Since the 2002 release of their second CD (Down II), a lot has happened to the Southern supergroup of metal heavyweights known as Down. Frontman Phil Anselmo battled and overcame hard drug use, endured the loss of his ex-Pantera bandmate and beloved metal icon Dimebag Darrell (killed on stage in December 2004 while performing in post-Pantera band Damageplan), and, like his New Orleans-based bandmates, was displaced and suffered through Hurricane Katrina.
Overcoming these tragedies, guitarist Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity), vocalist Phil Anselmo (Pantera), bassist Rex Brown (Pantera), guitarist Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and drummer Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod) reunited and embarked on a small, sold-out 21-show tour of Europe in the summer of 2006. The band demoed 18 new songs in New Orleans sometime thereafter and then recorded 15 tracks in Los Angeles in early 2007. Twelve of them made the cut.
On Down III: Over The Under, the third album in twelve years for this super side project, the band finds themselves kicking out their usual massive, heavy riff-based Southern metal – as opposed to the less nuanced and mostly power chord-based "nu metal" – but with more depth (musically/vocally) than ever before. Keeping with the times, the band even uses Pro Tools technology for the album.
Down's first two records were well-received within the metal community, and though there are no clear-cut hits to be found in this new batch of songs, the record as a whole is a consistent rocker with very little downtime. This should please Down fans young and old. Starting with 1995's debut record Nola (short for New Orleans, Louisiana) and on to the present, Down has taken pride in being considered the southern Black Sabbath of our time. But they also seem to take on other influences here as well, which, in my opinion, includes Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd and even Alice In Chains.
"Three Suns and One Star" starts things off with their trademark Sabbath feel. "In The Thrall Of It All" and "Nothing In Return (Walk Away)" each find Anselmo singing at times like the late Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley. And as with every album, Down takes a break from their usual Dropped-D flat tunings (on guitars/bass) to write a few even heavier songs in Dropped-B tuning, including "N.O.D.," the slow groove of "Mourn" and "Pillamyd," which sees Keenan layering down some C.O.C.-styled licks.
On "Never Try," the band shows off their bluesy side. Pitted half way through the CD, it adds a nice contrast and break from the norm. "On March of the Saints" is another standardly heavy rocker, but with even heavier emotion and Hurricane Katrina-related lyrics. Anselmo sings: "We have been through change/by the season of the storms…with all our lives at stake/from at rest to the present are sitting high among the elect/on march the saints."
The new album itself pretty much rocks from start to finish (with the lone exception of Track 9, an instrumental). Their style is mainly carefully crafted mid-tempo metal – some call it "stoner" metal – that can mix in flashy guitar solos, dual harmony-laden riffs and rhythmic change-ups at any given time. It all makes makes for high quality, never-boring hard rock or old-fashioned head-banging metal.
If you've listened to Down's previous albums (Nola, 1995 and Down II, 2002), you know that they never disappoint, never let you down (pun totally intended) and likely never will as long as they stay true to form. Simply put, Down III comes awfully close to (but not quite) being five-whole-stars-perfect and is one of the best hard rock/metal albums you'll listen to this year. It was released last Tuesday (9/25) through ILG/Warner Music Group. So go pick it up ASAP at the record store of your choice.