MGF Reviews Down – Over the Under

Down – Over the Under
Down Records (9/25/07)

There’s something to be said for a sober and focused Phil Anselmo. While Down is clearly a different animal from Pantera, Over the Under, the band’s strongest showing to date, is clearly on par with anything Anselmo created as part of one of metal’s greatest bands.

The most notable change on the new album is the clear intent in each track, and focused execution from the band. Sure, Nola and A Bustle in Your Hedgerow are killer albums in their own rights, but each suffered from the same affliction—the constraints of the “stoner metal” genre. While a band like Clutch was able to take from the genre and build upon its foundation, Down seemed to get caught up in the proceedings. This usually led to meandering songs with no clear direction, the muddy music blending into itself until many of the songs seemed almost forgettable. Anselmo’s well-documented drug problems surely didn’t help matters, and his vocals, at times, showed as much.

Such is not the case here.

Opener “Three Sons and One Star” comes across like a breath of fresh air—the guitar is crisp, the drumming turgid with purpose, and Anselmo hasn’t sounded so fresh in a long time. The band maintains that muddy (by now) trademark sound, but pulls in a fair helping of blues-inspired riffs and vocals to temper the straightforward metal approach. Of note is the killer harmony Anselmo throws out mid-way through the song. One of metal’s greatest vocalists is back with a vengeance.

The rest of the album plays out just as well. There’s some fantastic groove on “n.o.d.” and “On March of the Saints” is probably one of the strongest songs the band has written, both from a music and lyrical standpoint. The blues guitar work on “Never Try” works phenomenally with Anselmo’s wails. “His Majesty the Desert”, a psychedelic interlude of sorts, is the perfect breather before the band tears into “Pillamyd”. And the eight-minute “Nothing in Return” acts as the perfect closer, with layer upon layer of influence—classic rock, metal, blues—and Anselmo doing a great job at simply singing (instead of the usual wails or screams that made him famous).

Down is a much-loved metal outfit. Despite what was written above, Nola and …Hedgerow have found permanent homes in many metal fans’ collection. They are great releases, but Over the Under does its damnedest to blow them out of the water. A fantastic metal album, and tremendous return-to-form for Anselmo, someone many had all but given up for dead over the past few years.