Down - _III: Over the Under_
(Warner Brothers, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (7.5 out of 10)
I've been a little tardy in getting this puppy reviewed, primarily because I have this feeling in my gut that high profile releases such as _Over the Under_ deserve an extensive, in depth analysis, and in truth the whole thing has me feeling pretty nonplussed. It's not a bad record by any means, just extremely similar to _Down II_, both in terms of its strengths and weaknesses and also its general failure to scale the dramatic heights of the band's debut.

Fans who complain that Phil Anselmo never actually sings anymore will thoroughly enjoy "I Scream", which ironically has the man doing just about the least amount of screaming and the most actual singing as anything on the album. Phil's voice has developed a bit of a torn up rasp over the years, not so much a character building one as one that has merely weakened his pipes, but he's still able to wring as much pathos and melody out of his instrument as ever, so one is less inclined to judge harshly his compromised tools. "On March the Saints" similarly features the old _Cowboys From Hell_ wailing, while the rest of the album is pretty closely aligned to the type of soulful growling pioneered on _NOLA_.

If there's one thing that disappoints it's the effortless unoriginality of the riffs and grooves throughout, all professionally composed and performed, but almost to a fault. A further hindrance is the rather muddy drum sound. All in all, there's very little experimental or eclectic here, just a collection of catchy southern rock-infused tunes, 90% of which are all great mix tape fodder (almost interchangeably so), but lined up end to end in an hour long barrage they begin to lose momentum and fizzle out... especially when you get to out and out dreck like "Pyllamid", as clumsy and forced in its instrumentation as it is completely wrongheaded in its lyrics (ostensibly an analogy between a prescription pill addict and the slaves who built the pyramids).

There are really only two diversions from the mid-paced rock anthems that litter the album, the first of which -- "His Majesty the Desert" -- is a haunting, Ry Cooder (a la the _Paris, Texas_ soundtrack) ambient blues ballad that can best be summed up as a cross between Corrosion of Conformity's "Shallow Ground" and Pantera's rendition of "Planet Caravan". At 2:28, however, it's a mere trifle in the hour-plus scheme of things.

That leaves the nearly nine minute "Nothing in Return (Walk Away)" as the hands down highlight of the album, though inconveniently crammed on at the very end, far beyond the point where most listeners will have gotten bored and tuned out. It begins with cavernous single note guitar patterns similar to "His Majesty the Desert", although with the greater blues subtext and lack of desert imagery it reminds one of Mark Knopfler circa _Brothers in Arms_ more so than Ry Cooder. The song is structured pretty much free-form, with vocals coming in at odd times -- basically whenever it feels right between the blues patterns -- and takes fully half of the song to finally morph into something recognizably Down. It does so with those catchy stretched out vocal melodies Anselmo does so well, but here sounding more epic and involving, and just when we're getting comfortable the track cycles back into avant garde turf again, finally wrapping it up with a repeated refrain of the chorus lining the background and Anselmo improvising over the top. Masterful. Of course, I'd like to have been able to say that about the entire album.


(article published 31/12/2007)

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