May 31, 2014 by Dan Swinhoe
For a band that traditionally moves at a glacial pace, the last few years have been decidedly hectic for Down. First the NOLA sludgers have seen bassist Rex Brown and guitarist Kirk Windstein leave, replaced by Crowbar’s Patrick Bruders and Bobby Landgraf respectively, and managed to release two EPs in two years, compared to the usual 5-10 year wait.
IV: II is the second installment in a planned four EP release cycle. 2012’s IV: I was a set of standard modern Down songs, not too far away from how 2007’s Over the Under sounded. This EP, however, is resoundingly Doomy, channeling the likes of Black Sabbath and St. Vitus in a way the band haven’t before.
‘Steeple’ opens the EP with a massive wall of riffs. Right from the off we’re given a heavier, rawer version of Down than we’ve seen in a long time. Whether it’s the lead single ‘We Knew Him Well’, the southern groove of ‘Hogshead/Dogshead’ or ‘Sufferer’s Years’, every track is full of dirty crunching riffs with swampy melodies and the ability to steamroll through your speakers. Despite being their most oppressive sounding and often slowed-down record to date, the band sound more energised than they have in a decade or more – since Down became a full-time endeavour and not a side-project. The music sounds like it comes straight from the swamps of Louisiana and has the same kind of loose feel the band achieved on 2002’s Down II.
The eight-minute ‘Conjure’ is a pure old-skool slab of Black Sabbath invocation – a leaden-paced doom epic and centrepiece for the EP that could have easily been on the Brummies’ debut. Between the music and the lyrics it invokes a hazy mix of the occult and the psychedelic. The whole thing ends with ‘Bacchanalia’ (an ancient Roman Wine Cult), another rumbling nine-minute juggernaut that closes with a dreamy acoustic piece possibly indicating how the acoustic quarter of Down IV may sound.
While Windstein leaving could have been a big blow for the band, they’ve managed to turn it into a positive. Landgraf is nothing else has helped inject a new lease of life into music and allowed them to move into new territory – the new Crowbar release is still banging so everyone’s happy. He and Pepper Keenan belt out squealing solos at every given opportunity, while vocally Phil Anselmo is back to his best – mixing harsh screams with his own bellowed melodies.
Down IV: Part II is an excellent release. Better than Part I without question and probably the most enjoyable since Down II, there’s not a weak filler track among the six on offer. A timely 36-minute reminder of why Down are one of the best bands around and have such a dedicated following. Roll on Part III.