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My my, what an excellent album. Down's debut is honestly one of my favourite albums of all time, due obviously to the music, but also the character of the album. This is one hell of a listen, and manages something I find few metal albums can. This release ticks every box for me, and stands as an all-time classic of many, many spins. It is also interesting to note that many of the sonic elements at play here would later appear in Pantera's 1996 masterpiece The Great Southern Trendkill, an album which I often view as a companion piece to this, an evil mirror image of sorts.
Let me get a potential prejudice regarding the style of this music out of the way here. Firstly, despite featuring members from Pantera, Eyehategod Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity, in no way is this a stagnant groove borefest or a fucking hostile sludge album. Rather, it is a blend of a far more polished brand of sludge, southern, heavy, stoner and doom. 'Traditional metal', if you will. It is a rather friendly and calm album, and features a sense of dynamics often lacked by vitriolic sludge bands or 'RARARA I'M A FUCKIN' TUFF GUY' groove bands. It does feature crushingly heavy, doom/stoner-laden passages, but also a sense of melody borrowed from its members' southern roots. It is a rather eclectic and yet stylistically unified album, with the softer moments not sticking out like the crappy grunge passages of 'This Love' from Pantera's 1992 display of 'power'.
Obviously, musical style alone is very rarely an indicator of quality, that all lies in, well, the music. And one aspect I will note to be very good is the production. The production is absolutely top-notch, which comes as surprising to someone who approached this band from the Pantera angle. That band's previous 2 albums had shite production, despite them being on the same fucking label. Here though? The guitars (including the bass) are loud, distorted and ballsy as FUCK! It is one of the meatiest guitar tones I have ever heard on a major label release, and is also something that Phil would take back to his band for their next album. The drums feature a very full and powerful sound, rather than the flat thud of many more modern releases. In fact, the only (very slight) mark against the production is the vocal mixing. It is absolutely fine for about 95% of the album, but on the first 2 tracks, I can't help but notice that the guitars bury them somewhat. Not completely, but to a noticeable extent beyond the level of anywhere else on the album.
Every member here puts on a good show. As stated, the two guitarists here and bassist contribute to a fucking massive guitar tone that REALLY brings the riffs to life, and it isn't like they needed bolstering to begin with. The riffcraft here is absolutely superb, with Windstein and Keenan producing riffs of either a dark and melodic southern persuasion ('Eyes of the South'), a dark and crushing stoner/doom variety ('Bury Me in Smoke'), or a dark and aggressive groove/sludge type, like those found in 'Lifer'. (And yes, the mood of the album will be covered, I emphasise darkness for a reason). The riffs are perhaps a bit more repetitious than one would expect, but even then it doesn't matter too much, because none of these songs are exactly 'Walk' or '25 Years'. And speaking of Pantera, the more fluid southern/sludge/doom/stoner riffs are another element that would be carried over into their next album. And as for the solos? They are highly reminiscent of the late ‘Dimebag’ Darrell’s work, a sort of noodling, southern tinged melodic variety of shredding. The only difference is that they are far calmer, less effects-driven and the tone of the guitar isn’t as trebly as Dimebag’s.
Windstein, who also performs bass, mostly follows the guitars, but this is fine, because he just reinforces the riffs further, and can clearly be heard underneath the guitars despite everything. He has a few isolated moments in 'Swan Song' and 'Eyes of the South', where he cranks out the odd interesting bass line or two. Drummer Jimmy Bower meanwhile gives a performance this is rather loose and varied. Sometimes he will go for the simple 4/4 pattern, other times he is all over the kit on this album’s more frenetic moments, such as 'Losing All'. Sometimes he will stomp on his kit in a rather dramatic fashion, with the break in 'Hail the Leaf' or moments in 'Bury Me in Smoke' being the best examples of that. His cymbals are quite loud and loose too, and contribute further to the sludgy and fluid texture of the music.
And then there is the vocal performance of the often derided/praised Phil Anselmo. His work here is yet another element that he would use in his later work with his main band. He actually avoids the crappy 'tuff guy' hardcore shouts, and instead proves his worth as a dynamic singer with some sort of ear for tone and melody. Though nowhere near the majesty of his performances from 5 years prior, he does put on a good show here, providing a rough, moody and rather depressed set of clean vocals. He combines this with some shrieking, ones that he would hone in the year after. These 'tortured soul' vocals contribute greatly to why I love this album, but more on that later.
Structurally, this is a rather basic and traditional affair. It actually most of the time uses the dreaded verse-chorus structure, a layout that I myself often despise. It generally reeks of laziness on the bands part, but here, well, it isn't too much of an issue. Though there are some rather unconventional songs in terms of pacing and structure ('Jail', 'Hail the Leaf' and 'Bury Me in Smoke'), this album's main appeal lies far more in the atmosphere and the overall sum of the song's parts than in the progression. Sure, these songs may have all of 3 riffs, but those 3 riffs are fucking cool. The tempo may be constant, but the songs have a very nice 'swinging' motion that makes for an excellent sense of groove. The songs are dark and depressing beautiful, so who cares if the chorus comes about after every verse?
