The 2013 Arsies: January 7, 2013

January 7, 2013

In a classic sludge battle of North versus South, Massachusetts-based Old Man Gloom brings their brand of Northern aggression to bear against New Orleans-based Down.
Let's get started with Down's latest release, the lengthy Down IV Part I – The Purple EP. Right away, it's a mark of class that the band calls the release an EP, even though it's a full minute longer than ETID's Ex Lives. Also right away (midway through the first track Levitation, in fact), Phil Anselmo's vocals cause a bit of a problem. It's not that he's doing anything unexpected — no one is better at being Phil Anselmo than Phil Anselmo — but for some reason his vocals sound particularly ill-fitting and conspicuous from the beginning. The balance works better on the second track, Witchtripper, and by the third track (Open Coffins), his vocals go from breaking the album to making the album. The resulting Down IV is a humble, gritty, neoclassical rocker.
Not to be easily bested, Old Man Gloom fires back with NO, a jarring and stubborn beast of a record. This album is a clear manifestation of all of its obvious constituent parts, with touches of Isis, Converge, All Pigs Must Die, and Cave In evident throughout. It's also goes beyond those elements, especially with regards to the sonic sculptures interspersed between and within the songs. That's when NO starts to sound more like Fantomas or Meshuggah at their most experimental. The atonal soundsmithing is also part of what makes the album such a tough listen, especially in conjunction with the relative shapelessness of the actual songs themselves. I'd argue that NO ultimately suffers for its defects more than Down IV does.
But I'd also argue that Old Man Gloom hits a higher benchmark in Common Species than Down does in Witchtripper. The fact is, NO is slightly more memorable and engrossing an album. So, congrats to Old Man Gloom! In three weeks, they'll have to take on the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. In the meantime, let's put Chimp Spanner against Vision Of Disorder tomorrow. Oh yeah.

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