I tell myself I’ll be a made man when my life duplicates the music video for Down’s Stone The Crow. It’ll involve long evenings, card games in bars along the Mississippi and guitar solos on top of sunken shrimpers. Until then, I’ll content myself with Down’s first album, NOLA.
Down’s warm, bluesy, bass–heavy sound, is the sound of swamps, creeks and wonky jetties, as groovy as a bottle of bourbon at the end of a long humid day. With a bit of a garage band–quality and a hefty dose of grit in its cogs, NOLA never sounds slick, but compared to associated acts like EyeHateGod, Weedeater or haarp, the sludge element is mild. The advantage of this sacrifice in intensity is that NOLA is always a very listenable album, with space used often and well to let the instruments breathe, and in turn this keeps the album lively. A layer here or there regularly shifts, Hail The Leaf being a particularly good example, and the songwriting and riffs are never predictable. The harmonised descending guitar line in Temptation’s Wings at 2.30, the blues solo intro to Eyes of The South, or the entirety of Stone The Crow, are miles away from the stereotype of the derivative and unimaginative Black Sabbath copycat.
If anything, NOLA is more a heavy rock than a metal album, with two interplaying guitars (Stone The Crow), a strong blues influence (the long, vibrato–inflected guitar notes of Temptation’s Wings), and Anselmo’s combination of singing and screeching. The busked quality (‘This one’s called Losing All ’), whistles (Lifer) and unscripted curses (Eyes of The South – ‘God damn!’) that permeate the album also give it that sense of alleyway urbanity.
That said, the end of this alley leads into the depths of the swamp. When Anselmo’s is not lyricizing in his infamous drawl about the highs and lows (well, mainly lows) of being strung out in Temptation’s Wings, or Lifer, or Rehab, or Underneath Everything, or, er, for most of the album, nature is the second–favourite theme. Pillars of Eternity, with its lyrics about cycles of life, reminds me of Keat’s To Autumn (‘Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’). Lines like
Wine, song, women, birth
This deflowered mother earth
Planting, ploughing, how she grieves’
conjure a sense of universality without becoming overly abstract. Hail The Leaf opens with ‘Brave river/ I can’t sail’, and Jail and Pray for The Locust (which also features a violin) bring an stripped–back, acoustic element to the album.
I have somewhat controversially (kind of) come to prefer Down to Pantera. I know a shared vocalist does not make them automatically comparable, and Down are a band of reflection rather than one of intensity (which, by and large, Pantera were not), but I think this shows the high regard that I hold Down in. Every song on this album is a classic, and makes me want to deep drink from the bottle of life, preferably in the sunshine, along the riverbank at the end of the day.
I’ll leave the final words to the ever–quotable Anselmo:
I leave my woes
At strangers’ road dispose
And let the sun back on my face.