DOWN
"III - Over The Under"

(Independent Label Group)

01. 3 Suns and 1 Star
02. Path
03. N.O.D.
04. I Scream
05. On March the Saints
06. Never Try
07. Mourn
08. Beneath the Tides
09. His Majesty the Desert
10. Pillamyd
11. In the Thrall of It All
12. Nothing in Return (Walk Away)

RATING: 6.5/10

The first DOWN album, "NOLA", released in 1995, was a nearly perfect mix of brutal Nineties power groove metal, druggy retro/stoner psychedelia and swampy New Orleans attitude. The mix of personalities from PANTERA, COC, EYEHATEGOD and CROWBAR gelled seamlessly and made the album into an instant classic, bolstered by gems like "Tempation's Wings", "Lifer" and the epic "Bury Me In Smoke".

The long-delayed "II: A Bustle in your Hedgerow", was greeted with fanatic hype and expectations that it failed to live up to when issued in 2002. A more diverse, less focused and not as memorable offering as its predecessor, it simply didn't fulfill the tremendous promise of the first record. And now another five years later, we have "III: Over The Under", which once again fails to truly capture the electricity and magic of that now-so-distant debut, although it has its moments on songs like "Path".

It's possible that the long periods of inactivity simply stop the band from progressing naturally as they would if making a record every year or two, but it also seems like the group is just not playing or writing at the top of its game here. Opening number "3 Suns and 1 Star" has the classic combo of doom-laden riffing and uptempo rhythms that made the pairing of PANTERA's Philip Anselmo and COC guitarist Pepper Keenan such a natural fit. But whereas tracks like "Lifer" were at once heavy and catchy (like the best of its members' other groups), many of the songs on "III" are drawn-out and unmemorable, consisting mainly of one or two riffs repeated over and over while Anselmo's vocals cascade and echo on top. It's certainly heavy, but it often sounds too droning and lacks the real power and killer songs that this collective has been capable of in the past.

As for Anselmo, his past struggles with drug addiction and severe back problems (necessitating surgery and further complicating his health) are well-documented and, as anyone can see from watching an interview, have taken a toll. We can't see if they've also damaged Anselmo's ability to sing, but the truth is that on "III" he sounds weaker than ever before, his trademark roar much diminished. The guy sometimes sounds like he needs a shot of oxygen to push a line of the song across. While critical of his performance, we can only hope that Philip will build his health and strength all the way back to what they were in his prime, when he was one of the most fearsome and ferocious vocalists in metal.

There are flashes of the old DOWN on tracks like "In The Thrall of It All", while Keenan and fellow axeman Kirk Windstein add a lot of tasty, subtle side stuff to every song, even if the main riff tends to get monotonous. Meanwhile, closer "Nothing in Return" has the mournful, massive feel of some of the band's best early numbers and ends the album on a majestic note. For the most part, however, "III" is a frequently unsatisfying effort from a band whose legend has outdistanced its music.

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