Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Down - Down IV Part 1, The Purple EP (2012)

If you have lived to this point without ever hearing a single song, or a single verse from New Orleans' own Down, it would be both a shock and a disappointment. Featuring former members of Pantera, Corrosion Of Conformity, Eyehategod, and Crowbar, this five piece may have the most impressive pedigree in metal today. But more than that, they have formed one collective mind, one that has a natural ease to songwriting; a certain bond that keeps the new music flowing, without compromising their sound or ideals. On "The Purple EP," the first of a string of planned EPs that form "Down IV," the pedal goes down to the floor, and you can either go for the ride, or get dragged behind.

When you embody that Southern metal groove, songs like "Levitation" are too easy. Building from silence, the volume grows with every second. The low thud of the kick drum stands out for the pack, but the true star is the bending, screeching guitar strings. This isn't a one dimensional chugging kid of band, but one that can infuse melody and progressive elements at will. As Phil Anselmo counts to three, he unleashes the voice so many metal fans grew up enjoying. His signature style has often been copied, but no one has been able to master the raspy tremolo that Anselmo has perfected. Resting on top of rolling drums and a sliding bass line, you would be hard pressed to find a better voice. Down are at their very best in songs like "Witchripper," where they take the restraints off and just blast ahead with reckless abandon. The guitars are dynamic, playing a blend of stoner riffs and thrashing chords. When they find themselves in the zone, they can do no wrong. Anselmo, for all of his quirks, continues to refine his craft, as is evident on the verse sections here. But the slamming bass work ties in knots around a blaring guitar solo, carrying you to an end.

There is definitely a focus on low end power on "Open Coffins," along with layered vocals in the verse sections. This is Southern metal in all its glory, bringing the roof down with groove after groove. It sounds redundant to say, but plays out so perfectly in audio form. With every fluttering piece of fretwork, your head moves a little more, a true sign of metal excellence. When your lead singer can half narrate your solo, as Anselmo does here ("That's what I'm talkin' about"), you must be doing something right. Taking a nearly six minute hazy guitar track, and making it feel like three minutes is another story entirely. By the time you've made it to "The Curse," you have probably already made your judgments on the band and the music they play. But don't deprive yourself of a masterpiece in the making. Everything falls into place for six flawless minutes. between the massive wall of guitars, a stripped down but effective drum pattern, and a rolling bass line, you would have the makings of a perfect slow instrumental. And in a raspy, crooning Anselmo, and what you have is something that is so much more than the pieces. The curse is, in fact, alive.

Don't let the name set you off, "This Work Is Timeless" isn't an ego massage for five stars of metal. The slapping of bass strings rings out over everything else, but in a well balanced mix. The bridge sees some more atmospheric and deft guitar work, letting the ringing distortion build and fade around you. Even the up and down sections, climbing and descending the scales in a slow, plodding manner, are smooth and flowing. but as you get the closing track, "Misfortune Teller,"there is a certain amount of intimidation at work. Seeing a track stack up at over nine minutes long is daunting, especially for a stoner paced band. What you get, if you are up to the task, is a song that is as epic as the length indicates. There are elements of Black Sabbath on display, with some of the darker riffs that Tony Iommi made so famous. There are times when you may finally be able to hear what the ill fated Iommi/Anselmo album of 2002 would have become. Syncopated drum beats only heighten the experience, with pounding kicks, and the sizzle of crashing cymbal after crashing cymbal. Just when you think it is only the halfway mark, the music slowly fades out. Keep your finger off the skip button. Just wait for it to fade back in. You won't be sorry.

This is a band with a mind of its own, making music that is both comfortable for all parties, but wholly worthy of your time. This isn't Phil Anselmo trying to revive Pantera with new members, or Pepper Keenan trying to recreate Corrosion Of Conformity. And in an era where bands release albums that barely top the 30 minute mark, Down bucks the trend and gives you an EP of 33 minutes, with more music hot on its heels. There is always a degree of skepticism when it comes to the idea of a "supergroup." And while they fill all of the criteria, based on pedigree, past work, names, etc, Down is anything but your run of the mill collaboration. But they remain as down to earth and "for the people" as any band in the world.


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