photo & text by nacrowe
its not a big secret that PANTERA frontman PHIL ANSELMO joined that TEXAN group with a bevy of influences that veered well past the NWOBHM, THRASH and GLAM-inspired 80s METAL that the band had been rehashing up until that point. this included a pronounced HARDCORE AESTHETIC, not to mention a penchant for BLACK METAL, DEATH METAL and what would become SLUDGE METAL out of his hometown in NEW ORLEANS.
in-between the cycles for FAR BEYOND DRIVEN (EASTWEST, 1994) and THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRENDKILL (EASTWEST, 1996), ANSELMO pursued a NOTABLE side-project in DOWN that was a veritable ALL-STAR lineup of the burgeoning NEW ORLEANS SLUDGE METAL scene that included PEPPER KEENAN of CROSSOVER HARDCORE band CORROSION OF CONFORMITY, KIRK WINDSTEIN of CROWBAR and JIMMY BOWER of EYEHATEGOD. their debut NOLA (EASTWEST, 1995) is a watershed moment in METAL history as it is a SEAMLESS CONFLUENCE of influences from SOUTHERN ROCK to STONER ROCK and of course, SLUDGE METAL. their sound is in a lot of ways the antithesis of PANTERA, whose records were METICULOUSLY PRODUCED with a sense of unmatched GROOVE, INTENSITY and TECHNICALITY. DOWN had a UNIQUE SOUND and SONGWRITING AESTHETIC that was more laid back (and even loose) that really seemed to revel in the EMOTIVE power of a DISTORTED guitar through a BLOWN-OUT speaker in a manner later mined by POST METAL bands like SUN O))) and ISIS. tracks like "BURY ME IN SMOKE," "LIFER," "STONE THE CROW," "REHAB," and "TEMPTATION'S WINGS" find ANSELMO singing in a manner somewhat devoid of the HYPER-MASCULINE posturing of his other famous outfit.
i remember in 2001 when PANTERA broke up and ANSELMO pursued a string of perceived side projects like SUPERJOINT RITUAL, VIKING CROWN, CHRIST INVERSION and so on that played up his passion for various METAL sub-genres. the understanding by fans was that such was a temporary DISTRACTION before the next PANTERA record when inevitably come. obviously that never happened and the communication between ANSELMO, bassist REX BROWN and the ABBOTT BROTHERS deteriorated to NOTHING. it was a real pity because if anything NOLA provided an INTERESTING calming aside from the CAUSTIC BRUTALITY that was THE GREAT SOUTHERN TRENDKILL. felt like that debut DOWN record was a worthwhile pursuit and something he had to get out of his system, as well as shed light on a much CELEBRATED adjacent scene in LOUISIANA. it should also be said that DIMEBAG and VINNIE PAUL were friends with all these dudes as well and understood the benefit of giving each other space. that was hack when the band communicated. 1996 saw ANSELMO overdose on heroin after a DALLAS PANTERA show and that pretty much was the beginning of the end of that open correspondence.
when i listen to DOWN i hear an artist on a white hot streak at the pinnacle of their powers and i see a potential that never came to pass, at least with PANTERA. DOWN would continue to make absolutely SICK SLUDGE METAL records to date, but they are cursed to being perceived publicly as a PANTERA side project even decades after that former bands IMPLOSION.
NOLA is required listening for any METAL fan. its a VERITABLE MASTERCLASS of how much POWER there is in taking the TEMPO and pulling it way way back in the name of GROOVE.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i think its fair to say that METAL fans are a pretty conservative lot. they know what they want and are disappointed when their favorite bands make stylistic choices that deviate too far from their core expectations, which tend to be related to things like TEMPO, TECHNICALITY and extreme DISSONANCE (i.e. BRUTALITY). there is not much room for evolution in that constraint, but such is the case with METAL fandom.
what i like about the ongoing series 11 GREAT NON-METAL ALBUMS FOR METALHEADS on the REVOLVER magazine YOUTUBE channel is how it showcases the DIVERSITY of appreciation by actual METAL musicians. so far this includes NEIL FALLON OF CLUTCH, STEVE VON TILL of NEUROSIS, KIRK WINDSTEIN of CROWBAR / DOWN and RANDY BLYTHE of LAMB OF GOD. their choices range from expected like-minded AGGRESSIVE genres like FUNK, HARDCORE, OUTLAW COUNTRY, INDUSTRIAL MUSIC, DELTA BLUES, PROGRESSIVE ROCK and ROOTS REGGAE to more EXPERIMENTAL stuff like POST PUNK, JAZZ, FOLK MUSIC, GOTH ROCK, KRAUTROCK, AMBIENT MUSIC and even DISCO.
it just goes to show that INSPIRATION comes from anywhere and that ultimately FORM is less important than CONTENT. i remember when i was an english teacher living and working abroad i made a point of attempting to learn and understand local customs and folklore if possible. exploring that which i didnt know made my classroom all the richer for having made the attempt, even if i didnt utilize such knowledge in the classroom. i can only imagine that a songwriter must similarly have their antennas up for new IDEAS and JUXTAPOSITIONS all the time in an effort to make their own craft that much more COMPLEX and ROBUST. hopefully this series will shed light on such outside passions that will lead metalheads to explore the greater world of music beyond NWOBHM, GRINDCORE, METALCORE, SLUDGE, DEATH, BLACK and THRASH METAL.
sadly i doubt it.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the VICE subsidiary NOISEY which produces content on its YOUTUBE channel dedicated to largely underground aspects of global MUSICAL CULTURE did a deep dive a few years ago with their seven-part series NOLA: LIFE DEATH & HEAVY BLUES FROM THE BAYOU (NOISEY, 2014) into the origins and legacy of SLUDGE METAL and its LOUISIANA origins.
in essence this series investigated specifically that music of DOWN members and proud LOUISIANANS JIMMY BOWER (EYEHATEGOD), KIRK WINDSTEIN (CROWBAR), PEPPER KEENAN (CORROSION OF CONFORMITY), and PHIL ANSELMO (PANTERA, SUPERJOINT RITUAL) as well as members of ACID BATH and GOATWHORE among others. in essence these musicians were heavily influenced by their surroundings. rural living and laid back southern vocal affectations manifested in rhythm tempos that were decidedly relaxed and slower in cadence. this tempo shift is in direct opposition to the concurrent strains of THRASH METAL and DEATH METAL that took place in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. in case you find this a little jarring, its important to consider that JAZZ, another LOUSIANA contribution to the AMERICAN musical tradition, was rooted in the STORYVILLE red light district of NEW ORLEANS where musicians would shift their tempos to the rhythms of a brothel's occupants in lieu of securing a tip.
SLUDGE METAL is a thick, brutal METAL sub-genre which traces its roots to bands like THE MELVINS (from rural WASHINGTON state) and particular BLACK SABBATH (famously from the industrial wasteland of the MIDLANDS in ENGLAND), but it is hard to argue that it found a true home in LOUISIANA. again, interesting to see how landscape, location and even linguistics impact art and music. when you consider that SLUDGE METAL has influenced the likes of the even more extreme and sonically stretched-out explorations of modern DRONE METAL and POST METAL which revel in the nuances and textures of space and distortion, it is intriguing to consider what spices have been added to that gumbo. who knows where its all heading next which is pretty exciting.
in summation, this documentary is well-constructed and worthy of further investigation if you are so inclined.