It's been 17 years since a little side project amongst New Orleans-based metal buddies defied the odds and became a genre phenomenon. There have been countless metal, sludge and doom acts serving electric alms to BLACK SABBATH, going as far back as PENTAGRAM, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, SAINT VITUS, CANDLEMASS and CATHEDRAL. Not a lick of them have penetrated the masses like DOWN has except for maybe WOLFMOTHER, even if the latter has much more going on than just a doom and sludge base.
Phil Anselmo at the helm of DOWN has lent the band a certain high profile. Until last year, the same could be said of Anselmo's PANTERA bandmate, Rex Brown. The insider notoriety of Kirk Windstein from CROWBAR, Pepper Keenan from C.O.C. and Jimmy Bower (CROWBAR, EYEHATEGOD) helps keep the underground hero purity of DOWN's "supergroup" status. Yet nobody could've foreseen the greatness of DOWN's 1995 debut, "NOLA", considering it was fundamentally a tool-around project.
Close to two decades later with only three studio albums and a live anthology to their credit, the Big Easy dirge collective gets together for another jaunt down their well-blazed SABBATH, ZEPPELIN and SKYNYRD trails. This time, Rex Brown is replaced by CROWBAR/GOATWHORE bassist Patrick Bruders and DOWN issues their fans a half hour dropkick of no-frills, sludge-o-matic rawk, the first in a reported series of EPs.
If you have the first three DOWN albums, there'll be no surprises what you're getting here, outside of Phil Anselmo's pinpointed evolution from ralpher to full-on singer. Sure, he's let his cleans sail incrementally in DOWN, SUPERJOINT RITUAL and PANTERA (to succinct sublimation on PANTERA's "Cemetery Gates"), but face the facts; Anselmo's made his bread and butter as one of the fiercest, most recognizable growlers in metal history. On "Down IV: The Purple EP", Anselmo settles into a laidback Southern sprawl on all six songs, resisting temptation to rip one off, even if he cuts loose on the final stretch of "Misfortune Teller". He spits more than he bellows on the climaxes of "The Curse Is a Lie", "Witchtripper" and "Open Coffins". You have to admire Anselmo's discipline to step up his game and drop his chops with more confidence.
The majority of the time on this EP, he's coaxing something far more relaxed and symbiotic to the Iommi-esque trip hammers that Kirk Windstein and Pepper Keenan lay before him. It's hardly Osbourne-esque, but Anselmo's Americanized impression of SABBATH-era Ozzy is undeniable and more than welcome. "This Work Is Timeless" might be the mission statement of what Anselmo and his DOWN cohorts have sought to accomplish together even just for fun, and it explains why metal bands pay tribute to BLACK SABBATH ad infinitum. It's an unwritten creed to do so.
As ever, Keenan and Windstein are like syncopated buzzing bees, while Jimmy Bower pummels his primary lines and rolls like he's surrendered himself to an unseen mojo prevailing over his forearms. He's particularly meaty on "Misfortune Teller", "Levitation" and "Witchtripper". Patrick Bruders settles into the band with ease and no one's likely to cry foul over Rex Brown's departure, not when DOWN sounds as resolved as ever to their consecrated amp worship.
The low riding vibe of "Down IV: The Purple EP" is as reverential as its subdued artwork. The Grim Reaper slinks off-panel into the midst of an ambient combat between gloom and effervescence, much like "Levitation" slinks and slithers into this EP with incremental volume. A perfect, menacing lead sequence budding into a spectacular twin guitar attack, all as DOWN fans have come to expect. There's nothing more extravagant to "Down IV: The Purple EP" than that minus some chewy acid rock solos and a hefty outing by Phil Anselmo on the mike. Anselmo has stated the band avoided slicking up the EP and no doubt DOWN's listeners will rejoice. Simplicity works to fortune here and DOWN supporters will be both satiated and stoked for the next installment.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.