Nola was the debut album from Louisiana based heavy metal band, Down, released in September 1995. The title of the album comes from NO (New Orleans) and LA (Louisiana). Fronted by the living legend that is Phil Anselmo and backed by the likes of Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein on guitar, this super group, on paper, should kick ass. In real life, that sort of thing hardly ever works out though so does this side project take off or should the guys go back to their day jobs?
Well, I can honestly say it took until no more than around 15 seconds in to the first track for me to start realising this would be special. That excitement continues throughout and you just know by the end of the album that both Nola and this band have cracked it.
Down’s musical style is very much designed around their “ deep South, Louisiana” homeland and is bluesy , deep toned and sludgy in sound. You can quite clearly pick out influences like Black Sabbath on the record and the lyrical content of the album is dark themed but emotional and focuses on topics such as drugs, suicide and death. The vocals are less pure out and out aggression as found on a lot of Phil’s other work but there are plenty of screams and growls thrown into the mix along with plenty of softer more melodic singing. The album is chock full of riffs and guitar solos with a low bass and thumping drums all mixed together in an almost demo like sounding production style. All of this works perfectly together to make a great album so grab yourself a whiskey and settle down to the true sounds of the angry South.
The first of thirteen tracks is called Temptation’s Wings and is brilliant. It sets the tone of the album perfectly with low toned riffs building in the intro before the more melodic vocals join in. With a sing a long chorus and a mellow, slow guitar solo eventually building through to a more pacey and more shouted ending. Genius!
Track two, Lifer, has another intro made up of a brilliant riff before being joined by the sung vocals. It picks up in pace a little half way through while Phil screams “lifer” over the top of a repeating riff before breaking back down back into the intro riff. Catchy as hell.
Pillars of Eternity comes next and is one of the heavier tracks on the album. It starts with a short drum intro before the typically sludgy riff kicks in along with Phil’s more screamed vocals. There is a really short but catchy guitar solo about three minutes into the track which then continues on at the end of the song.
Track 4 is called Rehab and starts with softly sung vocals overclean guitars. Mixed with the odd shouted line and distorted guitar section, the song feels really smooth throughout.
Hail the Leaf is quite a short track at just 3 minutes and 30 seconds long. Another riff leads over a mix of shouts and singing. The drums are really at the forefront of this song, leading the beat through many pure head banging sections. The song ends with a vocals and guitar section that just has to be heard to be appreciated.
Underneath Everything is the 6th track on the album and while still maintaining that Southern metal pace, has Phil sounding at his angriest. His anger eventually fades out with 30 seconds left to be replaced by some clean fingerpicking acoustic guitar.
Eyes of the South is next and sounds like a jam session with dual guitars doodling along until it suddenly forms the main riff and Phil comes in with a “God Damn”. Awesome intro followed by a heavy verse and chorus combination that suddenly drops back into a slow and beautiful solo which has Phil singing over it beautifully. Wonderful song.
Jail is next and, other than some short hushed vocals, is an instrumental which is reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan. Emotional, haunting, gloomy and magnificent.
Losing All is the 9th track on the album and is a change of pace to the previous track. Faster drums, shorter riffs and an angry chorus that contains the line, “My wrists are slit, I’m losing all”. Great metal song.
Stone the Crow is next and, on an album of many great intros, has my favourite. With a clean picked guitar and bass being joined by vocals and drums, it builds and builds until Phil sings/ shouts, “I’ve never died before” before breaking back down into the clean picked instrumental. The pattern continues, throw in a lengthy guitar solo and a heavier and faster pace to the ending and you have a masterpiece of a track.
Pray for the Locust is the second instrumental on the album although is much shorter than the first being just over a minute long. Some intricate guitar notes over a haunting rhythm makes a nice interlude but it is more of a build-up song to lead into the next track.
Swan Song starts with a heavy riff peppered with little guitar doodles and gets progressively slower and sludgier over the course of the track. Vocals get raspier as the song slows down as well which adds a lot to the track.
Finally, Bury Me in Smoke starts. It is the longest song on the album at just over 7 minutes long and is epic in every sense of the word. With a slide intro and a chugging riff that will have your head moving through the verse and a chorus that you just have to sing along to and then back to the head banging again. The riff picks up pace about half way through and is accompanied by a guitar solo and some screams. The final few minutes of the track continue with the faster paced riff leaving Southern Metal stamped firmly on your mind. The riff fades out near the end and then fades back in for a short final burst before fading back out again.
Considering it was released as a side project, this album stands tall as an absolute masterpiece. It shows a different side to many of the band members and is littered with hits. I can’t believe it has been almost 19 years since it was released but, to prove how good it is. I can honestly say it still gets regular playtime today. Fantastic album from a fantastic band.
Down – Nola (East West Records)