Down IV Part I: The Purple EP
For me, Down has always been like good weed, strong whiskey or rich foods in that the band is most powerful in small doses. Their 1995 debut NOLA featured thirteen tracks of thick, sludgy, St. Vitus by way of Trouble inspired doom metal with some nice Black Sabbath trimmings. It also featured my favorite Down song to date, “Stone The Crow”. The 2002 sequel Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow was a bit more drawn out and 2007’s Down III: Over The Under entered the arena of meandering due to the thirteen tracks and a collection of largely unnecessary interludes.
Five years later Down have taken the less-is-more idea to heart and returned with Down IV Part I: The Purple EP. This album is the first of four that, according to the band, will show off their different sides. I’m hoping one of them will be a dance album, but for now Down are focusing on the side we already know. The Purple EP opens with “Leviathan”, which lives up to it’s name. Guitarists Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and Pepper Keenan from Corrosion Of Conformity unite their guitar sound into one mammoth slab that never loses the groove. Eyehategod guitarist Jimmy Bower, on drums here, pounds his kit as though he was trying to beat it into submission.
Holding down the low end is Crowbar bassist Pat Bruders replacing Pantera bassist Rex Brown. Exploding over this mass of throaty sludge is Phil Anselmo, who has decided to stretch beyond his growl. This is the Anselmo of early Pantera. Lyrically Anselmo has always been average but you can’t turn away from his delivery. Whatever he’s saying, he fucking means it.
“Witchtripper”, which was actually first single, follows second and stands toe to toe with anything Down has ever put out. The riff is not just a monster, it’s the monster the other monsters are afraid of. With a groove this tasty it would be easy for Bower to just lay into the drums and hang back. Nope, he surprises on the skins as he does on the guitar. The drums are all over the place, fills and rolls accentuated with crashing cymbals. As busy as the drums are they never fall out of the pocket and they never loose the groove. Love them or hate them, Down have never fallen victim to the trappings of the super group. Everybody here works together and their fury is like that of a young and hungry band eager to hit the world as hard as they can.
Bumps in the road appear with “Open Coffins”. I’d heard so much hype about this song I was expecting heavy evil to pour from my speakers. Instead I got a song that drags on way too long and repeats so much an argument could be made that Down played the first minute and then sampled themselves. I also wasn’t feeling Anselmo’s lyrics. “I’m fucking serious. We wear our hearts on our sleeves” is something you’d expect from a high school poetry class not a seasoned front man.
“The Curse” rights things again with a doom riff that would make Wino proud. This is a stoned head bobber, the jam where you hit the bong and then move your head back and forth slowly as the heaviness oozes all over you. “The Curse” is actually longer than “Open Coffins” but doesn’t feel like it. If “Open Coffins” feels like an elephant trying to walk through quicksand, then “The Curse” is that same elephant stomping around in radioactive sludge. Both are slow, but the second elephant is way more irritated and driven. “This Work Is Timeless” is a standard Down jam. However much the listener loves Down will dictate whether they refer to this as “classic Down” or “filler”.
“Misfortune Teller” is the nine-minute opus that brings The Purple EP to a close. I loved this song and I wish Down had done more of this. It’s up-tempo, a high rocktane riff that borrows from the thrash of Pantera and COC as much as it does the heavy sludge of Eyehategod or Crowbar. When “Misfortune Teller” slows down the shift is such that you’re driven to smash everything around you. Down don’t just go fast slow fast here, they really craft the parts to join together and function as a cohesive unit no matter what the tempo. As of right now “Misfortune Teller” and “Witchtripper” are battling it out for my favorite track on The Purple EP.
I’ll be honest, my relationship with Down is a tepid one. I really dug NOLA but only marginally enjoyed Down II and disliked Down III. That’s what makes The Purple EP such a nice surprise. This is Down taking things into a darker area. Recording in Phil’s basement studio, opening the tracks up to be looser and allowing things to go where they needed to. It not only won me over for this record, I’m now intrigued on what the next three EPs will sound like.