Thursday 29 May 2014

Choice Cuts : Down - Nola

The Band :

  • Philip Anselmo | Vocals, guitar on "Pray for the Locust", mandolin on "Jail"
  • Pepper Keenan | Guitar
  • Kirk Windstein | Guitar, bass
  • Jimmy Bower | Drums
Additional musicians
  • Todd Strange | Whistle at the beginning of Lifer & bass (credited, does not perform)
  • Ross Karpelman | Keyboards on "Jail"
  • Lil' Daddy and Sid Montz | percussion on "Jail"
  • Lil' Daddy | Water pipe solo on "Hail the Leaf"
Review : 

When I first heard NOLA by Down it was 1995, I was a big fan of Pantera and had been into more extreme death metal fair for some time. My band was gradually mutating from unlistenable juvenile noise into standard (very, very standard) death metal and I was searching for something more aligned with my Sabbath worship of the day. NOLA was just the sound I was looking for. Even now I would rank this record in any nominal “top ten records of all time” list (along with about twenty other albums!).

Temptations Wings kicks things off with an open hi hat and a MONSTROUS guitar sound. The bass is low in the mix, but audible, the drums very live and raw sounding. Anselmo’s vocals were different from anything in the Pantera discography up to that point and showcased his versatility and the range he possessed. His tone is primal, yet somehow bluesy and even relaxed in places. The band is in full flow. The term ‘supergroup’ does not do the sound justice. 

On first hearing NOLA I had heard of COC and EHG but not actually heard them- I had heard Crowbar, but music was expensive back then, so had not purchased any of their (hard to find in Grimsby!) work. I instantly drew a direct line from Sabbath to Down and time has proved me right. There is most definitely a connection between Sabbath’s first four and this mighty work- instrumental tracks, heavy riffs, ballad type tracks and that intangible thing: “vibe”. Down have yet to equal this album, in my opinion, and I doubt they ever will.

It is, in the parlance of many people who have written and spoken about metal, a SEMINAL album. Front to back, the record is superb. Lifer is an absolute anthem with riffs to die for, Pillars of Eternity has the drum intro, Eyes Of The South brought the Southern connection into my consciousness (and led me to explore Skynyrd, Crowbar and so on at a later date) while Hail The Leaf was an anthem of a different kind. Losing All had Phil’s intro and gratitude at the end, sandwiching massive riffs and hooks in-between.
Of course, the album is perhaps best known for Stone The Crow- and rightly so. It is an excellent piece of music, utilising the quiet-loud ballad dynamic but in a very different way. This was Southern rock, this was downcast blues and it had a direct lineage with the most classic of bands from Sabbath to Zeppelin to Purple to Skynyrd.

Anselmo’s vocals on this record are, for me, the best of his career. Brutal screams, smoke soaked crooning and powerful singing are all present and Phil uses double tracking and all the tricks of the trade to really showcase his fearsome vocal ability. Thus, the album has often been thought of as Phil Anselmo and friends (and this is certainly how it was portrayed in the press at the time)- a view reinforced by Anselmo’s later proclamations that he was responsible for a good deal of the music contained therein as well as lyrics and melodies.

Swansong has always been a highlight for me- great lyrics and structure- before the finale of Bury Me In Smoke and its huge riffs. When I listen to this album, no tracks get skipped- it is a wholly satisfying tour through the seedy underbelly of Louisiana living and represents a musical highpoint for all those concerned- and that is some statement bearing in mind what those involved released before and after. Even the instrumental/low key pieces convey the oppressive heat and mugginess of the deep South and are hugely evocative.

In short, NOLA manages to exceed the sum of its parts, which in itself is an incredible musical feat. It stands as a definitive record in the 90’s stoner/Sabbath/sludge/doom canon and no doubt acted as a gateway for many people who are now in name bands and moving the genre(s) forward. That it is now nearly twenty years old is difficult for me to grasp. It is as old now as Sabotage was when I first heard NOLA- and that was a record which seemed to be form another time and place to my young ears. NOLA has not dated in any way. The mythical top ten albums of all time is impossible for me to compile, but that said... this album would always be in my top two. Gimme some medicine!

Words & Recommendation : Richard Maw

Album Details :

NOLA is the debut album of Down. It was released on September 19, 1995. The title is the abbreviation for New Orleans (N.O.), Louisiana (La.).

Nola, track listing :

1).  "Temptation's Wings" 04:24
2).  “Lifer” 04:36
3).  "Pillars of Eternity" 03:57
4).  "Rehab" 04:03
5).  "Hail the Leaf" 03:28  
6).  "Underneath Everything" 04:46  
7).  "Eyes of the South" 05:13
8).  "Jail" 05:17
9).  "Losing All" 04:42 
10).  "Stone the Crow" 04:42  
11).  "Pray for the Locust" (instrumental) 01:07
12).  "Swan Song" 03:35  
13).  "Bury Me in Smoke" 07:04