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Phil Anselmo

Phil Anselmo

by Niklas Göransson

Throughout his artistic career, American musician Philip Anselmo has lived by the sword but died by the needle. With a spine in splinters but spirit unbroken, he recalls ghosts of his past as well as the Reaper’s grasp.

The following is an excerpt from the full article – which is twice as long, significantly more in-depth, and published in Bardo Methodology #3. This issue also features bands such as DARKTHRONE, PORTAL, WATAIN, SVARTIDAUÐI, LEVIATHAN, IMPETUOUS RITUAL, AND ALTAR OF PERVERSION. The conversation took place in February 2018.

Photo: Jeremy Saffer

 

Would you say that GG Allin has been influential to your artistic expression?

– Fucking piss, yes! Every scar I bear on my forehead I owe to GG. Terrible habit, I must add. Vigorously smashing microphones into one’s head ‘til bloody, night after night, is cerebrally sapping as the years creep by, mark my words. I quit doing it after the concussions got too hideous; double-vision, headaches. I would not endorse this practice unless intellectual annihilation is desirable. If so, then so be it; live and let live, die and let croak. We are ants on this skirmishing earth! I actually saw GG twice, both times in New Orleans, with EYEHATEGOD as opener the last time I do believe. I was semi-buzzed so, for some reason, I remember the entire gig from GG-on. It was his final tour – he was fat as heck, his penis was absent and he was enthusiastically horrendous. Damned fine show!

The American chaos musician – who was actually born Jesus Christ Allin – was an even bigger inspirational lodestar to a former cohort of Phil’s: Seth Putnam, late frontman of Boston-based grindcore band ANAL CUNT. Phil contributed guitars and vocals to a number of songs on their 1996 album, “40 More Reasons to Hate Us”. I can’t help but think that AC would have found it significantly harder to operate these days. If I recall the events correctly, a promoter cut the power half-way through their gig the last time they were in Sweden

– Hah, go figure! I can’t imagine how the SJW crowd of pearl-clutching, pious, virtue-signalling weaklings could possibly put up with Seth’s antics, haha! Poor bastard. In all truth, I’m still damned close with Jon and Tim from the ‘real’, original AC. They’re two of the most well-balanced, logical, smart, and personally successful people I know. But back in the 1990s, it was Seth I was getting smashed with.

Phil Anselmo and Seth Putnam having drinks, no way did that end well.

– Yep! We were fucking trouble, man… Seth was one of the funniest and most misunderstood dudes ever. Of course, he was trying to do his best GG Allin impersonation – as we all were to some degree – and of course Seth tried to outdo him for shock value. Attending an ANAL CUNT show, there was always an edge of ‘danger’ because of Seth’s unpredictability. I’ve seen him do crazy shit; like throw an entire jagged, metal- edged merch table as hard as possible on top of some guy in the crowd and then jump up and down on him, smashing the dude’s head wide open. Great stuff, haha! Especially because people knew that, for the most part, it was all in good fun. Coming away from an AC gig with a black eye or bloody head was a badge of honour.

Phil says that Putnam used to come visit him in New Orleans for Mardi Gras festivities every year. Also known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras was originally an annual Christian celebration taking place before the liturgical season of Lent – intended as an evening of feasting before commencing a time of solemn reflection and ritual fasting. In New Orleans, the event has become quite the flamboyant spectacle over the centuries, to the extent where entire parts of the city turn into a lively carnival.

– It was just another hugely important reason to drink. Fuck, we dropped acid early in the day one year on Mardi Gras morning, then Jimmy Bower – who was also on LSD – asked if Seth would sing for EYEHATEGOD later that night because Mike Williams was out of town. What a fucking acid trip! And what a gig! It was at some odd little joint called Monaco Bob’s and the place was perfectly distraught with decadence. The dirt on the floor was dirty. It was the height of Low Culture of the time, such a missed and wonderful era of freedom. It will be sorely lamented, as those times are gone.

How did the gig go?

– Excellent. Near the end of the set, Seth stuffed half of his arm down his throat and puked the entire day’s contents of booze all over the floor, right in front of stage. Amazing, haha! Slippery and grotesque but hilarious and a blast. I wish to point out that underneath all the snark and booze – Seth was a very, very, very intelligent fellow. I’d sneak AC on every single PANTERA show that went through Boston. We had a blast at the expense of all the fringe-type, fad-chasing fans who were decidedly not ready for a band like them.

Besides his colourful song titles, Seth Putnam was known as a turbulent and generally abrasive character with a strong proclivity for getting into brawls both off and on stage. He passed away from a heart attack in 2011.