As stated, this album's strengths lie in the atmosphere. These songs are the product of people with serious issues in life, and it is very clear from listening to them. The songs are shot through with a sense of remorse, regret and longing. This is a depressing album, but the innate melodies from the southern influence make it a rather beautiful one too. Phil's vocals further extend this image, with his sombre, moody cleans and his tortured shrieks. That image is one of a band who is putting all of their heart and soul into singing/playing about their problems, and their love of the sweet leaf.
Another admirable aspect about this album is a sense of variation and dynamics. Despite each song putting forth this same mood of an old, battered soul, and the production being very loud, not every song here is quite the same. Throughout the album, there are southern-laced acoustic passages (yet another thing carried over into Pantera's 1996 effort), including 'Pray for the Locust'. There are some extremely heavy and emotional moments, like 'Hail to the Leaf' or 'Bury Me in Smoke'. Some of these songs are sludgy cookers, like the first 3 tracks, and there is the highlight of this whole album, the spacey/psychedelic ballad 'Jail'. It is about as atmospheric and ambient as possible, with subdued guitars and effects-drenched vocals (see also: '10's' from... you know which album I mean!), and is just... fucking sad. It tells of bitter regret, of suffering.
Another excellent aspect is the 'homeliness' of this album. I don't know about you, but this music, for all its aggression, shrieking and heavy parts, is really relaxing and familiar, whereby listening to it feels very natural. Perhaps it is the familiarity of the structures and dark southern mood of the album, two things that are rooted in tradition and thus are immediately recognisable to most. Listening to it is like listening to an old friend telling you his life's stories after a reunion; it is a very comforting and welcoming experience. It almost feels like the southern hospitality of the region is seeping into the music, which brings me on to a final point: This album is just fucking cool. The atmosphere of NOLA seeps rather heavily into this, and I absolutely LOVE that! The south has always appealed to me in some way (city snobbery be damned!), and this image of walking into a bar and an old friend talking to me about his life is just very appealing to me.
If the fact that this album manages to paint such a vivid mental picture in one of its listeners isn't enough of an indicator of quality, I don't know what is. And as another little aside, this is the only album in my collection that I can listen to twice in a row without getting bored, which should further indicate how good this thing is. Highly recommended to any and all metalheads, particularly those who like 'traditional metal', the south, or as I have proven throughout this review, Pantera. As fellow MA reviewer Noktorn put it: 'This is a solid, comfortable piece of music that deserves attention, but does not demand it. Turn on the CD player, turn out the lights, and lay back.'
This is by far Down's best record thus far, and its a relatively simple combination of sluggish heavy metal coated with Anselmo's unbelievable singing ability when he was at his peak. This is the kind of band you wanted to hear more from simply because their debut was so good it even rivaled Pantera's most outstanding records at the time. It carries a similar philosophy to Pantera, in your face heavy metal loaded with all the good stuff you'd want from a heavy metal record, solos, pounding drums and screaming vocals with the perfect blend of musicianship and melody.
First of all, the guitar tone on this record is simply outstanding and a huge reason why this record has been so well received. You've also got a diverse set of songs here, everything from your more traditional heavy metal concoction such as"Hail The Leaf", "Eyes of The South", and "Lifer" to epic pieces like "Bury Me In Smoke" to perhaps one of the best songs this band has ever released, "Stone The Crow". NOLA is by far Down's record to date because it sounded like nearly no other band at a time when good metal was scarce. It also gets all the essentials right; apart from the somewhat mediocre drumming, the songs are structured perfectly and every song offers something new to the record, making for an amazing first time listen and something you'll keep coming back to.
It is important to remember that this was recorded in mid-nineties, a time when good heavy metal was sparse and, most of all, grunge was all over the place, and the surprising thing here is that on at least a couple of records, you'll hear that grunge sound. A classic example would be some of Phil's singing in the song "Rehab", which also has a great riff and drum beat to it. Besides that, most of the album is your general mix of slow sludge metal with some occasional thrash pieces melded together here and there - nothing over the top, but that's what makes this album beautiful, it's unbelievable consistency.
The lyrics here obviously deal with what appears to be Anselmo's beckoning addiction and the beginning of a life filled with some of the worst drugs on the market as well as some relatively harmless ones such as marijuana. He sings so well on this album, I'd even say it's some of his best singing. This is an outstanding record that every heavy metal fan must own, and although it is a shame they only released a few albums thus far, this album will go down as one of the most approachable and infinitely pleasurable listens in the short history of hard rock music.
I love this album. I fuckin’ love this album. If I could get away with just copy and pasting that phrase for this entire review, I would, but unfortunately I will have to try and convey my love for this album into words. So here goes.
As I said earlier, I fuckin’ love this album. Everything about it is awesome. The songs. The lyrics. The production. The feel. Everything. There is nothing here that feels forced or contrived. Everything feels very authentic. The band sounds very natural considering they are a “super group”, but you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that the members were from some of the best metal bands around if you didn’t know their combined back stories.
So let’s not beat around the bush by saying that most people who know Down will know them because Phil Anselmo is in the band. Obviously, purists will say they got into them because they had been listening to EyeHateGod since before they even formed or because they lived next door to Pepper Keenan on the bayou, but people who are not familiar with southern, sludge, or stoner metal will definitely know Pantera. Hence the Phil connection. But Phil is not the main focus of this band. It’s not a Phil Anselmo side project with well-known musicians backing him up. This is a collective effort. A new band.
