Down puts a Southern spin on power metal

“We don’t like to talk about that” says Down drummer Jimmy Bower when asked about the disaster that struck the band’s hometown of New Orleans not so long ago. While living in a so-called post-Katrina state has darkened the band’s view of the future it hasn’t dimmed the metal supergroup’s determination to continue pumping out Southern-tinged hardcore music of the highest calibre.

“It hasn’t always been easy” says Bower formerly of the sludge metal outfit EyeHateGod. “In fact we’re about to release a live DVD of a tour we did in Europe back when we had absolutely no promotion and no label to speak of yet we sold out every show. Now that’s gotta tell you something. We’ve worked really hard. We edited it down and filled in some footage; I think it came out really really well. Looking back at those shows it’s surreal to see how we’ve gotten better over time.”

With 18 years of experience melding aspects of rock blues and metal on a series of groundbreaking releases such as 1995’s NOLA 2002’s Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow and 2003’s Down III: Over the Under Down is surprisingly eager to conquer new vistas. Finding solace in the heartbeat behind the music this amicable amalgam of industry stalwarts including vocalist Phil Anselmo (Pantera) guitarists Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) and Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and bassist Rex Brown loves to show off its musical roots. Mining its heritage for cultural gems has become one of the band’s biggest passions; faced with an onslaught of up-and-coming hardcore acts that amount to what he describes as “cookie cutter paint-by-numbers wastes of recording contracts” Bowers prefers to focus on authenticity and originality.

“I try to put a lot of blues in whatever I do” the drummer says of his down-home influences. “Getting behind the beat is the key to playing the blues. I think I learned it from watching Mardi Gras bands. It’s a signature that all the grind bands use; you’ve got to hit it at the last possible moment. The last chance man. You’ve got to be really laid-back like you’ve already had three or four beers and barely nailed it. If any metal band was ever a blues band it’s Down. We love playing with different jams and dynamics and putting metal into unlikely situations. That’s what Crowbar and EyeHateGod were all about. They all bite their strings. They’re all southern metal. But north or south it doesn’t matter as long as it’s got its ass in that groove.”

Famous for infusing mammoth metal riffs with swampy born-on-the-bayou sentiments Down has long stood apart from its black-clad brethren. Then again Down isn’t your typical metal band. Wearing its New Orleans roots with pride despite being long overlooked by a local music scene that is more inclined to celebrate its mainstream artists the band has weathered real hurricanes and emerged all the stronger for it.

“I think we’re a lot smoother than before” Bower says while tamping his hand-rolled cigarettes loudly. “The last four years have seen a lot of drama but we’ve put our misfortunes behind us because we knew it was time to get back out there. We’re turning people who are already familiar with our style of music on to different stuff while at the same time introducing the classic forms to a new generation. It’s important to me to go back and study the roots of metal and the blues and to become enlightened about the great players of the past. For the cost of a Rock Band video game you could buy a guitar or bass or a small drum set. I’m self-taught. I just listened to the records and tried to go figure it out. No coloured lights. No dots.”