Seth knew very well what he was doing for a while there in the nineties, for sure, and he was fucking great in that role. Alas, when hard drugs came into our lives, Seth climbed into his hole and I into mine. Once I began cleaning up my act, I tried talking some sense into him but he was too far gone by then. For anyone out there who cares – losing Seth as a person, a vocalist, and a frontman-tour-de-force sucks. I miss the olde Seth, and I shall always love that crazy motherfucker. He was one of the better knuckles in that bird finger directed at pop-culture and contemporary norms we all aspire to be.

Seth Putnam and Phil Anselmo. Photo: Jeremy Saffer

 

Another one of Phil’s celebrity collaborations was with the veritable who’s-who of late-nineties Norway. The decline and fall of the country’s black metal scene around the millennial shift is widely believed to have been in part due to the so-called Matrix virus, explored at length in my conversation with Swedish historian Hatpastorn. Many have also pointed to another landmark event – Satyr of SATYRICON hooking up with Phil in 1998, implicating my interviewee as a potentially detrimental influence. The following year’s “Rebel Extravaganza” comes to mind. The time has come for confrontation, to inquire if he concedes guilt and wishes to accept any blame.

– I claim complete innocence! I will take nothing about anything when it comes to Norge black metal. I have naught but respect for them and, with or without me, their scene would have done what it did; as it would have, as it has. Remember, I didn’t even meet the cats from DIMMU BORGIR ‘til about a decade ago, haha!

Back in the late 1990s, Phil found out that Fenriz and Nocturno Culto of DARKTHRONE liked the NECROPHAGIA albums he played guitar on. Contact was established.

– I spoke with many of the Norway black metallers via phone conversations. The first time Fenriz came to the USA, he stayed at my house. I don’t know if he’s been back to the States again, eh? I’m not sure. But he and Satyr flew over to write some EIBON.

This so-called ‘black metal super-group’ EIBON came into the public spotlight in the late 90s. Besides Phil on guitar it featured Fenriz, Maniac from MAYHEM, Satyr, and Killjoy of the aforementioned NECROPHAGIA.

– Oh man… poor pasty-white ghouls! I was still a pill-popping, druggard idiot who’d nod off mid-sentence. But! Satyr was always a hard worker, he was the guy who led. I found it interesting from a musician’s standpoint. We played primitive black metal so, in my opinion, the listener would consider what we were playing extremely simple… and it was – but! I was made to play by the Norge-rule of strumming with the wrist instead of down-picking on half-time parts, which is totally crazy in my mind. I tried explaining to a very wilful Satyr that the downward chop sounds heavier than halftime-picking but alas, he was having none of it. Haha! So, despite the music’s simplicity, it was a fresh, unexpected challenge within the genre. I fucking loved it! Damned cool experiences.

What ultimately became of the project?

– There was a slight Norge-fallout betwixt the natives, and I didn’t wanna get stuck in the middle of that particular fight. So, the band never materialised. All I have left is three poorly-mummified-sounding songs, recorded and mixed terribly raw, with one song featuring place-keeper-style vocals. Hardly impressive.

Speaking of which, it was on the infamous compilation “Moonfog 2000 – A Different Perspective” we finally got to hear the result of this much-lauded project. When conducting studies on the millennium-era collapse of Norway’s black metal empire, this audio artefact is invaluable source material; an album of, and I quote, ‘exclusive/ previously unreleased tracks recorded especially for this compilation’. What arguably works in EIBON’s favour here is the company their contribution finds itself in. We see the first symptoms of the emergent northern Matrix metal, there’s GEHENNA abandoning ghosts in favour of generic death metal, and lest we forget Satyr’s joint artistic venture with Norwegian electronica veterans PÄRONSODA.

– I know man, I know… but hey! Consider me a useful idiot of the times. I followed my heart blindly but still through a lens of pure intent – however invariably blighted by opiates. Terrible mixture of conflicts. Terrible interests of mixtures! I love it. I loathe it.

In April of the year 2000, Phil brought SATYRICON along on what would be PANTERA’s last European tour.

– The way I operated back in the day as far as getting openers on really big tours was if I liked a band and they had some momentum going – that would be who I’d want. The remaining three cats in PANTERA would have their pick of main support, because I didn’t give a fuck as long as I got a heavy band to open. I’d always fight to get the most extreme or obscure bands because that’s where my heart was, and still is.

Are you still friendly with the Norwegians?

– Most certainly; I still keep in touch with the DARKTHRONE guys, as well as Satyr. Frost (SATYRICON) is one of my good buds but his English language reading-writing skills suck and when it comes to Norwegian, I’m an imbecile. We’re the type of friends who always maintain a steady admiration over time, so Frost is always a pleasure to run into whilst touring. But honestly, Satyr kinda freaked me out back in the late 1990s to early 2000s with the type of bands he liked – especially US acts who were popular at the time. I’ll just leave it at that. I couldn’t believe it. Terrible music taste in my opinion but, music is subjective. Satyr always had big things on his mind, and there’s a palpable hunger within him. I couldn’t have predicted the direction they’d go in but, truth be told, I played no role in the scribing of any SATYRICON record. That’s all on them.

