If the darkest corners of the New Orleans underground has an official sound, it is the gloriously bleak, punishing chug of Down.
Fronted by rejuvenated ex-Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, the Southern sludge metal supergroup crash-landed at House of Blues last night for a mesmerizing, headbanging celebration of vintage heavy metal.
Openers haarp and Warbeast – both of which are on Anselmo’s Housecore label – laid the foundation for the gargantuan slab of metal Down served up. Warbeast was monstrous, slashing and burning through a thrashy set that nodded to classic ’80s metal with precision and power. Anselmo himself sat by the speakers and took in the band’s set like a proud dad watching his kid win his first fist fight.
The muscular, tattooed frontman has certainly been to some dark places in his 20-plus metal career but he’s clearly in a good place these days. He’s fit, his deep, scarred voice is as, well, deep and scarred, as ever, and his band – which also includes Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein, Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan, Eyehategod drummer Jimmy Bower and ex-Goatwhore bassist Pat Bruders – is in top form.
All but Bruders have been with Anselmo since the band’s 1995 debut, “NOLA,” and it shows. It’s always risky putting together a so-called “supergroup,” but in this case, Anselmo found just the right mix of guys eager not only to jam with other like-minded dudes, but also dedicated to creating something wholly new and completely awesome.
“Witchtripper” and “Misfortune Teller” from the band’s new disc, “The Purple EP,” fit into the carnage seamlessly. Anselmo belted and barked out the dark lyrics to each like it was the NOLA tour. He and his cohorts grounded and pounded their way through a string of classics from their three full-lengths, including “Ghosts Along the Mississippi,” “Lysergic Funeral Procession,” and the pummeling “Pillars of Eternity.”
As he’s done for years, Anselmo dedicated the riff-fest “Lifer” to his slain ex-Pantera bandmate Dimebag Darrell. Keenan and Windstein laid into the song’s deep grooves like they were summoning demons in a fitting tribute to the fallen guitar deity.
The Sabbath-esque ceremony ended with a flawless run through “Stone the Crow” and a massive rendition of the dark anthem, “Bury Me in Smoke,” that included a jam with the guys from haarp and Warbeast. Anselmo whirled and thrashed in the midst of it all, surrounded by what he’s been surrounded by for the past two decades: heavy metal at its finest.