Down – Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow

The problem with supergroups is the agonizingly slow pace at which they release material. There’s a number of reasons for this. Obviously, there’s the issue of coordination: rarely will there be so many ‘great’ musicians located in an area close enough to each other to facilitate a speedy writing process. But another, and perhaps the more profound issue, is a peculiar strain of perfectionism. In a band with so many heralded members, each is not only attempting to do justice to their origins, but to prove themselves the ‘top dog’ of an even smaller cadre of creators.

This is one of the reasons that supergroups seem to fail so often. Such bands are often signaled by a lack of stylistic consistency, as each member is not just incidentally bringing in previous influences, but doing them intentionally, like bizarre autobiographies that simply MUST be dripping from every note of every composition. So these bands often don’t last long, and only end up releasing material with a considerable lack of focus, despite a theoretical wealth of talent involved.

Down is one of the few supergroups that is capable of escaping this common trap. Possessing both a startling longevity as well as quality, they’ve been able to succeed where the majority of supergroups fail, mostly due to possessing a singular sonic vision devoid of pretense or overweening egotism. Perhaps their most telling feature is how they’ve been able to stay in the public eye despite their lengthy gaps between releases: even now, five years after the release of ‘Down II’, people are talking animatedly on forums across the world about the next album. Clearly, Down is a band that exceeds the typical image of the supergroup.

Down’s music is a blend of traditional, stoner, and sludge metal, wrapped up with a heavy dose of blues. However, the band isn’t content to merely replicate this fusion again and again; the various influences, much like the members of the band, shift and bend to give each individual piece its own specialized portions, devoid of aggravating battles for the spotlight. The music is composed traditionally and very naturally, as the band sees no purpose to experimentation in what is supposed to be a very traditional brand of heavy metal. The dreaded verse-chorus structure is prevalent, and the band makes no apologies for adhering to such a rigid structural form. And yet, despite this structure, the music is the very antithesis of rigidity; ‘Down II’ is an LP full of organic, laid-back tunes the exude a sense of cool, collected strength even during their most frantic moments.

The pure level of variation presented on this album is stunning. Opener ‘Lysergik Funeral Procession’ is plowing, churning sludge, while ‘Stained Glass Cross’ moves into hard blues rock complete with rhythmic claps and Hammond organ, and ‘Where I’m Going’ into introspective acoustic territory. each of these fifteen tracks are very unique in style, though they can mainly be broken down into three categories: more brutal sludge/stoner style compositions, rock/blues tracks, and acoustic pieces. Each has its own qualities, and there aren’t too many of one variety in a row before it changes to another, keeping the album interesting throughout.

This is not terrifically original music in content, but its presentation is undeniably effective. A track like ‘Learn From This Mistake’ is most certainly emotionally affecting, despite being quite familiar to the average music listener. But this is intentional: Down harnesses this tradition and familiarity to enhance the album instead of using it as a crutch. No, not much new is going on in this album, but this is unimportant, as what makes this album good is the retelling of old stories instead of the creation of new ones.

It took a while for this album to grow on me, but now I can safely say that its tracks get a number of spins from me. Be sure to give the whole album a chance: listen to the CD all the way through to grasp the subtle shifts between tracks and great structuring. This is a solid, comfortable piece of music that deserves attention, but does not demand it. Turn on the CD player, turn out the lights, and lay back.

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~ by noktorn on April 19, 2007.

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