New Orleans legends Down and I go way back. In 1995, I walked into a record store (remember those?) and randomly purchased a little album called NOLA, based solely on the “featuring members of…” sticker on the CD case. Since then, I’ve spent the ensuing 17 years rooting for their survival (Hurricane Katrina, drug problems) questioning some of their missteps (Down II anyone?), celebrating their triumphs (Down III, not being dead) and mostly sitting around waiting for them to release some goddamn music. Now, after a 4-year absence, Down has resurfaced with a self-released EP which bears the Prince-worthy title Down IV Part I: The Purple EP.
As the band promised in interviews, Down IV is far more stripped-down than their last two albums, easily rivaling NOLA in the rawness department. The performances have a very “live” feel to them, with vocalist Phil Anselmo often counting off most songs (considering his legendary drug intake, the fact that he can still count to 3 is impressive). It’s easy to picture these guys sweating it out in the shed, drinking a shitload of beers and working on these songs.
Also as promised, Down IV is full-on heavy, and completely free of Southern rock, ballads, trippy slow songs, etc. There’s no “Where I’m Going” or “Stone The Crow” here, so if that’s your thing, you may want to look elsewhere. The influence of classic doom like Pentagram, Witchfinder General and especially Trouble is impossible to miss. “Misfortune Teller” in particular would’ve fit right in on Psalm 9 or The Skull [that comparison alone sent me running to hear this! – Steel Druhm]. Some songs are more essential than others — “The Curse” never really builds on the Cathedral-esque riff it’s founded on, and “Witchtripper” is the kind of track Down writes in their sleep – think “N.O.D.” or “The Seed”. But even those songs qualify as “good”, and the stronger material here is REALLY good.
As expected, the band’s performance is rock-solid. Jimmy Bower is still a fantastic Bonham/Ward style drummer, and the guitar duo of Kirk Windstein and Pepper Keenan still delivers the goods. Windstein in particular rises to the occasion this time around, bringing in more creative leads and harmonies than usual. Also, I’d like to go on record as saying that Pat Bruders (Crowbar, Goatwhore) is the best bassist Down has had yet. His tone and playing come closest to the style that Down is going for, much more so than Rex Brown’s did (and don’t get me started on Todd “Sexy T” Strange).
And what of the infamous Philip H. Anselmo? Yes, his vocal cords have seen better days [in 1990 mostly – Steel Druhm]. Yes, his lyrics can border on the retarded (is it even possible to “resent yourself”?) However, Anselmo has the rare ability to make something work through sheer personality alone, and here he sounds fully engaged. His performance on “Open Coffins” is actually one of his all-time best, and even when he’s off-key and/or mumbling, he’s obviously more “into it” than he has been in many years.
Down IV is the “back to our roots” album that Down has been threatening to make for years, and it’s every bit of what you’d expect that to sound like. I personally wish the songwriting was a bit more interesting — Down III: Over The Under had a bunch of dynamic, well-written tunes, and that wasn’t that long ago, so what gives? As it stands, only “Misfortune Teller” and maybe “Open Coffins” belong on Down‘s highlight reel. Still, it’s cool to hear a bare-bones, stripped-back Down record after all these years. If you’re a fan of NOLA or any of the other bands mentioned above, this is for you.