One thing this new band is not afraid to do is wear their influences on there hemp-covered sleeves. You can tell which bands Down listen to and who have influenced them - Black Sabbath (being the most obvious - these guys must have wore out the first 4 Sabbath albums), Trouble, and Saint Vitus, among many more. They don’t try to hide it. They are unashamed in their love of everything low-tuned, slow, and riff-driven.
And that’s another thing. Down are all about the riff and fuck, can these guys write a riff. The main riff to Bury Me In Smoke is one of the sickest riffs laid to tape. It just fuckin’ owns. Low-tuned, heavy, awesome. Down do the low-tuned thing very well. Not present on Nola is your standard “chug-chug-chug-squeal-chug-chug” style riffage. Pep and Kirk are very tasteful riffers and know how to write a catchy riff. Ranging from the southern swing of Rehab or Stone The Crow to the ground ’n pound riffage of BMIS and Pillars Of Eternity.
But Down aren’t all about the heavy. They also dip their dirty, southern toes into acoustic waters with Jail and the short, but effective instrumental, Pray For The Locust. The first is a tribute/blatant rip (choose whichever you want) of Sabbath’s Planet Caravan and again, the band doesn’t try to hide that fact. What did you think you were gonna get when you give 5 dope-smoking, southern hicks acoustics, bongos, and a bag of weed? Bohemian Rhapsody? FUCK OFF! The song is very wide sounding and while it doesn’t contain very much in terms of music or singing, it has to ability to take you away much in the same way the song that inspired it did. Whoa, I need to put this joint down. I’m getting a bit “carried” away.
Phil also puts in a very good performance throughout the album. He sings a lot more on this album that he does with anything he did with Pantera, but he still throws in the odd scream for good measure. For some reason, he reminds me a lot of Mike Williams.
Seriously, if you haven’t heard this album yet, you need to get off your lazy arse, buy it, and start listening to some of the best southern/sludge around. In the words of Down: Bust up! Tune down! Sab off!
Some might see an inherent hypocrisy in hating albums like Pantera’s “Far Beyond Driven”, yet liking the album that followed in “The Great Southern Trendkill”. To an untrained ear in the nuances between groove and Southern sludge, such albums tend to run together as being similar exercises in heavy repetition and fancy, blues inspired soloing. In such instances, it is always best to point this album, as it presents the stylistic separation that the latter has from the former in its most obvious form, and most likely had an influence on the direction that Pantera took a year later.
Many are quick to point out the impressive flock of musicians present here, each bringing their own unique brand of Southern influences to the mix, but what is often missed is these diverse inputs fuse together into a very consistent statement of a blunt, depressed, or otherwise pissed off sentiment. The swampy, mud drenched character of the guitar sound on here that results from Keenan and Windstein teaming up is formidable, if not completely overwhelming. It doesn’t sound in the least bit processed or like a slowed down and mechanical half-statement of speed/thrash, but lends itself to a free flowing feel not all that far removed from what Sabbath was coming out with on their debut. Naturally the influence of hard core that all in congress bring to the table, which is matched by a much more flamboyantly raw vocal performance out of Anselmo than Pantera’s 92-94 era, makes this much heavier and aggressive than anything that Ozzy or Geezer would try to pull off, even in their respective projects today.
When all is taken into account, “Nola” could be considered the ideal combination of several successful heavier acts within the 90s metal mainstream. Unfortunately, the songwriting essentially takes one or two really good ideas and simply continues to rehash them for most of the album. For the first 7 songs, the recurring character of 70s rock influenced mid-tempo grooving really holds its own, particularly during the thudding, bluesy pile driver of a song “Underneath Everything”, which sounds similar to a couple of sections of songs heard on “The Great Southern Trendkill”. But in spite of the consistent quality going on in each song, the album starts to drag considerably and one begins to wonder if the tempo is ever going to pick up. After this, things are brought into something of a more psychedelic with a spacey ballad called “Jail”, which sounds pretty similar to “Planet Caravan”. But after this, the album may as well have skipped over several songs and simply tacked “Bury Me In Smoke”, which is the only other really distinctive and ambitious song on here, to the end.
Suffice to say, although “Nola” definitely qualifies as an all around good work, this album tends to do much better when listened to in pieces. It’s not really something that can be fully enjoyed from start to finish, unless the person in question can do the same with “Vulgar Display Of Power”, which I personally can not. It is definitely superior to any of the material that Pantera put out after “Cowboys From Hell” and at least challenges some of the material that Crowbar has offered up both before and after. It could have been a little more ambitious and varied, but it gets the job done and offers a few keepers for anyone who likes most of the bands that this outfit sprang out of.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-obsever.com) on April 3, 2010.
The music that has originated within the Southeastern United States has always wooed listeners from across the world. Country, blues, and bluegrass, which all have some connection to the South in terms of origination or at least prominence of artists, are popular in many regions of the world including Australia, Europe and to a lesser extent, Asia. Lynyrd Skynyrd remains a household name for most people in these same areas, and its not hard to find a karaoke bar somewhere in the world where someone isn't doing a drunk rendition of the song "Sweet Home Alabama."
