Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Down, "Down IV: Part 2"

On this second in a series of EPs which will eventually add up to Down’s fourth studio album, the band continues to dish out the same Sabbath-inspired punishment that marked the first EP released in late 2012.

Nowhere is that more evident than fourth track “Conjure,” which follows the Sabbath template to the letter. The eight and a half minute track opens with a ten-ton, doomy slab of a droning riff that probably has Tony Iommi hitting his lawyer’s speed dial right about now. Then Phil Anselmo (Pantera) comes in on vocals, also sounding a bit Ozzy-ish, at least on those first lines. Then about halfway through, guitarist Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) kicks the speed up with a galloping break in the old Sabbath tradition. Finally, they settle back into that heavy dirge to finish things out.

The EP marks Down’s first recording without guitarist Kirk Windstein, who made the decision to leave the band last year and focus full-time on his main project Crowbar. Stepping in is Bobby Landgraf, from the band Honky, and the group doesn’t miss a beat.

Rounding out the lineup is bassist Pat Bruders, who replaced Anselmo’s former Pantera bandmate Rex Brown in 2011, and drummer Jimmy Bower (Crowbar, Eyehategod), who has been with Keenan and Anselmo since the beginning of Down as a supergroup sort of side project in the early 1990s.

Elsewhere on Part II, Down dredges up the same muddy swamp grooves that we’ve come to expect from the band, always with the specter of their Sabbathian masters hanging over the proceedings. The record starts on one of those notes with the slowly-building “Steeple,” a slow and low riff leading to an Anselmo scream that breaks the tension a bit only to have it rebuild. Eventually, we reach a choppy guitar lick with Anselmo shouting for just a moment in a style almost similar to something off his experimental solo album from last year.

“We Knew Him Well” will likely become a fan favorite from this record with its slinky, grooving guitar riff that’s pure Down. Anselmo adopts his more familiar vocal style, alternating between low, rumbling murmurs and emotional soars that take him right to the edge of a scream.

They rub a little New Orleans funk on the sound with “Hogshead/Dogshead” that finds Keenan wailing away early on with the wah-wah pedal. Once it settles in, it’s a track that would have fit right in with the band’s third record, Over the Under.

The pace picks up with “Sufferer’s Years” which has the near-Southern boogie feel of something from Keenan-era Corrosion of Conformity. And the EP closes with the soaring “Bacchanalia,” a song that belongs firmly in the burgeoning metal scene of the early 1970s with heavy shades of both Sabbath and Deep Purple before fading the album out with a slow, Led Zeppelin-inspired segment.

So two EPs and 12 songs into what was originally planned as a four-EP fourth album with artwork that will come together to form a more detailed album cover, we’ve got a pretty good full album already with more to come. It’s admittedly a strange way to release an album, with nearly two years between EP installments, but so far it’s working.

It may be cheating, but at this pace, the ultimate finish might be that rarest of beasts, an outstanding double album.

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