Led by Pantera growler Phil Anselmo, who has most often functioned as a kind of Southern-fried Henry Rollins in his main outfit, Down are a collection of 1990s metal vets whose ranks also include members of Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Eyehategod. The group first got together to jam on some Black Sabbath-styled riffola back in 1995, when they released their eponymous debut. It quickly became a mainstay of the nascent "stoner rock" genre, which emulates the feel and sound of pre-punk, 1970s hard rock and heavy metal (which, when you think about it, could just about all be called "stoner rock").
As indicated by the subtitle of their follow-up which quotes from Led Zeppelin's megahit "Stairway to Heaven the song indeed remains the same on their sophomore effort.
And a very good song it is. At their best, Down prove that the punk aesthetic, which denigrated all that came before it and which still holds a great deal of sway among critics today didn't tell the whole story. Anselmo has taken heat in the past for his defense of po' white trash and working-class whites ironically, probably from many of the same critics who are "down" with hip-hop and punk, both of which, in their North American versions, undeniably feature some musicians from the underclass, but have large constituencies among disaffected middle-class whites and college-boy rock-critic types (in the case of punk, helped along by Malcolm McLaren's misleading if successfully sly gloss of Situationist politics for that tres chic political appeal).
It can be argued that what Down traffic in is actually the real working-class, beer- and acid-fueled rock, the four-on-the floor riffs of 1970s highway stars like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and especially Black Sabbath. Down II draws on these in songs like "Lysergik Funeral Procession," which evokes the Sabs' psychedelic grunge circa Paranoid, and "Landing on the Mountains of Meggido," which emulates the "Over the Hills and Far Away" melodic folk-metal of Zeppelin.
Especially impressive here is Anselmo's continued evolution as a vocalist; the macho bark of his work in Pantera is often absent or muted in favor of a whiskey-voiced, bluesy approach. This allows the singer to confidently strut through highlights like the slow-burning lament "Learn From This Mistake," which lyrically deals with his past heroin problems ("There's no junkie out there with a happy ending") while musically evoking Steppenwolf's "The Pusher," and the jazzy (!) "Lies, I Don't Know What They Say, But...."
The band's Southern roots also shine through on tracks like the catchy "Stained Glass Cross," which conjures the funky side of Lynyrd Skynryd and the Winter Brothers, and "Where I'm Going," which features some tasty acoustic slide guitar.
Overall, an album to make you re-evaluate the direction rock music has headed in since the mid-1970s. Break out the beer, slap some ribs on the grill, and get down with Down, y'all.