Release DetailsLABEL Independent Label Group (Warner Music Group)
RELEASED ON 9/25/2007
III: Over The Under
posted on 9/2007 By:
To say that a lot has happened since we last heard from Down doesn’t even begin to cover it. The years of drug addiction and recovery, debilitating health conditions, and the twin horrors of Hurricane Katrina and the murder of Dimebag Darrell would be a full load to bare over a long lifespan of any band (and like, six Behind the Musics), rather than during the span between two albums. It’s these last two tragedies that make the reemergance of this New Orleans supergoup such a monumental event. Those things impacted all of us to some extent, and people seem to be anticipating hearing the reaction/work of some of the individuals who have lived through these events; not just to hear their perspective–that’s pretty self-evident–but to lend a common voice to a shared experience. And from a more critical perspective, to evaluate how surviving these experiences has impacted the band’s creativity and potency. Over the Under shows that it’s not that these crises create naturally compelling subject matter, but that the band’s experiences over the last five years, individually and collectively, have given a rare emotional and creative fuel. This album boasts some of Down’s most focused and accessible work to date, without dulling their attack one iota.
The band continues to diversify the elephantine Sabbathian gut-punch that helped make Nola an instant classic, but reined in the THC-coated expansive cosmic retreats so prevalent on the ambitious II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow. The net effect is that you’ll not really hear anything new, per se, but the band reshuffles its core elements and fires off a streamlined steamroller of an album bursting with Down-style Southern-born sludge. It’s all here: the skull cracking, riff driven viscousness (“Three Suns and One Star,” “Pillamyd,” “Mourn”), the bluesy soulfulness (“Never Try,” “Beneath the Tides”) and the occasional psychedelic infused slow number (“Her Majesty the Desert,” “Nothing in Return”). “On March the Saints” is really the only track that comes out of nowhere, finding the band at their most rock-oriented and accessible yet, a sound that fits with the song’s anthemic rallying cry for post-Katrina perseverance.
There’s always been a certain level of world weariness in Down’s music, stemming from their blues roots, but Over the Under certainly feels more soulful than its predecessors. Or maybe that’s simply projection because this time around so many of the band’s struggles were public ones. At any rate, it’s the same effect in the end. Given the pedigree and discography of the band, their alarming competency shouldn’t really be surprising–especially given the fantastic recent work of Keenan’s Corrosion of Conformity--but maybe it’s just supergroup wariness that keeps fans wondering if the band can get it done yet again. True, Down have never felt at all like a supergroup, although they sure get the benefit of an all star performance top to bottom. It’s Philip Anselmo himself that’s the real X-factor here. Love him or hate him–and let’s be fair, he gives reason for both--he comes up simply massive this time around, putting to rest (well, maybe for a bit) doubts about his current health and abilities. His confident shifts from gravelly soulfulness to vitriolic howling and comfortable crooning come across as equal parts front porch philosopher, stage-pacing orator, and disenfranchised blue-collar anger and remorse.
The devil’s in the details, and it’s the little things that help push Over the Under to greatness. The fantastic production and spot on musicianship, the clever back up vocals here, the confident melody accents there–it all adds up. So does the impeccable sequencing that, for example, swings from the anthemic “On March the Saints” to the sleepy bluesy sway of “Never Try”, to the bowel-rumbling, chunky “Mourn”, Over the Under has cogent flow, using variety to build to the album’s epic, passionate feel. Stand out tracks include “N.O.D.”, basically a Down track to the core, its chunky groove and bravado swagger sure make it a live staple, the bluesy “Beneath the Tides”, with its classy intermingled guitar melodies and Southern-soaked slide work, and the jewel in the crown, closer “Nothing in Return (Walk Away)”. The slow, massive nine-minute closer is a supremely commanding emotional climax built on a dominant back-and-forth drum pattern, astral noodling, and impassioned vocals, in an undeniable display of the band members’ combined talents.
Those (stupidly) waiting for Nola II will likely find some of the same frustrations they did last time around, but those who thought Down overreached a bit with the meandering II (and I’m not among that group, either), might find Over the Under closer to their expectations. Truth is, it has all the strengths of both of those records, and regardless of how you’d rank them, makes for a thoroughly complementary third album, forming a triple threat of rare strength.
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