Arson Anthem is former Pantera singer Philip Anselmo’s newest project/band. Hailing from New Orleans, the band is something of a supergroup with Mike Williams of EyeHateGod on vocals, Hank Williams III from Superjoint Ritual on drums, Collin Yeo of unknown origin on bass, and yes, Phil himself on guitar. The self titled debut EP is also the first release for Housecore Records, Phil’s very own record label. The band formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the anger and frustration of the whole city seems to spew forth like poison from the sewers of New Orleans on this raging hardcore debut. If you are expecting a metal album, you probably need to go elsewhere. Arson Anthem are a self-proclaimed hardcore act, and their Myspace page and promotional material clearly state their mission is to recreate the hardcore sounds of the past with “painful amplification” and “raw production.” The PR material goes on to cite Helhammer among other bands, as a reference to the brutality Arson Anthem aim to recreate. This should be a warning. Helhammer, along with Venom, are responsible for two albums with perhaps the most putrid production values ever recorded (Apocalyptic Raids and Welcome to Hell respectively). You have been warned.
Arson Anthem starts abruptly with “Year of The Fork” and ends around eleven minutes later with “Sri Lankan Medication.” Totaling just eight songs, each track is delivered at breakneck speeds, really just barely short of death or grindcore blast beats. Yeo’s bass is an overdriven, distorted mess, the drums are paper thin, the guitars are a mass of sludge distortion, and the vocals alternate between being almost clear to overdriven and distorted. In other words, it sounds exactly how a hardcore album is supposed to sound. Phil also finds time to insert some Pantera and Sabbath- influenced passages in some of the songs. There is a “Becoming”-like section in the opening track “Year Of The Fork,” a barely restrained mosh near the end of “Hammer Them Out,” and a Peppar Keenan tribute riff on “Wrecked Like Clockwork.” Mike Williams’s vocals are exactly what is needed for hardcore, avoiding the bowel grind of death metal or the more guttural evil of black metal or thrash. Phil is adequate on guitar, obviously not attempting to win any shred awards with this style of music. The bass and drums likewise are deliberately hardcore. In fact, the one complaint that could be made about this album is that everything seems to be perhaps too “deliberate” – a sign that these guys are professionals that have been around for awhile and are not teenagers bashing out hardcore tunes in their garage twenty-five years ago.
The true spirit of hardcore is not in writing artful tunes, but in attitude, and this EP has that in abundance. Rage, anger, adrenaline, caffeine, nicotine and who knows what other substances are fueling this slab of venom and angst. The whole packaging and production screams underground and I salute the band for sticking true to the roots of hardcore in refraining from touching up or overproducing the album. Eleven minutes is hardly enough material to really gain any sense of where this band is heading and it certainly is not going to win any awards. You get the sense that with this being a side band, maybe this was just the outlet they all needed after Katrina and another album or two is not out of the question. Hardcore fans will embrace this, and the fans that enjoy Phil giving the collective mainstream the middle finger every few years with a new project will probably enjoy this as well.
Choice Tracks: Bunker Life, Hammer Them Out, Wrecked Like Clockwork
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