At a Glance: Down, Down IV Part One: The Purple EP

Down IV Part One: The Purple EP is a pretty complex title for a band who, when they released their first album in 1995, couldn’t be bothered to say the entire phrase “New Orleans.” The project seems to be that over the next year, Down — the supergroup of (do I even need to list them?) Pepper Keenan (C.O.C.), Kirk Windstein (Crowbar), Jimmy Bower (EyeHateGod), Pat Bruders (Crowbar) and Phil Anselmo (Pantera) — will issue four EPs that will make up the whole of Down IV, which follows 2007’s Down III: Over the Under, an album that was watered down sound-wise and had stripped much of the edge off of the band’s songwriting. Anyone remember “Pillamyd?” I’m sorry I brought it up.

My appreciation for Down‘s recorded output has been on a decline since 2002’s Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, though I liked that album and still consider 1995’s Nola a masterpiece, if one I can’t really listen to anymore. I don’t begrudge the band their commercial success. All of them — even Bruders, who came aboard at some point after the last album as a replacement for Pantera‘s Rex Brown, now in Kill Devil Hill –have put in more than their share of roadtime. Hell, for Wiseblood alone, Pepper Keenan should be a millionaire. Down III, however, sucked. Plain and simple. Everything that worked about Down‘s prior output fell flat, and even the songs that were memorable, such as the nonsensical Dimebag Darrell paean “Three Suns and One Star,” were more memorable for being annoying than being good.

So when it comes to Down IV Part One: The Purple EP, I’d rather just write the band off and go my own way, them onward to wider audiences, me onward to… a wider ass, I guess. Whatever. The point is I’m annoyed at feeling obligated to even put on Down‘s six-track collection — which is full-length enough at 33 minutes — and annoyed at the thought of reviewing it. It’s not like my opinion on this record matters. No one’s going to read this and have their mind changed about Down. If you like the band and liked the last album, you’ll probably like the EP. If you didn’t, you won’t. Down‘s legacy, pedigree and commercial breadth doesn’t allow for much ambivalence. You’re either going to feel one way or another.

A chugging riff fades up slowly to begin opener “Levitation,” and already Down IV has more meat to its tonality than its predecessor, Keenan and Windstein working well together as they always do. Bower, a more than capable drummer, is in the pocket with Bruders, and all more or less goes according to plan as Anselmo counts in with a “one, two, three, go!” apparently unaware the song has already been on for two minutes. From there, he’s all over the verse and chorus, his unfortunately influential clean vocal mewling layered in with one or two ambient background screams and the toughguy spoken word he’s used since Pantera‘s heyday. And well, it just goes from there.

I’ll grant that for a band of this scale — releasing music on Warner Bros., touring the world in large venues, etc. — to put forth anything as stoned-sounding as “Witchtripper” (on which Bruder‘s bass offers ultra-low rumble that’s legitimately killer) or anything even close enough to be vaguely compared to Pentagram as “The Curse is a Lie” can be, is admirable, but that’s not really enough to save the songs themselves, which sound written to type and, as “Open Coffins” shows, lack the punch that the beginning of “Levitation” seemed to promise. And though he’s actually made himself into a decently-stylized singer of reasonable range, Anselmo is also a cartoon character who sounds like he doesn’t know how to be anything else than this persona he’s created for himself over the last 20 years. Every time he opens his mouth, I just hear him telling VH-1 viewers to, “never underestimate the kid.”

“This Work is Timeless” is an overestimation from the start, if a decent riff, and closer “Misfortune Teller” (get it?!) locks in a solid groove and features a rougher vocal — not quite the screams of old, which were among metal’s most vicious — atop effective lumber in the guitar that Bower meets with heavy-thudding fills. They fade out on a chugging riff at about seven minutes in, and for the last 15 seconds of the track’s total 9:05 bring up a melody that’s perhaps a preview of things to come on the next installment of Down IV. Sounds like Down, anyway.

Objectively, Down IV Part One: The Purple EP is an improvement over Down III. On a basic songwriting level, the band seems to search out a niche between accessible doom-tinged Southern stoner riffs and commercial metal, and while there are at least 75 records I’ve heard this year that I’d put on before it, the fans who’ve stuck with them to this point will find it easy to continue to follow them onward to Part Two, whatever stylistic shifts or changes in mood it may hold. For me, even the best stretches are undercut by the ultra-gendered posturing, and already being mostly out of the fold (apparently not enough so to ignore the record altogether), I hear few reasons to return to it, comforting though the familiarity might otherwise prove. Somehow, I imagine the band will survive.

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8 Responses to “At a Glance: Down, Down IV Part One: The Purple EP

  1. obnox says:

    This review was entertaining, thy ep was not.

  2. Ron says:

    I have always WANTED to like these guys, cuz I dig Pepper so much, but I just never got it. I had heard the live version of The Misfortune Teller and I was encouraged by it’s rolling verse and doomy chorus, but nothing else on this disc does much for me. Too much Phil. Totally agree with your comment about Wiseblood. COC should have been mega. Please go back Pepper.