While most people nod to the 1970's as the golden era of Southern music with a close mention being the 1930's and 1940's, I think many should also look to the 1990's. With its origins in late 1980's and influence from bands like Black Sabbath, Skynyrd, The Melvins and Black Flag, sludge metal in New Orleans leaked into many aspects of American metal music. While it remains a fairly obscure genre, not to mention one of the hardest to get into in terms of accessibility, its influence can be seen as sludge bands are found everywhere from Italy to Poland to Australia to mainstreet U.S.A. While most people would nod to Crowbar or Eyehategod as key in this movement, I think of it rests on Phil Anselmo's shoulders.
Phil Anselmo and his Texan posse in Pantera shook up the metal world in 1990 when it became apparent not all American heavy metal originated in New York or the Bay Area in California. Then in 1995 (or shortly there before) he expanded his talents in the realm of sludge, one that he helped garner publicity for following the "Far Beyond Driven" tour in the mid-90's. He also brought along his good friends in Kirk Windstein, Pepper Keenan, Todd Strange, and Jimmy Bower to fill in the ranks to become Down, one of the very few supergroups who doesn't release mediocrity at the expense of great hype.
While Down is indeed a sludge band, taking most of the common characteristics laid down by their forefathers, they also expand the genre. Before Down, with the exception of Corrosion of Conformity a few others, most sludge was highly hostile not to mention misanthropic and chock full of hatred, anger and substance abuse. Down didn't necessarily change any of that, but they injected more melody, more structure, and more references to smoking pot than anyone else around. The depressing aura of Crowbar is here, but in more modest doses and the hostile nature of Eyehategod has been toned down a bit. That, plus, Phil Anselmo's vocals are far better than what Mike Williams contributed to with his angry, drunk man singing, one of the things that always set me back from enjoying Eyehategod.
We get an instant dose of things to come off "Temptation's Wings." "NOLA" is very gritty and raw, which is something you actually want out of this band. No one listens to sludge metal and expects vibrant, radiant sound quality. If you listen to bands like Buzzoven or Eyehategod, you expect garage sound quality with enough to bottom end to crush you merciessly. Down doesn't deviate from this, throwing in obvious Black Sabbath worship with its delicious riffage. The guitar playing isn't mind-blowing, but such attributes are not exactly common in this genre. If you're here to listen to a band recreate Ywgnie Malmsteen, you're positively shit out of luck, son. Instead, enjoy the doom inspired riffs for what they are, a structured element in the atmosphere this genre brings with it. The guitars are absolutely essential, one of the most important pieces to this atmosphere, but it isn't the show piece to the music as alot of guitar oriented groups are.
"Lifer" is a great example of this, throwing in some of the most memorable riffs you'll encounter on this outing. None of these songs have a distinct shortage of such things, but the beginning to "Underneath Everything" obviously copies "Lifer" to a degree though it is an individual song. "Rehab" is another excellent example, complete with some gracious singing from Phil Anselmo. His performance here rivals anything else in his career, and whips the dog shit out of anything he did in Pantera, except for his majestic Rob Halford worship on "Cowboys From Hell." Its also far better than that gut splitting scream he implemented on "The Great Southern Trendkill" and later in Superjoint Ritual. "Stone the Crow" is more of this, and takes my pick for best song. It has a beautiful and sentimental opening, and is well layered to present a unique and satisfying track. Before "NOLA," I didn't realize such things were done in sludge metal, basing almost all of my experiences with bands like Crowbar, Eyehategod, Buzzoven, Sourvein and the like.
The real odd ball here is "Jail," which sounds like a psychedlic mushroom induced swamp jam. This doesn't mean its bad or incredibly loopy (the way many stoner bands do it) but it holds itself quite well with some chilling yet beautiful passages. The vocals here remind me of the way Ozzy performed them on the original "Planet Caravan" twenty-five years earlier. They're very dream-like, and sway into the background letting the music take center stage.
The only real problem with this album is that many of the less notable songs do not flesh themselves into something memorable. All of them are in fact quite good, particularly the heavy Sabbath-influenced crusher "Bury Me in Smoke," but alot of them like "Swan Song" and "Underneath Everything" do not manifest into anything extraordinary. This is a common issue within the sludge metal genre, as I've never heard an album of this category that was truly epic and an essential listen to anyone, fan of this genre or not. Down comes the closest I've heard, except maybe Corrosion of Conformity's "Wiseblood." Its definitely something I'd recommend for Pantera fans, just don't expect anything like "Far Beyond Driven" here, leave your Pantera and Superjoint Ritual comparisons at the door. Anselmo's other projects have little relevance here, something that you always want in a frontman who is involved in so many different bands.
In the end, I consider this to still be Down's finest moment. It has been referred to as a "demo" by Rex Brown, who took over bass duties in 1996. While it may be true, I certainly hope a re-mastering does not occur, since that's what Anselmo has been claiming the last couple of years. "NOLA" is a raw album, though still quite respectable in most ways, and re-mastering would strip the charm such albums can have. In any event, potential listeners are encouraged to check this out, as its Southern sludge metal in its finest form its most essential and its most well thought out. It lies in a far more accessible range than most of its peers, but it remains a satisfying listen for fans of Down and the like. Since alot of bands have since mirrored this album and this band, it just proves Southern music's influence did not die in the 1970's but continues to possess a strong current in the modern age.
The year after Far Beyond Driven and Deliverance are released, the good ole southern boys of down release this godly piece of sludge to unsuspecting ears.
