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.