  3. Jay says:

    I pretty much agree, even though I’ve been at the band’s side through all three records. “Nola” is king, but I like the other two. Even “III” even if I think “II’s” better. Sadly, the only thing I like here was, “The Curse is a Lie.” The rest sucks up a storm! Thumbs down, great work as always duder!

  4. deaconcrowe says:

    I too follow Down’s output largely due to Pepper. I like the songs on this EP, but I really liked Down III also. It was a creeper for sure, but once it clicked, it stuck. Bruders’ bass is evident throughout, a big improvement over Rex who I could never hear. I’m not too big on “This Work is Timeless,” but the rest is damn good. Speaking of Pepper, it doesn’t look like a return to CoC is imminent. They’re already back in the studio recording another record.

  5. goAt says:

    You dudes be HARSH! I like the Anselmo cartoon. I think his clownishness comes from his sincerity…but I totally know where you guys are coming from. I just really enjoy these dudes, they’re like The Avengers of NOLA Sludge…or something, for the 20 year-old in me. I dig the EP…but it probably ain’t gonna be on my best of the year list. I’ll let ya’ll know how the show in Boston was. :)

  6. Pinehead says:

    I’m a Down fan. I can admit, I am on THAT side of the fence. So naturally, I dig this.
    I understand the bad rap Phil gets. He’s character for sure. But he can be, he’s a frontman. Ala David Lee Roth or some shit. I find him funny, entertaining if nothing else.
    And I can see how some of their stuff gets the “Meathead” stamp.
    Its fuckin rock n roll to me. Lets sit around, get high, throw back a few, pound our fists and nod our heads.
    It sure as fuck doesn’t hurt there’s the huge Sabbath influence (Phil’s Electric Funeral croon) and some Trouble worship (though I’ve been on a big Trouble kick lately.)
    But more than I dig (tolerate?) Phil’s singing, I fucking love that Kirk Windstein and Pepper Keenan are playing guitar together. I’m a big fan of both their respective other bands. Listening to Down and picturing Pepper riffing away and Kirk’s snarled nodding is just fuckin fun.
    Speaking of Pepper, yes, the C.o.C. albums with him are great. Some are classic. But I could go for a few more 3-piece albums. That self-titled album is great. I don’t doubt he’ll be back eventually.
    I digress.
    We are not going to get another NOLA. Just like we will never get another Master of Puppets, or Master of Reality, or Holy Mountain, etc, etc. And that’s fine with me.
    Down can go the way of Motorhead or Crowbar and just keep rockin. No need for breaking new ground. Originality is overrated.

  7. Lucas Klaukien says:

    Not sure what everybody’s problem seems to be with this one in the blogosphere, did Phil Anselmo really piss that many people off on VH1? I think the EP’s great.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect going in as “Witchtripper” and “Misfortune Teller” had already been personal top 5 hits but it seemed the remaining 4 songs had been getting lambasted on a handful of my favorite blogs. Who knows, maybe this served to Down’s advantage, with the poor reviews having softened my expectations enough to accept eagerly what to others sounded like a pile of shit. But I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it stands on its own merits.

    Firstly, there has been a maturing of the band’s sound. Of course there has. What was once a side-project has blossomed (due mostly to circumstance) into main band status, at least for Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan, allowing for more attention to detail and focus. At six songs and 33 minutes it’s a long EP, maybe the equivalent of a single side of a regular length Down album, but still short in the grander scheme, which maybe why this is the most “solid through play” the band has released since its brilliant, now classic debut NOLA way, way back in ’95. Second-of-ly (joke reference, not illiterate) the criticism of predictability and ‘same-old-ness’ is entirely false as they have crafted for themselves a sound that is both cohesive within the album and consistent within their existing back catalogue while creating a new band identity which renders the band virtually unrecognizable compared to their original incarnation but still a logical outgrowth of that time to now. Previous efforts have been more ‘Southern Metal’, a genre they helped define, while this is definitely a Doom Metal release, which may piss some people off for starters, perceiving the move to be jumping on a trend or a big band using the underground to make a comeback. But this is all tangential to the music itself, which each release must surely be measured by. This is one of the darkest and most occult inspired Doom releases of the year which is both surprising and welcome.

    It seemed like I waited forever for this thing to come out (at least since May), then was further delayed in obtaining a copy once it actually came out due to it being sold out, it was definitely worth the wait. The plan of course is to release four EPs over the course of a year and a half or so, which pretty much makes this a kind of side A of a double LP and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a double album on which every last song was solid so there may be cracks in the armor appearing in the coming months but part I is everything I could have hoped for. Some great riffs in there and some catchy tunes. Anselmo’s voice is in fine and familiar form, but gone is the rock n roll singing from previous Down releases, replaced with a lower, throatier delivery.

  8. Jarrad Collard says:


    damn good review you hit on all the key points of the album. i bought it the day it came out and haven’t returned to it yet. i love almost everything each member has done but this just fell flat on me. Back when Nola came out Phil sounded like he was feeling every lyric he sang and you being a vocalist yourself have to kinda here it on this album how it just kinda sounds like hes going through the motions just to get another down album out! Like You I’m halfway tempted to just give up I didn’t like Down III but i thought I’d give this a shot and couldn’t even get into it.

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