From start to finish this album keeps you there and in the atmosphere. The album has different lyrical topics and playing styles on every song, yet this doesn't create a loss of cohesion, it just seems to make every song a single. Thats how fucking masterful this album is!
Yes, there is at least one complaint I've heard about NOLA, and it's that the production just makes it sound like a loud demo. Though this may be true, I think with the genre and dirty feeling trying to be portrayed from the album I think it only enhances the content.
Instrumentally all i can say is flawless. Kirk and Pepper keep you wanting more of their dueling guitars, as they switch between solo and rhythm you don't know which one you want to concentrate on so you have to either choose, or zoom out.
Bower's drumming though a bit loud, seems to fit as perfectly as any could into the mix. It remains simple and enhances the overall experience without trying to draw attention from the overall feel.
Kirk recorded the session bass and I usually don't have a keen ear for the bass, but I can hear this one rumble in at opportune times once it's done following the guitars.
The vocals show a cleaner side of Phil's singing, not usually seen in VOP or FBD. He does however remain to throw in his trademark screeches, and screams at the best of times.
It literally seems that on this album nothing was done wrong. From the more widely known songs of Temptations Wings, Lifer, Rehab, Hail the Leaf, Eyes of the South, Losing All, Stone the Crow, and Bury Me in Smoke; to the less heard Pillars of Eternity, Underneath Everything, Jail, Pray for the Locusts (guitar interlude), and Swan Song, this album doesn't have one less than great track.
Nola is an interesting album in that it has a very raw and dirty feel to it, while still sounding somewhat polished and refined. It sounds like a really tight jam session, which is kinda what it was I would imagine. There's a definte southern vibe to it all, and alot of Sabbath worship going on. Pepper Keenan is the key songwriter and his guitar playing on this album is top notch(and his tone is killer.) Phil gives his last good vocal performance on here, aside from maybe a few Pantera songs here and there he wouldn't sound this good again.
Here's my take on my favorite tracks from the album:
Temptations Wings - starts the album off with a bang, some great riffing and an intense vocal delivery. This song just sounds like they were jamming and threw it together and it just fucking worked out.
Rehab - changes up the pace a little bit, it's more mellow than the last 3 songs. Phil adopts a really bluesy singing style for the verses and I have to say he sounds really good. Lots of tight guitarwork woven throughout the song.
Hail the Leaf - this is certainly one of the best songs on the album. Like Rehab it's a bit more mellow, it just screams Black Sabbath as others have mentioned. Soft verses and crunchy, screaming choruses. There's a really cool breakdown at the very end of the song also(as well as a bong solo...)
Stone the Crow - is just an amazing song, wow. It's alot more rock oriented than the others, but that doesn't mean it kicks any less ass. Some really tight playing in this song from all members, razor sharp. The chorus is infectious, and the layered solo in the middle is simple yet incredibly awesome. Best song on the album for sure.
Swan Song - has always been a favorite of mine, it was the first song off the album I really heard when a friend of mine made me a mixed casette tape some 10 years ago. I love the way the verses are structured, nice catchy chorus as well. Great song, but dammit it should have been the last song on the album. I mean come on, Swan Song...
The other songs range from decent to good, some of them sound too much alike as other reviewers have mentioned but there's certainly no filler on the album. So nothing new or groundbreaking, but some really good, fun stoner/doom/sludge/whateveryouwannacallit metal.
I don't know what they're growing down in New Orleans (actually, they say quite bluntly), but it's sure helped Down create something that is quite impressive and addictive. This is grooving sludge metal that doesn't get boring. That's right, it actually has a life of more than three listens.
Nola borrows from quite a few different sources, there's a clear Pantera influence in the grooves, although there is a large southern touch thrown in too. And Down even add a bit of Sabbath to the mix, mainly giving the album a little bit of a grim feel, but it's not doom metal either. There's no cross-over coming through from a CoC influence, I can't really say if Crowbar have any effect on the sound, because I've never heard them.
For the main part, the album consists of heavy groove riffs, with a serious southern lean on them. It's all very simple and straightforward. There's only a few songs where a change occurs, and as a result, the guitars get old. But somehow, the songs don't. Often you'll find yourself thinking 'man, this riff is boring', while simultaneously headbanging to it. I feel this is due to Phil.
Everyone knows that Phil has a major capability to blow, he can be generally painful; as seen in Superjoint, he can be excessively 'tuff'; seen in Pantera, and he can on occasion lose control and just scream randomly; seen in both. But on Nola, Mr. Anselmo has redeemed himself. He could make another 10 Superjoint records, and I'd still respect him if only for this performance. His vocal patterns are interesting and catchy when needed, he just fits in so tightly with the music, taking an average riff with only a few notes, and making it memorable and exciting. His vocals are a mix scream and singing, with the singing being more like a mid point between regular singing, seen in "Jail", and his screams, resulting in a very gritty sound, which isn't too weak or aggressive for the goals of the album. And finally his lyrics are good, sometimes a little hung up on drugs, but generally are quality and don't feel as forced as Pantera's. In short, his performance is exceptional.
Along with Phil's great performance, the drumming isn't above par, but is full of groove and rhythm, featuring a lot of cymbal work, like most southern/sludge bands. It just fits in with the music, and helps the songs develop into the addictive beasts they are.
