Down IV Part 1, The Purple EP — A Review

26 Jan

A good few months before the September release of Down’s cumbersomely titled record, Down IV Part 1—The Purple EP, the band was saying something to the effect that they had plans to release an album in installments, or something, which might have meant that they were going to release four or six EP’s, or something, and that each would have a different feel, but maybe some of them would be similar, though there was a lot of different stuff they could do with it … or something.

As might have been expected for the first (how ever many part) installment, they decided to keep it sounding pretty much like a Down record, and good for us, too. Waiting five years and then giving us a record trying to ape Pink Floyd probably wouldn’t have been very accessible. No, the boys in Down remain true to their vision with this release as they continue to pay direct homage to Black Sabbath (and the bands that Black Sabbath spawned). Their frankness about the initial inspiration behind their sound is refreshing in an age when so many bands would like you to think that they appeared out of thin-air, fully grown, with no musical pedigree to speak of. No, the boys in Down can afford to tell us that they want to sound like Black Sabbath because they each bring something fresh to the genre. The Southern Blues aspect of their sound has always been a bit more accentuated than their British heroes, probably because they’re actually from The South (New Orleans, specifically).

We all know the frightening teddy-bear of a singer, Philip Anselmo, from his days in Pantera, who, while he may not sound as vigorous as he did in 1995, can still carry many a bluesy note and is certainly not shy about slipping now and again into an altogether tone-less sludge-vocal as he growls, ‘We wear our heart on our sleeves’ (Open Coffins). The band prided themselves in ‘returning’ to their original raw sound with this release, though when going over their catalogue, one can’t help but think that they never really left their original sound, they just lagged a bit in-between. Fans of Nola will know what I’m talking about: the epic, laborious fatigue that was Down II: A Bustle in your Hedgerow. If you thought that Over The Under was an enjoyable departure but far too polished and studio-sounding for a band of such organic power, you’ll like the near demo-feel of this release.

Never a lazy lyricist anyway (let’s go ahead and say it here—he’s a totally underrated as a lyricist), Anselmo’s themes are as interesting and subversive as ever. His voice delivers to us a stream of pagan imagery in defiant earnestness. The words ‘We’ and ‘Ours’ occur more throughout the EP than ‘I’ or ‘Me,’ which makes it a record of the appeal rather than a personal record. And what is he appealing us to do? This is not the Punk subversion of revolution. This record is an appeal to join Down in the woods where something is already happening. ‘Your days are numbered/ Start counting backward’ he challenges in ‘The Curse Is A Lie.’

More than the cookie-cutter post-grunge of today’s radio-friendly, drunk college girl hard-rock which permeates the radio waves today, Down have maintained only the best aspects of blues and none of the outer, easily mimicable fluff that many bands try to maintain so it might seem for a moment that they have some ‘soul.’ Down alternates seamlessly between being aggressively upbeat and broodingly slow. One notable strain that they’ve pulled from Blues is the sense of tragedy. Empowerment is a favorite topic in art (specifically these days) but few bands speak much about consequences. The concluding track, Misfortune Teller, is a stressful back and forth rivalry between a quick beat and a slower-than-hell chorus as Anselmo pours his soul into a lament of the very risk involved the challenges of earlier lyrics: ‘A grave mistake/ We’re right back where we started from/ It’s devastating.’

Well, we’re hardly devastated that Down is back, nor are we devastated that they’ve promised at least a few more EP’s of varying tone over the next few years. Altogether, this release is an interesting progression in the whole Down dialogue.


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