is just a rumor. In a May 12, 2012 interview with Metal Hammer UK, Anselmo is quoted as saying that "Before any of that ever has to happen, Vince and I would have to sit down, hash out whatever problems, whatever demons may exist, and thus far, that day has not come. And, once again, I will say, my door is wide open."

Hardcore Pantera fans will, however, continue to keep their fingers crossed.

New Release: Philip H Anselmo and the Illegals - Bedridden Music Video

© 2012 Georgianna Lowery

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    • liladybugz26 profile image

      Rachael M Ryhn 2 years ago from Cambridge, MN

      Your article gave me the goosebumps, and brought back so many memories! I still remember the first time I heard Pantera 25 years ago. My first Pantera concert shortly followed. I seen them close to 20 times in concert, and each time was just as good as the last.

      I was so devastated when Pantera was no more. Not only had my ultimate favorite band split, but I felt like I lost my idol, and the person I had a mind love affair with for many years (still do). In my youth, Phil Anselmo was my hero, and I had the power groove in my soul.

      He has the voice of an angel which his softer ballads have proved (This Love, Planet Caravan). This along with his unique vocal range mixed with an absolute display of power (no pun intended), took the music to another level to never be surpassed.

      Anselmo is hands down the best metal vocalist, reserving his place in history, but without Dimebags powerful riffs - I do not believe Anselmo would be the metal icon he is today.

      Thank you for this well-written, awesome read!

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 4 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      Eiddwen:

      Thank you! Philip is amazing!

      smcgavin1:

      I love the guy, too! Don't forget that he's dropping his solo album on 7/16!

      Thanks for the comments, I appreciate them even if I am slow to reply!

    • smcgavin1 profile image

      Sean McGavin 4 years ago from Bowling Green, Ohio

      Phil has always been one of my all time favorites in anything he has done (I have albums from at least 6 of his projects and absolutely love them all). Very good read.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Such a great read and thank you for sharing.

      Eddy.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      SkySlave,

      I did see Phil perform Would with AIC. Though I'm glad he did it, I felt that that particular performance was off. He was just too damned loud! I read somewhere though, that this is the way he wants it.

      Personally, I don't care if he's the biggest jackass in the whole world, he is still one of the best and I will always buy his records! The best rock and roll frontmen always seem to be the biggest divas anyway!

      (I hope he never reads this comment and find that I've called him a diva!)

      Thank you for the comment!

    • SkySlave profile image

      Skyler DeCristoforo 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Awesome article. Phil is one of the great vocalists in heavy metal music. I personally love his work with Pantera the best. Ive seen him preform with Alice in Chains and Heart at the vh1 Rock Honors and that was an outstanding performance as well. I do however agree that Phil has a "God Complex" as you put it. I think that he has a thick head and wanted the show to be all his ran his way. Just watch some of the live Pantera sets and you can easily see that Phil takes a "God like" role on stage telling audience members to follow his command. If Phil didn't like the way the show was going or didn't like the response of his audience he would walk off stage and end the show.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      Cryptid,

      I don't know if we will ever know the whole truth behind the breakup of Pantera. The Abbott's said that Phil abandoned the band, Phil said he was caught unawares when Dime and Vinnie Paul disbanded Pantera. I think it will always be he said/he said. Each side probably has at least partial truth. Regardless, what's done, in this case, can't be undone.

      I do know that Phil disbanded Superjoint Ritual because of a disagreement with a band member, so maybe he does have some of a God complex.

      I will still rock out, screaming Pantera lyrics in my adorable, severely off key way, and people will always think I'm 'special.' ;)

    • cryptid profile image

      cryptid 5 years ago from Earth

      Man, I was just yesterday listening to Great Southern Trendkill and remembering back to the days when Pantera first showed up on the radar for metal fans. Cowboys from Hell. Cemetery Gates. Great stuff. Phil's vocals got wilder as the albums evolved, and of course Dime, Rex and Vinnie were all amazing. I was thinking about how much I miss Pantera. In a way I kind of always blamed Phil for their demise, because the Abbott bros were always saying in magazines that they wanted the band back but Phil wasn't having it. If Pantera had stayed together there would have been no Damageplan, no shooting, all would be well. Can't hold a grudge though. Pantera was great and so was Phil.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      Awesome, Chris Hugh! I will be looking for it! The link AND the Hub! :)

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 5 years ago

      Whoops, I misspelled them. It's Eisbrecher. Sorry I can't post links here, but I will put a link to them on my profile. I love that band...'good idea about writing a hub on them. Thanks.

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      Chris Hugh,

      I have never heard of Eisbecher. (Maybe you should write a Hub on Alexx?) I will go hunt down some videos though, thanks for the heads up and the comment! :)

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      spartucusjones,

      I couldn't agree more, and thanks for the comment! :)

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      TheHeavyReview,

      Thank you for your comment! I agree with you that Phil is great. I believe he is very versatile and is capable of just about anything!

    • Georgie Lowery profile image
      Author

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Lubbock, TX

      FatFreddysCat,

      It took me a while and a lot of prodding from my brother for me to get into Pantera. I admittedly don't like REALLY heavy metal, especially 'screamy' singers. Once I found them, though, there was no turning back.

      I agree that there will never be a reunion, though. Sad but true.

      Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 5 years ago

      Another great vocalist is Alexx from Eisbecher. Check him out on YouTube. I'm not spamming, I'm just a huge fan. I even translated all the lyrics from their last album into German. They're on .... Ok, now it'll seem like I'm spamming. Okay, I'll post the link, but only if someone asks. :). Anyway, awesome voice, like chocolate and granite, such masculine beauty. Meaningful lyrics as well.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Enjoyed the hub! Phil Anselmo is truly a great metal vocalist.

    • TheHeavyReview profile image

      TheHeavyReview 5 years ago

      Great hub, I'm not much of a Pantera fan but Phil is a great vocalist. I would be interested to hear what he could achieve in a metal band of a different style. Very well done!

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 5 years ago from The Garden State

      Cool hub, though honestly I never got into Pantera much beyond their "Cowboys" album.

      I doubt we'll ever see that Pantera "reunion." There is waaaaaayyy too much bad blood between Vinnie and Phil.