However, even with these positives, the album does feel a little lacking. It's not quite as depressive as I would have hoped, and many songs have very little to offer, merely being inferior copies of "Temptations Wings". And it does still suffer from the groove/sludge curse of not being terribly musically deep, despite it's tendency to remain fresh after many listens. Nola just has too many straightforward sections, and really just needs something to stand out on a level other than sheer catchiness.
Down's debut is a strong album, with a distinct identity and high quality song writing. While I don't think it's as essential as it's cracked up to be, it's still a welcome addition to my collection, and it should be for yours.
When looking at a “supergroup” such as Down, one can infer two things. First, one can piss oneself with anticipation at the thought of so many talented musicians coming together to make a brilliant piece of music; or one can take a pessimistic standpoint, and surmise that various ego issues, or simple incompatibility between members will result in a half-baked product (if anything at all). Well, I was definitely followed the former path on this one, and I had barely mopped the urine off my leg when I set out to purchase this album. I mean, with an all-star cast like Phil Anselmo (of Pantera in case you’ve been living under a rock), Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) and Kirk Windstein (Crowbar), this thing had to be good, right?
Well, perhaps not totally wrong. NOLA is not what I would call a bad album, but it does suffer from a perpetual sense of sameness. Things get started off nicely, with the opener “Temptations Wings”. It’s an incredibly simple riff, but well played and very catchy. Anselmo’s vocals fit the song quite well, and it’s just a fun song to bang your head to. Keenan plays the leads with his trademark flare, simply but soulfully and Windstein backs him up nicely. So, looking at this as an example, it seems like we’re off to a good start, right?
And here we are with the follow-up, “Lifer”. Starts with a nice slide, then launches into another nice, groovy riff, and again, some great lyrical delivery from Phil. All in all, a good song. But it’s after this point that we start to encounter that despicable sense of familiarity that plagues this CD so. The next few songs kind of blend together. “Rehab” has some nice riffs, but ultimately fails to sustain interest, and “Hail the Leaf” is pretty unremarkable, as is the one that comes after it. I must say that Anselmo has some good moments on these songs, but that’s not enough to save them from monotony, and after your initial trip through them, there’s really nothing to bring you back.
Then we arrive at “Eyes of the South”. This one immediately grabs the attention, simply because it’s actually quiet at the beginning. It starts with a placid bass line, with some nice, casual soloing overtop. Then the rhythm comes in and it gets progressively heavier, until…. BAM!!! You’re smacked in the face with something fresh! Hallelujah! This song, sandwiched in what is essentially the middle of this album is like a breath of fresh air after the stifling tedium that preceded it. Phil keeps up his good performance on this one. An obvious highlight.
And so we set about the last half of the album. “Jail” is a pretty good quiet song, with some interesting atmosphere. Quiet nice and relaxing, really, although it is perhaps a bit overlong. “Losing All” is a pretty good tune, with a short spoken introduction by Phil, before launching into a catchy riff on par with “Temptation’s Wings”.
And of course, we come to “Stone the Crow”, the single. Say what you will, it’s a damn fine song. Lots of overlap on the guitars to create a nice quiet verse, before beefing up for the chorus. Again, Anselmo doesn’t disappoint in the vocal department, with some good placid vocals, before busting out his regular shrieking delivery for the chorus. Excellent solos courtesy of Keenan and Windstein. This song’s a keeper, people.
And finally, the last leg of the album, “Bury Me in Smoke”. Forget the two tracks before it, neither are very memorable. This one is another standout, with a distinctive, doomy riff and a nice chorus. It clocks in as the albums longest track, and, well, I might have preferred it a little shorter, as the last two minutes are taken up by nothing more than repetitive riffing.
So there you have it. This is NOLA, an album with potential oozing out the yin-yang, but unfortunately, not much is made of it. To be honest, most of the songs sound like the results of a polished jam session, they have a decent base, but ultimately go nowhere. I must say this album surprised me. I didn’t come to it expecting technicality, that’s never been what any of the member’s bands have been about. But I did come expecting the catchiness of COC, the vocals of Pantera, and the pure sludge of Crowbar, and now I can’t help but feel somewhat shortchanged. The band ultimately needs to focus more on establishing something unique about the songs, something that differentiates them from each other; otherwise they simply become a mire of simplistic, distorted riffs. If you want something meatier from Down, I’d have to recommend their sophomore effort. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a step up from this.
Highlights: Temptation’s Wings, Lifer, Eyes of the South, Jail, Stone the Crow, Bury Me in Smoke
An often overlooked and underrated release from what people considered to be nothing more than a side project of some of America's most prolific doom/stoner metal musicians, NOLA is undisputably a cult classic for US metal. This album reeks of booze, dirt, frustration, and a certain leafy green substance. Aside from one of Phil Anselmo's best vocal performances ever, NOLA contains true-to-the-heart songwriting, anger and despair to boot, and enough sludge to make Corrosion of Conformity seem like Coroner.
