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.
Tags: Down, Down IV The Purple EP, Jimmy Bower, Kirk Windstein, New Orleans, Pepper Keenan, Phil Anselmo