Sunday Old School: Down
Bizarrely, one of the most surprising things about so called super groups is one of them is actually good. Many have been excited about some collaborative efforts only to find themselves disappointed with the end result. One band which did not fall in to this category however were one formed in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1991 when a group of friends formed a new group together. These were no ordinary group of metal fans however, as they consisted of Corrosion of Conformity guitarist (later vocalist,) Pepper Keenan, Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod, Crowbar members Kirk Windstein and Todd Strange and perhaps most notably, Pantera singer, Phil Anselmo. The quintet all had a long time love of such doom bands as Trouble, Witchfinder General and Saint Vitus and decided they wanted to form a band more in the vein of these acts, rather than the ferocious thrash which was popular at the time. They soon recorded a three track demo and circulated it around the metal scene, hyping themselves up by asking fans if they had heard of a band called Down. When they eventually performed a live concert in New Orleans, they were spotted by a representative of Elektra Records, who offered them a record deal there and then.
The group recorded their debut album, "NOLA" once the members were free from the schedules of their main bands and released the record in September 1995. It was a success both commercially and critically, peaking on the Billboard album charts at number fifty five. The media were very impressed with the album and most publications gave the album very high scores, dazzled by the combination of Black Sabbath influenced metal, hardcore punk, doom and stoner infections and southern rock flavour. It spawned four singles, the most successful being, "Stone the Crow," which became Down’s first single to enter the Billboard top 40. Two of the other singles, "Temptation’s Wings" and "Bury Me in Smoke" have gone on to become fan favourites, as did the album tracks, "Eyes of the South" and "Hail the Leaf." Touring in support of the album was very limited, consisting of only a thirteen date trek before the members put Down on hiatus to focus on their respective bands.
It would be another five years before work on a new album commenced, by which time Strange had parted company with Down and Anselmo’s Pantera bandmate, Rex Brown joined on bass. The group spent twenty eight days writing music for the sophomore effort, "Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow," which was released in March of 2002. Though it featured some strong songs, it received mostly mixed to negative reviews from the American rock press, who felt that the album was considerably less inspired than its predecessor and was rather sloppy when the records were compared. British critics were more welcoming of the album however, with Rock Sound magazine awarding it four out of five stars, with an equal score being given by Metal Hammer. The second output was also more blues influenced than "NOLA," a sound which the group felt they would capture best by moving into Anselmo’s barn, which was nicknamed, "Nödferatu's Lair." The touring cycle was on a bigger scale this time, with the band performing on the second stage of Ozzfest, as well as an eighteen date American tour.
As expected, Down was put on ice after touring completed and the majority of the members returned to the main bands, but the state of Pantera was one which nobody seemed to know. In the disarray, Anselmo and Bower began writing music for an old project of theirs named Superjoint Ritual, which broke up in 2004 after releasing two full length albums. In 2006, it was announced that Down would reconvene to work on a third album, which they spent around a year working on. This longer time focusing on material perhaps led to the better reviews they received for "Down III: Over the Under" than those garnered by "Down II." The record was released in September 2007 through their new label, Warner Brothers and was almost universally praised, in addition to becoming the highest charting Down album in the United States, peaking at number 26. Musically, the band shed a lot of the slow, bluesy elements seen on the previous outing, as well as on "NOLA" to a lesser extent and featured a sound more in line with sludge metal. It was a heavy album lyrically too, focusing on such subjects as the murder of Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell and the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.
With Pantera no longer around and C.O.C. and Eyehategod also effectively on hiatus, the band were able to tour considerably more for "Down III" than they had for the previous two albums. One of their most notable treks was opening for Heaven & Hell and Megadeth on a North American tour, as well as headlining their own expedition across America and appearing at a number of festivals. Anselmo and Brown made it public knowledge that Down were continuing to write new material whilst on the road, though their next release featured no new material. Instead of the expected "Down IV," the group released a two disc live effort in 2010 entitled, "Diary of a Mad Band: Europe in the year of VI," which was delayed by seven months due to a legal dispute with Warner Brothers.
Although the live album was well received and anticipation for new material remained high, "Diary of a Mad Band…" proved to be their last album to date to feature Rex Brown, who took a sabbatical from Down in 2011 to focus on personal problems, his place being taken first temporarily and then permanently by Crowbar bass player, Pat Bruders. Bruders continued to perform live with the band before making his Down recording debut with the EP, "Down IV Part 1 – The Purple EP," which hit the shelves in September of 2012, entering the American top 40, as well as peaking at number 57 in the United Kingdom. It also received some excellent reviews and was seen as having a dark vibe, thanks to the return of the doom metal vibe. The band have this past week released the second part of the rumoured four piece "Down IV." Where they go from here remains to be seen, but their place at the top of the tree of supergroups, as well as the compliments they have paid to their own bodies of work, remains undisputed.
Down - "Stone the Crow"
Down - "Bury Me in Smoke"
Down - "Ghosts Along the Mississippi"
Down - "Where I'm Going"
Down - "On March the Saints"
Down - "Witchtripper"
Down - "We Knew Him Well"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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