Songwriting on this release is the main duty of Peppar Keenan and, to the surprise of some, Phil. Clearly, there is a proud Sabbath influence, seen on "Pillars of Eternity" and "Losing All." Down were jamming Black Sabbath way before it was the cool thing to do, but the legendary doomsters aren't the only influence on display here; the riffs resonate of that signature NOLA sound: Desperate, grinding, monolithic breakdowns that come from the very depths of drug binges and sheer, unbridled anger. There are other interesting elements in Down's sound on this album, such as water pipes, Cajun slide guitars, and the occasional acoustic guitar touch. Riffs are by no means technical or virtuoso, but the undeniable power of "Hail the Leaf" and the opener, "Temptation's Wings," prove that this crew couldn't give less than a fuck about technique. Peppar utilizes layering and harmonies in a great way on this recording, such as the latter section of "Stone the Crow."
The rest of the band's instrumentation is flawless without being overbearing, but maintains an organic and raw feel. (Which, I think, is essential for albums of this genre.) Drums have a huge, old-school feel similar to Led Zeppelin; Rex's bass has a certain nostalgic warmth that was missing in Pantera; and Phil shifts through fits of pissed-off screams to passionate clean vocals on "Eyes of the South" and "Jail." Lyrically, Phil is at his most abstract and cryptic. I get a sense that these were probably written while under the influence of multiple narcotic substances. One interesting thing I took notice of is that in the booklet, the whole of the lyrics is never given; there may be a verse or two, maybe a chorus, but the entire song is never given. It seems like they were taken straight from the paper they were written on, all in Phil's scratchy handwriting. Even the booklet shows a wealth of the band's influence, highlighting a collection of rather abstract black and white photos.
Above all, the greatest thing about NOLA is the pure emotion and atmosphere behind the music. Even at its most pissed-off, NOLA just tells you to chill out, drink some beer, and get fucking stoned.
NOLA stands out as one of the best metal albums to come from the US in the 90's. Essential to every metalhead's collection.
Favorite songs: "Rehab", "Eyes of the South", "Losing All", "Stone the Crow."
This is sludge metal at its finest hour. This record is a whole lot of fun to listen and is one I got very addicted to for a while. Did they reinvent the wheel? No way! But everything on this just melts together so well. These dudes were having fun when they recorded this and it shows.
There are too many catchy and awesome riffs to count on this recordd. The leads are also fun and bluesy, but you have to give it to the rythm section for just holding it down and being in the pocket here. Most of these riffs are sing along good and are a big part in what makes this release so addictive. Phil Anselmo also does a fine job on the vocals. His scream is intense, but it doesn't give it the same anger is it did in Pantera, rather giving one the feeling that this guy's really digging it.
The production is pretty good, the guitar tone in particular has a nice ring to it. Some standout tracks are "Temptation's Wings" which is a Down classic with oce again some awesome riffing. "LIfer" and "Rehab" are also quite catchy with strong choruses and some solid riffing and lead playing. However the standout of the album, and most famous Down song to date has to be "Stone the Crow". This song is ripe with emotion and the guitar solos are just too good to go by unnoticed. Everything clicked on this track and it is probably the most memorable song on NOLA.
This album is a heavyweight, a superband from the south that just keeps on bringing it.
I remember hearing Corrosion Of Conformity for the first time.It was a thrilling experience, and had something special that made it stand out just that little bit more than other bands.As my obsession for COC deepened,I heard about Down, and thought I'd check them out. I have been rewarded for my curiosity. It's as murky and disgusting as the louisiana bayou where these guys hail from. Considering it was released in 1995 and is more than ten years old now,it is a testament to the creators that this record sounds so fresh.It could've been recorded last week.
The Sabbathy groove exemplified in songs like "Underneath Everything". There's even a song called "Hail The Leaf" which just screams Sabbath in the listeners face,that and the more sedate "Stone The Crow" show the versatility of the band. "Eyes To The South" even has a bluesy intro that Clapton would be jealous of back in the day,before he got old enough to collect his pension.Pepper Keenan certainly has a knack for inventing a funky metal riff (I tried to look for a more appropriate word.I really did) that connects with the spine and makes the toe tap as well as the head bang.If contemporary albums are considered, I'm pretty sure Messrs Hetfield and Ulrich upon hearing the album said to each other "Fuck!THIS is what Load was meant to sound like!"
Anselmo does some fine singing,screaming,whatever the hell it is he does with his voice on this album.He sounds remarkably similar to fellow hairy metal man Zakk Wylde at times,if Wylde could scream like a motherbitch.His lyrics are typically interesting,and cover themes from drugs to Prison.All in all,the life of some nasty fucker you wouldn't like to get a hitchhike from.Oh yeah,this album has the words "Hillbilly Metal" tattooed on it's forehead.There's a water pipe solo on "Hail The Leaf" courtesy of some fella called "Lil' Daddy".
I love this album,and I'm after a Down T-Shirt now,whih is a sure-fire sign these fellas are doind a good job if I'm proud enough to wear their logo across my chest.
Pantera and Corrosion Of Conformity are both bands that have been labelled Southern Metal, as their music doesn't really fit into any other metal subgenre. So, when the two bands' main men (Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan) and members of fellow Southern sludge bands Crowbar and Eyehategod get together to make an album, it's bound to be a southern metal masterpiece. And Nola is just that.
