Darin Drahos

Phil Anselmo & The Illegals play at Ace of Spades on Monday. Anselmo, center, was the frontman for heavy metal band Pantera.

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Former Pantera frontman looks to strike new chord with fans

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 - 4:48 pm

It’s easy to forget just how big Phil Anselmo’s former band Pantera was, or how much influence it had on the world of heavy metal.

Its 1994 album “Far Beyond Driven” hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts the same week it was released. Pantera spent the better part of the next decade headlining arenas and stadiums around the globe until the band broke up in 2003 over creative differences and personality conflicts.

As fans know, it was far from an amicable split, with members lashing out at one another in the press.

But the 2004 slaying of Pantera’s guitarist Darrell Abbott – a.k.a. “Dimebag Darrell” – at a show in Columbus, Ohio, added a tragic postscript to the band’s dissolution. Lead singer Anselmo, who had previously engaged in a war of words with Abbott (including an infamous interview in Metal Hammer magazine), would later speak about his admiration for his fallen friend.

It’s a part of the past that Anselmo is willing to address as he sets out on a national tour with his new outfit, Phil Anselmo & the Illegals, set to take the stage Monday at Sacramento’s Ace of Spades.

“At the time, I was in a bad place with physical, chronic pain,” Anselmo recently said. “Toward the end of Pantera, (the other members) weren’t understanding me. I was overmedicating, and I made every rookie mistake. Make no mistake, the worst thing about journalism is there’s no perfect way of capturing someone’s real figure of speech. Black-and-white text can come off as harsh.”

Anselmo, a New Orleans native who also fronts the metal band Down (featuring former members of Corrosion Of Conformity and Eyehategod), said he’s looking forward to this new tour, which will offer him a chance to play more intimate venues and get up close and personal with audiences.

But some of those venues will have to seem like fly speck compared with the stadiums of Pantera’s heyday.

“Look, I’m a realist here and I understand we’re playing rather early in the year,” Anselmo said. “It’s just about about getting the Illegals in small clubs and putting in the dirty work.”

The Illegal’s debut album, “Walk Through Exits Only,” came out last July and received strong notices from metal ’zines around the globe for its unbridled ferocity and over-the-top guitars.

The album doesn’t stray far from Anselmo’s previous sound. Marzi Montazeri plays guitars, Joey Gonzalez lays down the beats, Stephen Taylor holds down the bass duties and, of course, Anselmo provides his trademark scream-growl vocals.

“Dimebag introduced me to Marzi (who) was one of the first guitarists I ever saw him give props to,” Anselmo said. “We met and developed a great friendship over the years. This band is a project that has been a long time coming, and we couldn’t be happier playing together.”

Creativity and productivity have been a top priority for the Illegals, Anselmo said.

“Every time we get together, we always put aside a little time to write some new stuff,” he added. “It’s valuable and always a good thing to go over stuff we already know, but the creative part of being in a band is where it’s at.”

“Walk Through Exits Only” was released on Anselmo’s label, Housecore Records, which he runs with his long-time partner, Kate Richardson. The label has been a way to connect with up-and-coming musicians, Anselmo said.

“Even when Pantera was at our biggest, I never minded being a walking billboard for the underground bands that inspired me and made Pantera’s sound heavier,” Anselmo said. “I wanted to be known as someone with pride and true adoration of underground music, and that’s what we release on our label.”

While the demands of touring and recording with both the Illegals and Down will likely be significant, Anselmo said he’s better equipped for the pressures.

“I like being in a comedic atmosphere because it keeps it light on tour,” Anselmo said. “Even in the studio, tensions can get high and I’ve learned from personal experience that if you would walk into the building and have a (bad) attitude, everyone picks up on it. Things have changed and I’m just happy to finally be presenting the band for the first time.”

Read more articles by Eddie Jorgensen

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