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Down: Down IV, EP Two

Album Review

NOLA rockers hit halfway on full throttle

In the summer of 2011, Down announced that instead of recording a new full-length album, they would instead release four EPs over the course of the next two years. The band pointed out that such a strategy offered nothing but upside for fans – EPs are not only cheaper, but the protracted release cycle would afford Down the luxury of releasing only their strongest material amassed during that period. More exciting was the promise that each of the four EPs would convey its own distinct elemental weight; the first would be gravitationally heavy, while subsequent releases might be mellow, doomy or extreme.

In 2012, the band released the first chapter, Down IV, Part IThe Purple EP: a bare-knuckled slugfest of raw, sticky riffs that some hailed as a welcome return to their early 00s output, particularly on blinders like Witchtripper and Misfortune Teller.

While 2013 should have seen the release of the fourth and final instalment of the EP cycle, instead Down embarked on a sprawling road campaign that was followed by the departure of Kirk Windstein – one of the band’s original guitarists, along with Pepper Keenan. Longtime Down stage manager Bobby Landgraf quickly stepped in as Kirk’s replacement and at long last, in February of 2014, Down announced that they had completed work on the second chapter of their EP project: Down IV, EP Two.

Phil Anselmo’s oceanic bellow sharpens into a feral howl to kick off opener Steeple, its monolithic stomp gathering into relentless barrages of dense grooving before burning off into a sparse, swampy breakdown. It is clear that EP Two is not so much a distinct sonic statement as a taut, amplified extension of the first chapter. The differences, subtle at first blush, play out in the flourishes; undeniable classic rock hooks anchor every track, accented by towering, whiskey-soaked leads that tap into the defiant aesthetic of the archetypal Southern male.

As with other Down releases, Tony Iommi’s influence flows generously through the song structures but nowhere is Down’s Sabbath worship as overt as on Conjure, a druggy, eight-minute headtrip cloaked in eerie tritonal accents and spacey psychedelic atmospherics. On We Knew Him Well and Hogshead Dogshead, guitarists Bobby and Pepper Keenan trade off thick, sludgy rhythms and scorching licks with a palpable chemistry that suggests that the mid-year personnel change inflicted little damage on the songwriting process.

Sufferer’s Years stands out as not only the unrivalled highlight of the EP, but one of the band’s finest songs yet. Blazing fretboard dynamics, propulsive riffage and Anselmo’s intractable roar coalesce into an unrelenting beatdown for nearly nine glorious minutes – a punishing and utterly contemporary alchemisation of extreme metal and 70s Southern rock.

Closer Bacchanalia lacks the sharpness of the other tracks, eventually ebbing into a spare acoustic outro that serves as the end of EP Two and the halfway point of the EP campaign. While falling short on their promise to deliver four EPs in two years, Down IV, EP Two is nonetheless a hellishly gratifying slab of modern metal that sees the grizzled veterans invigorated, inspired and operating at the very top of their game.

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