Phil Anselmo + the Unbearable Heaviness of Down
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because heavy is as heavy does.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Catching the 45-year-old Phil Anselmo 60 minutes outside of Fort Worth, Texas, is a shocking bit of luck, since it’s taken about 60 tries just to get ahold of him.
Not because he’s any kind of rock star inaccessible — though he’s most assuredly a rock star — but because the man’s in motion. Which is to say that if the saying about idle hands being the devil’s playground is even halfway true, Anselmo is seeing to it that it’s the devil’s hands that stay idle.
…a mid-tempo, rumbling, Southern-inflected piece of perfect nastiness.
“Right now we’re playing the last show of the tour,” Anselmo’s gravelly voice barked into the phone about his recent three-week stretch on the road with metal supergroup Down. It was the voice that voiced much of what the heavy metal of the past two decades should have sounded like, a voice that manages aggro as well as mainstream, a voice that comes from a place of what always feels like brutal honesty.
“A few weeks off, since some of us actually do like sleeping in our beds for a bit. Then back on the road for three weeks with The Illegals [Anselmo’s other band], a few weeks off, and back to Europe all through August.”
For those less savvy about heavy metal logistics, that breaks down to three or four shows in a row, one day off and then back at it again. Complete with driving and driving and driving, and loading, and a dozen parts need to all work perfectly together to bring to the world a brand of metal that’s always been described as uncompromising.
Which is what Down’s detuned monster riffage sounds like: a crushing rhythm section, a guitar that draws blood and more lyrical preoccupations with the business end of crucial than you can shake a baseball bat at.
If you could distill a beating into some sort of musical format, this would probably be it.
— Scott Kelly, Neurosis founder/guitarist
And uncompromising is precisely what Down has singularly been, ever since Anselmo assembled the band in 1991, drawing from a handful of like-minded bands that fully appreciated the crush-kill-destroy ethos that Anselmo had traded in since his days as lead singer of Pantera, thanks in no small part to the hard-ass Anselmo himself. Pantera tragedy aside.
And the sound of uncompromising?
With Patrick Bruders from Crowbar on bass, Jimmy Bower from Eyehategod on drums, Pepper Keenan from Corrosion of Conformity on guitar and, in a great rock ’n’ roll fantasy moment, Bobby Landgraf — the guitar tech for the recently departed Kirk Windstein — on guitars, and of course with Anselmo on vocals and guitars, the music of Down adds up to a mid-tempo, rumbling, Southern-inflected piece of perfect nastiness. And on their just-released Down IV – Part II, their second EP (they also have three full studio albums), all of that nastiness is brought to bear in just over half an hour of musical muscle.
“If you could distill a beating into some sort of musical format,” said Neurosis founder and guitar player Scott Kelly, “this would probably be it.”
Skipping the beating and getting straight to the sound of heavy?
Why, of course.
“The South is in our bones,” New Orleans-born-and-bred Anselmo says. “And our music. And it’s no understatement to say that how we understand the world and what comes out in our music is going to be just as dark and heavy as it fucking can be.”
And because we’re such unmitigated fans, here’s a little something live for good measure.