The Listener: NOLA

NOLA, by Down. Elektra. 1995.

Though my reading habit has just about ground to a halt (right in the middle of a very good book, which I really need to finish), I have been listening to some good music. Including Down’s 1995 debut album, NOLA.

NOLA is a gem given to me by Zee German, who has raved about Down for years. Lead singer Phil Anselmo is best known as the vocalist and songwriter for Pantera, another favorite of Zee German, so NOLA is an obvious complement to the two Pantera albums he had already given me, Far Beyond Driven and Vulgar Display of Power.

I have been craving “hard shit” lately. Though NOLA is not Trap Them hard, it is still heavy, powerful metal that is not only very reminiscent of Pantera (of course) but also features influences of blues and grunge.

NOLA is a product of the deep south. Anselmo, Pepper Keenan, Jimmy Bowers, and Kirk Windstein all have roots in New Orleans and the southern flavor of The Big Easy is evident on NOLA — which, I assume, is why the album features the city’s popular nickname and abbreviation. It is folksy and twangy in that southern rock tradition and also has a heavy blues influence. One of the genre classifications on the album’s Wikipedia page is “sludge metal” and that label fits NOLA perfectly. (There is a dizzying array of musical subgenre labels on Wikipedia. Classifying albums and bands is almost like describing the aroma and flavor of beer.) Though aggressive and angry at times, it is deep, heavy, slow, and atmospheric — very much like heavy metal mired in sludge. In that sense it is somewhat grungy and melodically melancholic.

Though it has been a while since I listened to my Pantera albums, I honestly think I like NOLA more. I love how hard Pantera is — it seems like perfect music for operating heavy machinery — but the band’s pace is often frustrating. It is too fast to be slow but too slow to be fast. Though Zee German thinks Pantera is perfect for working out, I prefer something with far more BPMs. (I suppose Pantera is good for kickboxing — it is definitely something that stokes aggression — but not for cycling or running.) Far Beyond Driven and Vulgar Display of Power are both harder and more aggressive than NOLA, but they are much less sludgy. NOLA’s pace is perfect for me — or at least it fits my current mood.

(Right now I am listening to Vulgar Display of Power again. It is truly “hard shit” and makes me think of farmers driving their combines late at night during harvest, cranking the radio to stay awake.)

I have only been listening to NOLA for the past few days but a couple songs have kept me coming back. “Lifer,” “Pillars of Eternity,” and “Losing All” are driving and powerful. “Bury Me In Smoke” is sludgy and hard while “Stone the Crow” is ideal golden hour music.

NOLA is a great addition to my music library and I look forward to listening to Down’s subsequent albums.

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