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Down – Diary of a Mad Band (DVD)

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Diary of a Mad Band (trailer)

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Down’s Diary of a Mad Band isn’t the most logical release: a self-released, three-disc extravaganza documenting the band before its third album. But while diehard fans may bemoan the lack of Down III material, the package is a good introduction to the band.

This is because it makes Down’s parts visible. They are formidable: vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown, both ex-Pantera; guitarists Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity); and drummer Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod). All stars in their own right, they coalesce remarkably tightly in Down. On record, they are essentially a heavy ’70s rock band with the guy from Pantera singing. (The underground analogue would be Goatsnake.) Live, they remain that, but their individual characters come out. If you can’t witness this live, watching Diary (its other two discs are CDs of a show in London) is the next best thing.

The DVD depicts Down on a six-week European tour in 2006. It culls footage from multiple shows, sometimes jarringly within the same song. It’s distracting to see Anselmo’s shirt suddenly change from red to black and back again, especially when the DVD bills itself as a ’70s-style, cinéma vérité concert film. In between the songs are interludes of road shenanigans, which mostly involve Anselmo drawling dramatically about not much. These are thankfully brief, and the insight this DVD provides comes from its main program.

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“Lysergic Funeral Procession” (live)

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Continuity issues – and Anselmo’s sometimes off-key voice – aside, the performances are delightful. It’s a treat to see each member do his thing. Bower is hard-hitting yet laidback, unfailingly smoking cigarettes during slow songs. Brown is likewise self-effacing, laying down flawless low end. He strikes the same poses that he did in Pantera, but his years are now showing. Keenan, aside from Anselmo, is the most rockstar-like member. As the lead guitarist, he cuts dramatic poses, flaunts a lively vibrato, and stands apart most of the time. Windstein, in contrast, is the prototypical rhythm guitarist, with his head down and precise picking. Anselmo, of course, is Anselmo: 1/3 profanity, 1/3 rabble-rousing, 1/3 soulful singing.

Even the crowd is interesting to watch. Yesterday’s Pantera fan is perhaps today’s Down fan. Down’s audience is hardly the typical long-haired metal horde. Short hair and big shoulders are in abundance – surprisingly so for Europe. It’s strange to see Confederate flags waving in the crowd at the UK’s Download Festival. Perhaps the redneck is a global species.

But that comes with the territory. Down are New Orleans’ metal ambassadors to the world. Their individual bands may be more edgy, but their collective star power is undeniable. At one point in the DVD, Anselmo says that he and the rest of the band are good for nothing else. They’re lifers; music is their calling. This DVD is ample proof.

— Cosmo Lee

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Amazon (2LP)
Amazon (2CD/DVD)
Down (3LP, 2CD/DVD, t-shirt/flag packages)

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