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Music Review: Down – Over the Under

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Remember feeling a hard pounding in your chest back in fall 2007? More than likely it was Down’s newest album Down III: Over the Under, and it should be known that it gives no quarter to prisoners. The band meant for their long-awaited album to lay waste to peoples’ ears.

Over the Under is Down’s heaviest album to date. In interviews, though, they insist they’re a classic rock band. I hate to break it to them, but they’re definitely well within the realm of the metal genre. Their influences are classic, however, walking paths laid out by bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but they travel along these trails with a heavier gait than their aforementioned inspirations.

Down is considered a metal supergroup of sorts. What started as some friends from the New Orleans metal scene jamming to Sabbath tunes unintentionally became something much larger. Consisting of members from Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, and Crowbar; Down has taken on a life of its own, and nowadays, the group intends to make it clear that this is no longer a side project for them. This has become their full time band.

Over the Under quickly builds steam as the album begins. As I said before, this one is heavy — like lead elephants kind of heavy, and it’s probably best to be sitting when listening f or the first time because it will knock you down. The weighty guitar riffs of Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein help set the tone for the album, but it’s the lyrical content that gives that extra shove.

Vocalist Phil Anselmo is known to be very autobiographical with his lyrics. As such, this album served as a public forum for Anselmo to wrestle with some personal demons. He writes on the subject of his much needed back surgery and the subsequent ordeal with his rehabilitation, and being a New Orleans native, he vents very passionately his frustrations with the disaster that was the handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Most of all, though, the album is laden with Anselmo’s grief over the death of his former Pantera band mate Dimebag Darrell Abbott who was murdered on stage months after the official breakup of their former band. Adding to the anguish is the Abbott family’s accusation that Anselmo was the cause of Dimebag’s death and their refusal to allow him to attend the funeral. At the time of the murder, the two men were having a public feud, and Anselmo has went on record saying he deeply regrets never being able to put away his differences with his old friend before his death.

At times, the heaviness of Over the Under is a little too uncompromising. I miss the occasional mellow arrangement Down would toss out on their previous two releases to break up the pace. However, I can’t help but feel the lack of lighter fare was done on purpose because a pleasant, sedated passage rears its head once or twice, but it’s never the theme for an entire song. I think this was done to underscore the feeling of stress and unrelenting agony that was prevalent throughout the Down reunion and the writing process for this album.

The way I see it every self-respecting metal fan should own this album. Down has shown that even with their five year hiatus they haven’t missed a beat. They’re not gonna lighten up as they grow older — as aging metal outfits often do, and as far as I’m concerned, I think their songwriting skills are strengthening. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future, but until then, I’ll just keeping banging my head to these riffs waiting impatiently for another album.

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About Jerry Stegall