The combination of Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan should be enough to cause heavy metal fans to drool, but with a full cast made up of members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and Eyehategod, Down is truly a supergroup, and performs as such. Make no mistake, though, the music inevitably comes back to Anselmo and Keenan. NOLA (an acronym for New Orleans, Louisiana) takes the two superstars' writing talents and distinctive sounds and focuses them in a feast of Cajun-style heavy metal. Like much of Pantera's music, NOLA is lyrically enigmatic and frequently celebrates the use of controlled substances. Glorification of cannabis aside, the album's true focus is inner melancholy and atonement for earlier sins. Keenan's own brand of crunching axework -- the kind that typifies his work with Corrosion of Conformity -- compliments Anselmo's genuinely sorrowful vocals, and the two propel the album to its logical conclusion without the flashy solos or other excesses that often accompany their separate works. The two also combine in a unique way on "Pray for the Locust," an instrumental that was written by Anselmo but consists simply of Keenan on the guitar. From the highly layered "Stone the Crow," the group's only major radio hit, to the ponderous, introspective "Bury Me in Smoke," the members of Down display their abilities to play quality rock & roll outside the comfort of their individual bands. In terms of consistency and sheer rock power, NOLA surpasses all but the very best of the featured artists' other works, and can proudly be embraced in any of the associated bands' catalogs. This is a landmark album that combines the talents of dedicated rock musicians, and should be included in any collection of heavy metal music.
by David Reamer