NOLA: Bury Me In Summer

Under the world I wait for my fate

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.

 

 

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Nate Newton: Dark Horse

You fail me…thumb

It took me a long time to get into Converge. Their music is an ugly thing to behold, and over their 24 years their music has never stopped hurting. I had kept on reading that name here and there in magazines, always praised, and it seemed like something I was missing out on. One listen to Converge’s top hit on YouTube, which I think was Eagles Become Vultures, made me think otherwise. Over the next four to five years, as my listening habits expanded from rock to metal to jazz to whatever Genghis Tron is and beyond, and as Converge continued to receive the same praise and I heard a track heard here and there, I found that with time I acclimatised to aural extremities. I am not one of those people who discover grind at the age of ten and live the rest of their life by the blastbeat.

So it wasn’t until the release of Axe To Fall that I finally started to understand the genius in the polyrhythmic, discordant madness. And as I play bass, I consider Nate Newton to be a big part of that genius and madness. The guy is solid as an anchor and tight as its chain in a storm, in this case the storm being Converge’s chopping and changing guitars and aggressively free drums, of which Axe To Fall is an excellent example. With each instrument often pulling in a different direction to everything else, unison lines are the exception rather than the rule.

Listening through their backlist (eight albums give or take, there’s always some obscure or rare releases with these pesky DIY bands), you might think what’s the big deal, the bass isn’t wildly inventive, but a) Converge are part punk. Newton plays a Fender P Bass; simple, functional, and stylish enough to shine through when it chooses to do so. A fitting symbol. b) In being an anchor, the guitar and drums are able to be just the opposite; Newton is a noteworthy bass guitarist for allowing the guitars and vocals to whirl up devastating climaxes, rather than for inventive bass lines, such as in Exhale. This is why I wanted to write about him; bass solos are great in the right place, but even as a bassist who started as a bassist (as opposed to the tradition of joining a band and being demoted from rhythm guitar), I’d rather a vocal or guitar hook that stops your heart, than a mild reaction to lead bass. This style of bass playing has been a constant as Converge have evolved or regressed or whatever you think they’ve done from When Forever Comes Crashing through to All We Love We Leave Behind.

The intro of Dark Horse is an excellent example of the bass shining through at the best moments. The bass bounces off the snare in a kinetic 5/4 charge, with a monstrous tone coupled with articulate distortion. When the guitar comes screaming in, it’s the bass holding it all together whilst simultaneously shifting from the root note to the flattened third to the flattened fifth whilst the guitar stays at the root note. I remember seeing Converge start a show with it and being amazed that Newton could move around so much and play so hard and still be in the groove.

Like I said, Converge’s music is an ugly thing to behold. The storm of scraping guitars, smashing drums and snarling vocals is the sound of a vessel gone to madness. But even a cursed vessel need an anchor.