Down - III: Over the Under Review
by Mark Hensch
Since 2002's II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, Down has witnessed the murder of "Dimebag" Darrel Abbot, the South's destruction by Hurricane Katrina, gone through rehab for substance abuse, and all manner of other horrible things besides. For most bands, this would undoubtedly signal a death knell.
Most of those same bands cannot even conceive holding a candle to the juggernaut that is Down. It might have taken five years for a new album, but listening to III: Over the Under makes such passages of time irrelevant. It is as if everyone's favorite Southern heavy metal supergroup never left. All of it---from bluesy sludge riffs to rattling funk bass undertones to the intense to the cathartic vocals of former Pantera howler Phil Anselmo---remains flawlessly intact. Like some sort of invincible prehistoric beast thawed from a block of ice, Down rages on this album like a band much younger than their 1992 start date and with much more integrity too. Rock 'n roll is an unstoppable force and Down wields it with a swagger so confident and sure you cannot help but hop in the mosh pit. To be blunt, resistance is futile.
The steamrolling return-to-form that is "3 Suns 1 Star" should convince any detractors that this is Down and Down is the real deal. An ominous rumbling erupts into an unhinged barnstormer drenched in belligerent fuzz and its taking no prisoners. Anselmo croons, sings, howls, and growls---the man sounds even better than he did on the last go round. Best of all, in a nod to 1995's NOLA and its defining moment "Temptation's Wings," the song collapses into a world-weary melodic passage, sludgy and full of harmonics. Bluesy and hangnail, its melancholy grooves wickedly set the stage for one final annihilating guitar run.
"The Path" is shakes the very Earth with its down-tuned, hellish sludge; the only thing in fact separating this from straightforward Eyehategod malice is a subtle hint of catchy melodicism and Anselmo's gruff but clean vocals. Slow and rattling, this muddy war anthem will rest assuredly be a live favorite for years to come.
"N.O.D." thumps skulls with its huge riffs, the likes of which are obviously rooted in blues but given razor-edges backed by a thunderous rhythm section. The band deftly uses a ground-and-pound approach to the verses while injecting ringing notes into the chorus to add an air of stoner rock to the proceedings. Especially kickass is Anselmo's rabble-rousing finale, in which the often embattled frontman screams again and again that "I'll Fight!" while his band drearily intones "You Say You Want a Revolution" in the background.
"I Scream," meanwhile, is like a sludge version of Kyuss, its heavy riffs drifting off into mesmerizing blue skies but still being crushingly thick. Its doomed-out chords plod with funeral patience, slowly working into a manic frenzy towards the song's brilliant end.
Lead single "On March the Saints" is a powerful fist-pumper. It's thick but warm tones recall NOLA's "Stone the Crow," but are soon absolutely destroyed by a High On Fire circle-pit riff. This seamless transition is so flawless it shocks almost every time. Brawny and uplifting, this song will make you feel good while punching you repeatedly in the kidneys.
Mope-ballad "Never Try" comes out of left-field but wins listeners over with its oldschool vibe and keen dynamics. Some piping hot guitar licks weave outside of slow, plodding drums, leading into a self-hating blues ballad from Anselmo. Soft but slick, the song works as it wisely builds what is initially mild percussion and clean guitar chords into a rousing power anthem replete with jangling funk flourishes.
"Mourn" is a howling locomotive of sound, its chugging riffs and furious beatdowns being classic Down. Slow and grimy, it produces a downer rhythm amongst the best the band has ever penned.
The distortion bath of "Beneath The Tides" sounds like Down getting f*cked up with Pink Floyd, wavering Southern-fried guitars sinking despondently to the bottom of the ocean. Shamanistic incantations and moody atmospherics abound, the whole thing emitting an aura of the ghostly. Ending with heart-wrenching melodies and Anselmo's caustic yowls, the song feels like lingering hurt that goes unresolved and it's wholly awesome.
"His Majesty the Desert" turns the volume down even further, providing a smoky acoustic interlude. Quiet and sparse, it actually makes a perfect bridge between "Beneath The Tides" and "Pillamyd." Like a dark force rising from underneath the somber waves, it slowly builds into fuzzy rage and attacks.
Said attack, "Pillamyd," is a roaring Molotov cocktail of brutal sludge riffs played at breakneck speeds. Scores of piercing guitar licks lie buried in its writhing fury. This one is total devastation folks, or it is until the tranced-out breakdown and accompanying solo which pulverizes the ears by song's end.
"In the Thrall of It All" swaggers with booze-drenched hard rock. Slow but steady like a loaded gun, the song navigates complicate guitar wanking and grating riffs like its second business. Given the people currently comprising Down, this shouldn't be too surprising.
"Nothing in Return (Walk Away)" is the best album closer I've ever heard. An aching song of physical sadness and apathy, it should inspire a deep, personal connection with anyone who gives it an honest chance. Hazy guitar chords flicker over ominous drums, all before busting out some powerful but hollow riffs and soul-cutting harmonies. Dream-like and surreal, the entire thing sounds like an anthem of stark personal tragedy at the bottom of the Mississippi River.
It is truly rare for any band's continuance down a path of timelessness like this. Down is a truly special band whom can tap into our deepest fears and sorrows at any given time. III is the album old fans have been waiting for, and new fans will recount as the point of conversion. Get this record as soon as possible if you like music.
Down's III: Over the Under
1. 3 Suns 1 Star
2. The Path
4. I Scream
5. On March the Saints
6. Never Try
8. Beneath the Tides
9. His Majesty the Desert
11. In the Thrall of It All
12. Nothing in Return (Walk Away)
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Down - III: Over the Under
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