Named after New Orleans, perhaps the South's most well known town, Nola is 13 tracks (well, 12 tracks and a minute long guitar interlude) telling tales of drugs, (Hail the Leaf, Rehab) prison, (Jail) and even Southern love (Eyes Of The South), done in a sludgy style that's part Black Sabbath, part metallic Lynynd Skynyrd. Anselmo uncharacteristically breaks into death metal screams, (well, as someone who doesn't own a Pantera album, I base this on the fact that he doesn't do this on their singles) and more characteristically mutters swear words throughout this album, which clocks in at a couple minutes short of an hour.
All of the songs on Nola are in the same Southern style, with the exception of Jail, a lighter, atmospheric song, that even has a water jug solo! (Well, according to the album credits, anyways...) You can't really break it down into individual tracks otherwise, as the whole album must be listened to in order to get the full experience. That being said, the songs on Nola were written in a three year period from '92-'95, so it's not like they were all done in one session...
Perhaps the most intersting thing about Nola has to be the album's booklet. Made of rougher paper than your typical CD liner, it contains lyric snippets (anywhere from half a chorus to the first two verses and a bridge, but never a complete song) scrawled in Anselmo's handwriting over top of a strange collection of drawings and photographs. I guess it's all part of the experience...
Anyways, Nola is definitely worth picking up for all fans of Pantera, COC, Black Sabbath, or sludge/stoner rock in general. Without a doubt, it's Phil Anselmo's best work.
? Man-of-too-many-bands-to-count Phil Anselmo got tired of tearing his vocal chords up singing for Pantera, so he decided to embark on several different side projects, this one probably being the first or second-most famous.(You also have to take into account Superjoint Ritual, who are immensely popular in their own right).
The band I'm talking about here is the tritely-named Down, a sludgey, bluesy, gritty band in the vein of Audioslave and Black Label Society. (Hey, I know Audioslave isn't metal. Get off my back.)
Phil Anselmo's vocals work very well in this medium, showing a much more relaxed, soulful side. It seems logical for him to have a side-project like this, because his vocal chords need a break. However, there is a considerable amount of 'screaming' here as well. It's not glammy, Cowboys From Hell-style screaming, but rather old-school death/thrash style. It may surprise many a Pantera fan and metalhead. You can still tell that the vocalist is undeniably Phil Anselmo, as all the deep grunts and rants are there, but there is definitely an added dimension to them on this record.
The riffing is nothing special, but I'm not looking to be impressed by guitar skills on every piece of music I hear. It's just good, countrified metal n'roll. I'm a little disappointed that the riffing wasn't any heavier. If you can't be more technical, at least try to be heavier. *shrugs* I don't understand why this album is held in such high regard and Down's sophomore outing A Bustle in Your Hedgerow isn't given the time of day. IMO, ABinYH improves every aspect of Down's sound, from the heaviness, to the riffing, to the emotion, and the vocals.
Nonetheless, this is a solid album worth picking up. It's probably better than anything Eyehategod ever put out at least.
Some albums have an inherent mood... NOLA is one such record. I always find myself drifting away to some murky bayou, tossing pebbles from a makeshift raft while time meanders by. Don't do drugs, kids. Somewhere between Eyehategod and Skynyrd lies Down.. Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan's moody "side project"... since both Pantera and CoC are in rapid decline, Down may become much more than that. This metalhead would certianly not mind.
Even a Pantera naysayer can't deny the massive grooves and head nodding riffs of a song like Temptation Wings... both laid back and earth shattering, with an astonishingly deep and emotional vocal performance by Mr. Anselmo. Wait... deep... emotional.... Anselmo? Yes, kids, Phil delivers some heavy and powerful stuff only a drug addict could concot or understand. Far from "I've got more friends than you punk!", you can almost FEEL Phil's pain, man, especially on Rehab and slow jam Eyes of the South.
Pepper Keenan's riffs rumble and groove along... still, songs like Hail the Leaf and Bury Me in Smoke reek of balls to the wall brutality. Go straight from the hazy river to the mosh pit... makes sense. Stone the Crow is a god damn classic, the track that introduced me to Down (on LOUD) and thereby instantly convinced me NOLA was a worthy purchase. Hypnotic southern fried harmonizing and a rolling bass groove rise to an incredible chorus. Lifer is my other favorite track... a tuneful and merciless slab of sludge responsible for countless experiments with THC
I dug Down II alot... but its nothing compared to NOLA.. it doesn't have the same atmosphere, the same weight behind it. It took them 5 years to put this together and it shows. I'm sure numerous metal snobs will pass on Down because of their Pantera affiliation... your fucking loss, buddy. NOLA is a classic album that captures the essence of New Orleans, Louisiana.
The first album from Down, a known classic to many and an album that helped bring an old sound into this day and age.
As most know, Down is a side project from members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and Eyehategod. What most don't realize is that this album is really good. Now this isn't exactly the normal stuff I listen to but for what it is and for the pleasure I get when I listen to it, it is very good.
The album is very 70's in sound and fits in with the "stoner rock" scene quite nicely although it's more on the souther fried side of the scene. The music is awesome but the most surprsing thing for me is Phil Anselmo's vocals, I mean he actually does some good singing/crooning on this album. Just take a listen to the best song on the album "Stone the Crow". Just unbelievable!
Definately a great album with solid music and quite possibly Phil Anselmo's best recorded performance. Anybody who likes the main bands from the members of this band should pick this up as well as anybody who like southern rock and metal.