Happy Birthday, Phil Anselmo: The Trendkiller's Top 5 Side Projects

On June 30, ex-Pantera and current Down frontman Philip H. Anselmo turns 44 years old. For a while there, it didn't look like he was going to make it this long. The metal titan suffers from chronic back pain caused by degenerative disc disease in his spine, and beginning in the mid-'90s, Phil self-medicated to a fairly epic degree.

By his own admission, the singer numbed himself as much as possible with alcohol, pills and heroin. In 1996, he spent a few minutes dead at the Starplex in Dallas after overdosing. More than a few fans figured it was only a matter of time before he hit the dirt for good.

Displaying strength beyond strength, Anselmo managed to kick his habit and had back surgery to lessen his pain. Good thing, too, because Phil stays too busy to spend his time floating through life on narcotic painkillers. Guitarist Dimebag Darrell's murder at the hands of a psychotic fan in 2004 ended any hope of a Pantera reunion, but Anselmo has found continued success recording and touring with two onetime side projects, Down and Superjoint Ritual.

Those two bands are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Phil's musical experiments, though. As the frontman for Pantera, he was the face (and dynamic voice) of Texas' most influential mainstream metal band, but the New Orleans native has always been compelled to explore far harsher, underground sounds, as well.

In honor of Phil's birthday, we've assembled a sampling of the singer's five best underground side projects. It's mostly pretty dark stuff, and noisy even by metalhead standards. Anselmo's love of cruddy horror flicks and early Satanic metal shines through clear as day on much of the material, but he brings a diverse array of influences to his work. Many of those influences will no doubt be on display when Phil releases his very first solo album later this year.

As we fortify our souls for a new onslaught from the over-the-top vocalist, here's a look back at the best of the stuff you can't get at Best Buy:

5. Viking Crown

Early black metal like Venom and Hellhammer has always held a special connection for Phil's, and Viking Crown was one of a few outlets for evil he created for himself over the years. Featuring Anselmo on guitar (under the pseudonym Anton Crowley), Necrophagia frontman Killjoy on vocals, and Anselmo's then-wife Stephanie Opal Weinstein (as Opal Enthroned) on keys, Viking Crown belched forth two albums and an EP of lo-fi, atmospheric black metal between 1999 and 2001.

Songs like "Christianity Has No Chance" from 2001's Banished Rhythmic Hate could almost pass for the VHS soundtrack to a forgotten Exorcist rip-off somebody left behind in the cabin you rented for the weekend. One where Satan wins.

4. Christ Inversion

In several ways, Viking Crown was the spiritual successor to Christ Inversion, the original black metal project from Anton Crowley. The band recorded a couple of demos that never saw release until Anselmo started his own record label, Housecore Records, in 2008. The tunes are all very "Hail Satan," sounding not unlike a black-metal version of early Godflesh and packed with B-movie samples.

3. Southern Isolation

Metal might be the genre Phil was born for, but it apparently ain't all he listens to. Southern Isolation was an acoustic duo that he put together with Stephanie Opal Weinstein featuring her vocals and his guitar (usually). The pair released one EP in 1995 containing an intriguing fusion of acoustic Skynard and Neil Young that mostly lacked the more subtle charms of either. Opal's got talent, however, and Phil manages not to embarrass himself on the acoustic.

2. Necrophagia

Necrophagia was part of the first wave of death metal in the early '80s alongside fellow tape-trade mainstays like Repulsion. One of the first metal bands to embrace gore and shock horror as a driving creative theme, the group dissolved in '87 and was inactive for more than a decade before frontman Killjoy reformed Necrophagia with Anselmo on guitar in 1998.

The resulting album, Holocausto de la Morte, is a caustic blast of primitive, blackened death metal written by Anselmo Anton Crowley. The video for "Embalmed Yet I Breathe" is an overt tribute to Z-grade zombie flicks and gore-sploitation that features some pretty righteous spray-paint huffing. The performance scenes look like they might have been shot at the House of Shock, the massive New Orleans haunted-house attraction Anselmo helped to create in the early '90s.

1. Arson Anthem

Early-'80s hardcore of the Black Flag variety has always been a major influence on Phil's style, from his aggressive vocals to his shaven-headed look. Anselmo has most famously explored those old sounds with his band Superjoint Ritual, but he gets his guitar kicks these days playing crossover-period hardcore with Arson Anthem.

Thanks in part to the assistance of Mike Williams and Hank III, Arson Anthem smashes out a successfully thrashy take on gnarly punk. The group put out the full-length Insecurity Notoriety on Housecore in 2010.

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