 

Since I’m conversing with a New Orleans native, in the MORBID conversation in Bardo Methodology #1, Dr. Schitz spoke of the years he lived there. He mentioned a strong voodoo presence.

– Ah, now it gets interesting… I’ve seen quite a lot of different occult rituals practised, and I’ve engaged in certain rites both alone and within a body of people; a pseudo-coven of sorts. I was very, very young when some of this activity started. Not to overtly glamorise all this but even in my mid-teens, I saw some things I can’t even half-mention here. I know it sounds ominous, but it’s more of an incrimination thing. Plus, things done in the past – outside of something utterly criminal – are in the past. Like anything else, I’ve absorbed the experiences, taken away what was to be taken away, and moved on.

Phil says the last voodoo rite he attended was a friend’s funeral just a few years ago.

– He’d been a member of this Temple. The place was gorgeous, it was in the French Quarter and looked like some little hidden sliver of Haiti. Quite amazing. It was a ‘dry’ rite, as there was a Priestess and a drum circle and a quite neutral rite of passage. Not ‘drab’ by any means but not life-changing either. If the funeral rite was meant to create an energy crackling through the atmosphere, then mission accomplished. Did I learn anything useful? Nope. Without hesitation, I’m an atheist to one hundred percent. Remember, I’ve actually died before. The worst time was probably the most polarising as it was made public; I was dead for nearly four minutes. Trust me, when we croak – we’re croaked.

July 1996 – after having performed a show at the Coca-Cola Starplex in Dallas and subsequently injected an adventurous dosage of heroin, Phil went into cardiac arrest. During my research I watched a television interview conducted a few months after the ordeal, in which he mentioned remembering nothing. It seemed as if he took this memory blackout as a clear indication that there’s no post-mortem existence but black void.

– It only affirmed my position of atheism. As the olde saying goes, and this olde saying is true; being croaked feels exactly like how it felt before being born. On this particular death – waking up in the back of an ambulance, the most profound sensation I can recall was a violent urge to puke. I heard pissed-off voices of displeasure as I tossed my guts off all over the joint… I remember being confounded by all the tubes attached to my arms and then I saw the crowd of weeping, wailing faces outside the open ambulance doors… fucking hell. Now that was chaos, let me tell you. In contrast, death was a breeze! Dying was swift, painless, and absolute.

Phil adds that if he’d waited with blasting that armful of deadly heroin into himself until he was on the tour bus speeding down the highway, they’d have found him dead in the morning.

– That’s a fact. I guess I was smart enough to OD on that major-a-scale backstage with medics only minutes away – hah! And although I laugh, in no way, shape, or form would I ever condone using dope. That’s an entirely different discussion but I was a young version of myself and admittedly made every rookie mistake in the book as far as drugs go. And I’m a self-confessed imperfect person of many mistakes, as we all are. I’m well on the way to my second year without a drink these days. I’ve been clean from any hard drugs for twelve years now. I guess I’m enjoying the clarity because I can easily look back and say, ‘Yep, I did most of it, and a little more to boot.’

Now, I’m no pharmacologist but I’m left wondering if the lack of recollections might not be related to overdose-amounts of heroin. After all, memory loss is a commonly reported side-effect of opioids even in non-lethal dosages.

– Know this – death is death. ‘Death’ can’t get ‘high’, my friend. I was croaked for four minutes plus. My experience was pure! I count myself lucky I’m not more drain-bramaged than I already am, haha! Also, that was my only public OD so, yeah, I’ll leave it there. I’ve felt the magnificent grip of The Reaper, and I will hopefully relieve the worrisome mind that death is absolutely zilch, nil, nada to fear. And this makes sense, seeing as how it’s as natural as anything we as humankind can possibly fathom. Life doles out plenty of sub-sources of experiences; some painful, some enjoyable, some drab, and so on. Death is easy – trust me.

The above is an excerpt from the full article – which is twice as long, significantly more in-depth, and published in Bardo Methodology #3. This issue also features bands such as DARKTHRONE, PORTAL, WATAIN, SVARTIDAUÐI, LEVIATHAN, IMPETUOUS RITUAL, AND ALTAR OF PERVERSION.

  • adam brown

    “I tried explaining to a very wilful Satyr that the downward chop sounds heavier than halftime-picking but alas, he was having none of it.”

    Oh man, I love reading details like this in interviews.