Friday, 24 December 2010

Down - IV: Diary of a Mad Band

(Originally written for Under City Lights / Rare FM)

Down is quite literally the result of squeezing Pantera, Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity together – both in personnel and sound. The result is a slow grooving, heavy bludgeoning of pure stoner metal. Their fourth album provides a rather faithful look in to the live Down experience, providing a chronological selection of cuts from their 2006 reunion tour. I say “faithful” because this is as raw as a live album comes; there are no studio touch-ups to be found here. Instead, we get treated to a fantastic array of sludging guitar riffs, pounding rhythm sections and the delightfully slurred vocals of Phil Anselmo. The flaws are audible through-out, particularly so in Phil’s voice which every once in a while goes horribly wrong (not in the least on the unbearably off-key ‘Planet Caravan’ wannabe, ‘Jail’). Equally, you can hear the guitars occasionally mess up (albeit, very rarely), providing the listener a real opportunity to listen to a band coming to grips with starting anew. It is rare that modern live albums sound genuinely live, especially so in the world of Pro-Tools abused metal, but Diary Of A Mad Band sees Down immerse you in gig the atmosphere as they storm through classics like ‘Lifer’ and ‘New Orleans Is A Dying Whore’. Even Phil’s ridiculous stage banter (which primarily entails indecipherable mumblings interjected by exclamations of “God-damn!” and “Bad-ASS!”) are kept fully intact. There are a few quieter moments, such as the melancholic ‘Learn From This Mistake’, but for the most part, things are heavy with that unmistakable Southern drawl.

If you’ve only heard Down in the studio and never had the opportunity to check them out live, this is the perfect solution. If, on the other hand, you have no idea who Down are, you could go a lot more wrong than picking this up. This is ballsy, Sabbath-inspired groove-metal through and through and is a testament to the band’s own integrity that they’re willing to commit their occasional flaws to record. It’s the kind of music that makes you want to shotgun some beers and punch a wall, but in a good way.

Alter Bridge - AB III

(Originally written for Under City Lights / Rare FM)

Alter Bridge’s third album, the logically titled AB III, sees the band inject some morose tonality in to their hard rock sound, presumably as a result of the apparently “dark” nature of the album’s concept. They indulge their more metallic side frequently, with opener ‘Slip In To The Void’ straddling a surprisingly well-executed line between groove-metal and melodic rock.

That’s not to say everything is blisteringly heavy - after all, this is Alter Bridge. Whilst the album doesn’t quite keep up with the intensity with which it starts, most of the songs are surprisingly hard hitting. ‘All Hope Is Gone’ is a slowed rocker with a bizarrely Celtic vibe, whereas album high-light, ‘Make It Right’, provides a mix of rock-balladry and Jimmy Page styled guitar twanging. Conversely, ‘Wonderful Life’ seems to be a generic ballad that falls a bit flat.

The band are clearly focussed on getting the balance between melody and heaviness just right, but this occasionally result in a split personality to tracks. ‘Ghost of the Days Gone By’ fleets between delicate verses and power-chord driven choruses before departing in to an almost Pantera-esque breakdown. Tracks such as ‘Isolation’ and ‘I Know It Hurts’ see Alter Bridge achieving their goal more succinctly, with the heavy riffage brilliantly juxtaposed by the soaring vocals of Myles Kennedy which serve to accentuate the melody behind the heaviness.

AB III is certainly quite a far cry from the band’s earlier material. I’ve always been rather on the fence about Alter Bridge, but AB III seems to cement the band as one worthy of attention. Whilst the album can drag on a bit, it primarily remains a prime example of strong, modern day rock and roll. At the very least, it’s deserves a good few listens from anyone who has ever wanted unfashionably long hair.