Down III Over the Under
The release of a new Down album constitutes something of an event. Down III: Over the Under, in fact, represents just their second release since their legendary debut, NOLA which was released more than ten years ago. Everyone who's reading this probably knows the story behind this band, but the pedigree is just too impressive not to run down. Members of infamous New Orleans bands, EyehateGod and Crowbar team with even more infamous New Orleans natives Philip Anselmo of Pantera et al and Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity to romp through stoner/doom tours de force every five or six years. And if you didn't know, that's it in a nutshell.
With that being said, Down III delivers on both that impressive roster of talent and on the promise of their previous efforts. While critics widely skewered 2002's Down II for its lack of focus and uneven songwriting, it remained popular among fans (although still held decidedly in second place behind NOLA). Down III is the band's most cohesive, and quite simply, their most coherent album to date.
Over the Under rumbles forward like a wheat-thresher, flattening everything in its path. Keenan and Anselmo, the band's primary song writers, have largely put experimentation aside in favor of a very strong set of Sabbath-esque, down-tuned, metal songs. There isn't a hit single like "Stone the Crow" anywhere on Over the Under and there are no cute percussion interludes to waste time between songs, just a solid groove throughout and some excellent guitar work by Keenan and Crowbar's Kirk Windstein. The sludgy, Doom-light riffs remain in abundance, but the band does a much better job of playing in space. For example, see "Never Try," a riff-heavy song spattered with some excellent fretwork during the long choruses, which acts as a perfect centerpiece.
Perhaps the most notable change in Down's sound comes from it's most well-known member. Down III, of course, represents Phil Anselmo's first musical project since the horrific death of his former band mate, Dimebag Darrell Abbott that will get significant attention. Anyone who saw the VH1 produced, Pantera: Behind the Music, would have cause to be concerned for the man. He appeared overweight, stoned, and very depressed, this from a man who already possessed a reputation for living dangerously close to the edge.
In a pleasant turn of events, Anselmo sounds in top form on Over the Under. While withholding judgment on his sobriety (none of our business, right?) one can only marvel at the performance he gives. His voice sounds strong, a little world weary perhaps, but powerful nonetheless. He doesn't reach for the notes as much and the screams pulled from the pits of hell are minimal, but the control he exhibits is outstanding. Particularly of note is the more sedate nature of the songs, and the fact that Anselmo doesn't overpower them as he had a tendency to do on previous Down releases. Beneath the Tides, written for New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, exemplifies this perfectly.
It's unfortunate that all of these guys are too busy to make Down more of a full time gig. Perhaps it's better this way, though. A Down record is that much sweeter for the fact that you've had to wait a few years for it. And even through the long waits, the members of Down still play with a chemistry rarely seen, even in bands who have been together touring and making an album a year for a decade or so. Maybe it's the shared heritage and pain of their hometown, or maybe it's simply a like-mindedness that comes from loving and living the same scene for so long. Whatever it is, in another 5 or ten years, assuming everyone survives, when the next Down album materializes from the smoke and ruin, I'm on board.
Down III Over the Under