Each new Down release since their classic 1995 debut Nola is by its very definition long-anticipated, but the band’s decision to issue a quartet of EPs in lieu of a fourth full-length album adds an interesting new wrinkle to their now-familiar album-tour-hiatus cycle. As the first fresh studio material since 2007’s Down III: over The Under, The Purple EP’s six songs have a lot to prove, and prove it they do. The band – now featuring former Goatwhore/current Crowbar bassist Pat Bruders alongside frontman Phil Anselmo, drummer Jimmy Bower and guitarists Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein – sound fired-up and focused, still worshipping at the altar of Sabbath and doling out the baddest vibes this side of Saint Vitus.
Powered by sledgehammer riffs and a swampy stink, Levitation is a brutal, blindside opener: short, sharp and to the point. Down are back in business and you just got a nosebleed; it’s all here and it’s all good. With its tale of lightning striking twice, the pummelling, pounding Witchtripper (the EP’s first single) reminds us that there’s only one kind of luck and that’s bad luck. ‘I’m fucking serious; we wear our heart on our sleeve!’ Phil Anselmo bellows in the grungy open Coffins, fuelling a dirgey downward spiral of desperation like blood trickling down a drain.
‘Your days are numbered, start counting backwards!’ he hollers during The Curse Is A Lie, a series of doom-laden drones which somehow drags itself out of the dirt and into a catatonic crawl. All knife-twisting guitar and bare-knuckle rhythms, This Work Is Timeless captures the general mood – if you wanna have a good time, forget it, the only way from here is down.
The lush guitar orchestrations that appear suddenly and from nowhere are a mere band aid for the pain. The final track Misfortune Teller finds Anselmo in full Southern swagger on the EP’s most blatantly metal moment, the air of impending doom leaving just enough room for the grim realisation that if all you’ve got left is hope, you’ve got nothing.
Self-produced by the band at Anselmo’s Nodferatu’s Lair studio, the sound is brash, bruising and bottom-heavy, snare drums snapping like broken limbs while the guitars grunt and grind their way to the bone. Were this merely a stopgap between albums, it’d feel frustratingly incomplete, the band’s wings clipped and the bigger picture partially obscured. As it is, we’re being invited to collect the set and witness what could be the band’s magnum opus unfolding one chapter at a time.
For all the convulsions and contortions of black metal, nothing does desolation and dread quite like doom, and Down are channelling the motherlode here: a lifetime of hopes and dreams, love and loss, birth and death set to a primal soundtrack with the scent of the truth about it. It’s music for jazz funerals, ashen-faced anthems for the angry and some small solace for anyone who’s ever made a big mistake.
Bleak, black, lead-heavy, this is metal for people with hangovers made by people who understand.