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Metal this week: Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals take on Pantera's classic hits

Philip H. Anselmo’s bands covering Pantera tracks is nothing new.

The often contentious and inflammatory vocalist has covered his former and certainly eternally legendary band in many of his lesser known acts over the years, all the way from Down to his current main focus, Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals. Usually it’s done as an encore, or a special treat at the end, like his blackened death metal band Scour, who have included ‘Strength Beyond Strength’ as the finishing blow in every set they’ve ever played.
 
However last week something happened that was a first, when The Illegals took to the stage in LA to play an entire set that consisted of 11 of Pantera’s hardest hitting songs. It’s something the band has been warming up to, having only been playing five tracks from their catalogue of originals (taken from 2018’s Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue and 2013’s Walk Through Exits Only albums) throughout most of the tour, before launching into the covers component. While a packed club of 300 people certainly doesn’t hold the same glory of Pantera’s stadium days, where songs like ‘Mouth For War’ and ‘A New Level’ were first performed, the footage currently all over YouTube definitely has a compelling charm and worthy execution.
 
Anselmo opened the set with a small speech that included the words “let’s make this clear - I am doing this in honour of Vince, and Dime”, referring to the deceased Abbott brothers, and his former Pantera bandmates. Given that Vinnie Paul only passed away in June of this year, and how well publicised Paul’s bad blood towards him has been over the years, it’s certainly an understandable reaction to draw cynical conclusions with regard to the timing here, as many have done. It’s not as though The Illegals have had any platinum selling records or completely sold out tours, either. 
 
Yet I look at this with excited, nostalgic eyes, that see the true sorrow and honour in Anselmo. Another intersecting factor here might also be physical health – after decades of drug and alcohol abuse, recent years have seen his once incredible pipes become weighed down by his bloated and aging frame, causing many to tout the idea that he wasn’t even capable of singing the quite physically demanding hits anymore. However, after his infamous outburst of drunken racism at the Dimebash in January 2016, it would seem that Phil focused on getting clean and sober to help not only his mental health, but physical too, and the proof is right there – he’s still got it, and he’s executing the most demanding songs that Pantera ever wrote with full justice.
 
At the end of the day, the most musically important half of Pantera is dead, and the true Pantera experience is never coming back. Yet it’s undeniable that a band’s vocalist is the most irreplaceable member. While Phil is still kicking on and in good shape, I’m on board with this turn of events, because hopefully one day soon it’ll be the closest thing I ever get for someone that was born just a little too late to witness the real deal.