Down: Not out
New Orleans metal band has plenty to write about on its third record
Super groups always sound super-duper in theory. However, it’s rare when the big names are held together with anything substantial, musical or otherwise—sort of like stretched-out, lint-filled Scotch tape binding some boulders (see Audioslave).
Down is a super group in the truest sense, an all-star side project formed during the heyday of some of metal’s more notable bands: Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar. But the relationship between some of the members goes a bit deeper. Vocalist Phil Anselmo and guitarist Kirk Windstein have known each other for nearly three decades, running in the same circles of greasy-haired, denim-jacketed metal kids in New Orleans.
“I went and listened to [Phil] sing at a talent competition at like a VFW hall,” said Windstein, who founded Crowbar back in 1989. “And I sat outside listening and they did like, ‘The Trooper,’ or ‘Wrathchild,’ or ‘Heading Out to the Highway’ by [Judas] Priest, and I was like, ‘This dude is killer.’ “
Although the two friends toured together in their respective bands, they wouldn’t actually play together until they formed Down in 1991. Now, 16 years later, that little “side project” has just released its third record, Down III: Over the Under—the band’s most personal album to date.
Anselmo, the brooding frontman of metal behemoths Pantera and Superjoint Ritual, has battled his fair share of demons over the years, including heroin addiction and an overdose that nearly took his life in 1996.
Over the past three years, Anselmo and the other members of Down have been fueled by events beyond their control: the murder of beloved Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell (who was shot point blank on stage by a deranged fan in 2004), as well as the death and devastation that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The band was recording what would become Over the Under when the hurricane hit, displacing Anslemo, Windstein and guitarist Pepper Keenan. Katrina kept the members away from home for months. The studio was flooded.
They eventually headed to L.A., where they were able to spend some extra time on the new material without distraction.
“We beat these songs to death and changed and rearranged them, and [Phil] rewrote lyrics on a couple of them a couple of times over,” Windstein said. “It was a very difficult record to make. It was very draining physically, emotionally—but it was well worth it in the end.”
Of course, the time lapse between records is nothing new for Down. The band released its debut, NOLA (for New Orleans, La), in 1995 with Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity singer-guitarist) and Windstein’s Crowbar bandmates, drummer Jimmy Bower and bassist Todd Strange. Former Pantera bassist Rex Brown replaced Strange in 1999, and the band released its second album, Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, in 2002.
A lot can change in the music world over the course of five years. But Down has stayed true to its swampy metal roots—a down-tuned, riff-heavy concoction of Sabbath drenched in the bluesy sludge of Zeppelin.
“Down sounds the same way it does right now as it did in 19-frickin'-92,” Windstein said. “Same influences, same type of writing, but the chemistry’s better now because we’ve grown as people and friends over the years.”
And Anselmo’s vocals have never sounded better. He’s relying less on guttural growl, which plagued later Pantera albums like Far Beyond Driven and The Great Southern Trend Kill, and finding his soul again.
Perhaps this can be attributed to the band’s clean-living ways—a far cry from the old Pantera and Crowbar touring days, some of which were documented in the former’s warts-and-all documentary, Vulgar Videos From Hell.
“We’re over all the hardships we’ve had—some of ’em we brought upon ourselves, most of ’em we didn’t,” Windstein said. “We want to be the band we know we’re capable of being, and right now we feel that the hard rock/metal industry, whatever you want to call it, needs a band like Down.”