1995 Down -“NOLA”

This week’s album apart from being an all time classic raises a difficult ethical question. Does an artist’s actions now affect how their previous work is viewed? In other words after last year can we listen to anything By Phillip Anselmo in the same way?
For those who don’t know this band just checking out the lineup will give you a clue as to what they sound like. They are made up of Phillip Anselmo on vocals (Pantera), Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of conformity) on guitars, Todd Strange (Crowbar) on bass and Jimmy Bower (eyehategod) on drums. In other words the royalty of Louisiana metal and sludge bands. They also have an advantage over most “super groups”. They really do live up to expectations. Each one brings a core element from their own band. The brutal head on charge of pantera, the guitar clout of crowbar, the melody of C.O.C and the dirt under the fingernails grime of eyehategod. Not only that but they blend seamlessly together to create a sound that’s greater than the sum of it’s parts. Apparently when they first got together they would hand out demo tapes (yes tapes) whilst touring in their regular bands and asked if anyone had heard of this underground band called Down, just to see the reaction. 
The reaction was, unsurprisingly huge. There are bands who sound similar but no other band sounds like Down. Equal parts Black sabbath and Skinner, no one can match the combination of classic metal and southern swagger. Kirk and Pepper’s riffs are the key here. Kirk writes guitar riffs that make Tony Iommi jealous and when they ever remake “the creature from the black lagoon” Crowbar will be writing the soundtrack. Pepper was just off the back of C.O.C’s “deliverance” album and if you want to know how to write a southern rock album that’s your blueprint right there. Even though he plays guitar for eyehategod Bower is a powerhouse of a drummer. Every beat is both laser sharp and a little bit sloppy, carrying a rawness with it that adds more depth to the record.
At 13 tracks just under an hour the scope of “NOLA” is astounding. From the opening two hit combo of “Temptations wings” and “lifer”, to the drug raged “hail to the leaf” and the tripped out “jail” all points are covered. Then we get to “bury me in smoke”. If someone is ever mad enough to compile the best rock guitar songs ever, then this track has to be in the top ten. Like Sabbath at their best it’s both simple as hell yet monstrously complex. A three note riff that batters you into submission then comes back again to repeat it. 
Then we get to Phillip Anselmo. I am going to get static for saying this but I’m not a huge Pantera fan and I feel Anselmo is locked into a pattern with them. Down is a different story altogether. His clean vocals are amazing and the melody he produces is wonderful. Counter to that his scream is a stamp of authority, a trademark war cry that is unmatched by anyone before or since. There are few vocalists who could go up against George “corpsegrinder” Fisher from cannibal corpse and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden in the same song but Anselmo makes it look ridiculously easy. 
Then last year onstage at a benefit gig Anselmo did “that” salute and said “white power”. As well as being a horrendous thing to do, for many people (myself included) it left a horrible taste in the mouth. Following on from Down I followed all of Anselmo’s projects with interest. He was/is a genuine giant of the scene and this left many of us wondering what to do. He has apologised but it was hell of a knock to a genre of music that is all ready viewed as knuckle dragging and non inclusive. I can’t abide racism and it has left me wondering where I stand as a fan of this album.
For myself I am undecided but I cannot deny my love for this album. If you haven’t heard it at least play it once because it is hell of an album and worth your time to start with. It’s then up to yourself how you feel afterwards.

PRB

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