Having struck gold with the release of their classic debut album NOLA in 1995, the various members of Down quickly returned to their various day jobs and it seemed, for a long time, if that was all we were going to get.
Then, in 2001, word began to leak out of New Orleans that the band had regrouped, with Pantera’s Rex Brown joining the ranks on bass. Hopes were high, expectations were higher, and perhaps inevitably, a backlash occurred on release of Down II: a Bustle In Your Hedegrow. The resulting reviews – primarily from the US as the UK actually revelled in Down’s return – were not good, some were scathing, others apathetic and the majority of responses were unexpectedly negative.
But did Down’s sophomore effort actually deserve such derision from some quarters? Fifteen years after it was released, Worship Metal asks…..is it time to cut Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow some serious slack?
Recorded in 28 days in a barn at Phil Anselmos Louisiana home, the sessions remain renowned for being heavily drug fuelled, with Phil Anselmo having again fallen victim to heroin addiction. Regardless, Down II A Bustle In Your Hedgerow proved to be a more varied and almost bluesy based album when compared to the metallic bombast of their debut….but perhaps that’s why it’s not looked upon quite as fondly as the rest of their output?
All seemed well when “Lysegick Funeral Procession” kicked the album off with a sludgy ominous feel. Anselmo’s lyrics referenced the horror of the addiction he once again found himself caught up in – a theme he would return to on nearly every song on the album – and overall, while not the most immediate opening track, this was not a bad way to kick off the album.
The lone sound of Jimmy Bowers’ drums and Rex Brown’s bass slapping you in the chops ushered in “There’s Something On My Side” and proved to be one of the many ‘high points’ – pun most definitely intended – on the album. Locking into a titanic groove for the final part of the song, Down were back and doing what they do best….which was top quality NOLA inspired metal!
So far, so good!
“The Man That Follows Hell” was another solid slab of straight up metal. Not one of the greatest songs on the album but not a disaster either. Again, Anselmo’s lyrics referenced his drug addictions – alongside various other problems – and Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow was still delivering one hell of a trip!
Easing down after a rather bullish start, “Stained Glass Cross” introduced a more languid style before a whopper of a sing-a-long chorus proved that Down were no mere one trick ponies. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but, so far, Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow is definitely a better listen than many of its detractors would have you believe!
“Ghosts Along The Mississippi” was another bluesy ode to heroin, with Anselmo clearly acknowledging the depths of his addiction with lines such as “I’m dying prematurely, I’m wasting my life for sure”. However, a faint glimmer of hope remained as he intones “Destroying what’s got hold of me, no more the ghost of Mississippi”. A great tune and one that usually makes their setlist, which leads us nicely to….
“Learn From This Mistake”, in which Down fully embraced the blues of their home town while delivering their own spin on it. The guitars of Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein displayed an easy, laid back feel throughout the song, while once again, Anselmos lyrics were another naked confessional. Heavy without having to resort to power chords, this song reads like a last warning from Anselmo. Harrowing stuff.
Refusing to be bogged down in suffocating self pity, “Beautifully Depressed” found the band picking up the tempo once again with this straight forward rocker. After a raft of slower tunes, its position is warranted but while catchy enough, this was Down by numbers. “Where I’m Going” completely changed pace once again, stripping down to just Phil’s vocals and a lone dobro guitar courtesy of Pepper Keenan. In fact, Keenan’s signature sound is writ large all over this great song and it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Corrosion of Conformity’s criminally underrated America’s Volume Dealers. Again, the lryics portray Anselmo as a deeply troubled person reaching rock bottom, but this is Down at their absolute best.
“New Orleans Is A Dying Whore” found the band at their heaviest, with the opening riff delivering pure NOLA sludge, no surprises there considering Crowbar mastermind Kirk Windstein is in the band. This is exactly the type of tune that made people fall in love with Down in the first place, and when coupled with Anselmo’s raw delivery, it’s sure to shake the fillings from your teeth. Simply monstrous.
“The Seed”, ushered in by Anselmo intoning “the power of the riff compels thee”, was then an ode to cannabis carried along by some scorching guitar work from Keenan and Windstein. The titanic groove is held in place by some sterling work from Rex Brown and sees the band approaching the end of the album at full throttle.
However, full throttle is not how this album ends and instead, “Lies, I Don’t Know What They Say But…” was another woozy number that took its sweet time to get going but did find the group stretching themselves and experimenting with new ideas.
“Dog Tired” followed and was aptly named. Hardly essential, it was all bluster with some decent guitar work but again hardly classic Down and easily bypassed.
Fortunately, “Landing On The Mountains Of Meggido” then brought the album to an epic close. Fully acoustic and obviously inspired by the likes of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”, this crazy trip set to music is carried by the lazy delivery of Anselmo’s vocals, and backed up beautifully by his then wife Stephanie Opal Weinstein. A very strong track and fitting closing statement that leaves the listener wishing for a full album release of music just like this!
There are of course two instrumentals “Doobie Interlude” and “Flambeaux’s Jamming With St Aug”, both written by drummer Jimmy Bower, but they’re both pish and the less said about them the better.
So, is Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow worth some of the abuse it gets?
The answer is a resounding, no fucking way!
It is sprawling and definitely has more than a few moments where the quality dips but musically, Down were at their very best here. Far from being the weak link in Down’s discography, we’d go as far as to say Down II: a Bustle In Your Hedgerow is the jewel in their crown.
Consider this slack well and truly cut!