Ahhh. The one that started it all.
Nola actually accomplished three different things.
So many legends surround the formation of Down and the creation of Nola. The band truly serves as a fine example of the overused term, "supergroup" - but they really are. This was especially true of the time period that Nola was released in 1995.
Down was formed by New Orleans-raised men who were experiencing major breakthroughs in other bands. It's been said that the band name "Down" was selected for "down-time," as in "we'll get together and jam on our down time." Maybe the name came from the location. Maybe the gloriously depressing sludge metal that came from The Big Easy. Maybe just because it's a bad ass name.
Comprised of heavy metal royalty, Down's lineup consisted of, (and mostly still does): Pantera's Phillip H. Anselmo on vocals, Corrosion of Conformity's Pepper Keenan on guitar, Crowbar's Kirk Windstein on guitar, Eyehategod's Jimmy Bower on drums, and Crowbar's Todd Strange on bass.
Nola's origins involve the now-mostly-dead practice of tape trading. Anselmo and Keenan are both known to distribute rough demos of early Down songs via tape to their buddies on the road without letting on that they were in the band. Word spread. The music and specifically the riffs stood out, even on rough recordings.
Many of Nola's tracks were written and demoed between 1991 and 1993. Pantera was on top of the world with consecutive powerhouse albums "Cowboys From Hell," "Vulgar Display of Power," and 1994's "Far Behind Driven," which topped the Billboard chart on release. Anselmo was the king of metal vocalists at the time.
Keenan was fresh off of C.O.C.'s brilliant "Blind" album and in the process of taking over vocalist duties, and keeping guitarist duties, for Corrosion's genre-bending "Deliverance" record, which was released in 1994. Crowbar and EHG were equally carving a niche in heavy music circles as well.
All that said...none of these guys needed Down. They wanted it.
Eventually, Nola was properly recorded with the backing of a major label and was unleashed upon the world in 1995. With all that buildup, you'd think that everybody knew about it, bought it and a major tour followed, etc. Not really. Like the earworm of a record that Nola is, it took a little time to become legendary.
By mentioning the "beginning of the end for Pantera" - this is a reference to the future 90's and early 00's pattern of Anselmo. He started to get a taste of life outside of the Pantera/Abbott Brothers machine, and got a taste of some other things as well. We know how this turned out, and we'd all give anything to reverse that history.
By mentioning that Nola served as inspiration for this brand...it should appear somewhat obvious. We're here to celebrate the riff, and no album in the history of metal has packaged the power of the riff - start to finish to reprise - quite like Nola.
I bought Nola on cassette, days after it came out, from a tiny independent record store in Coos Bay, Oregon. I was a junior college student and that $9.99 was a leap of faith. I giggled a little at the "Joint Smoking Jesus" on the cassette cover (back cover on CD) and popped it into the tape player on my '88 Nissan Hardbody dad-cab 2x4 250K mile party vessel and let the opening track "Temptation Wings" fly.
The tape didn't leave the deck, except for side switching, for months.
Nola was different than Pantera, which was what my brain and ears were comparing it to at the time. The groove was there, the power was there, and Phil's voice has never been better - before or after - in my opinion, but it was a little bit less angry and abrasive than Pantera. It was a little bit sad. A little bit dark. A little bit....down. All of this is good, and it makes Nola a timeless album aging it much better than say, "A Vulgar Display of Power" - with zero offense intended.
Start to finish, Down's Nola is the result of musicians coming together at just the right time, with just the right amount of substances ingested, and with the right atmosphere to create brilliance. I would only change one thing, and that would be to switch "Temptations Wings" and "Eyes of the South" in the track listing order. Listen that way, and I think you'll agree.
Backstory complete. On to the "review."
Released in 1995, "Nola" is the monumental debut album by the American supergroup Down, featuring members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Eyehategod. This iconic record is a testament to the raw power of Southern sludge metal, combining crushing riffs, soulful melodies, and a distinct New Orleans flavor.
The track listing of "Nola" is a sonic journey through the swamps of the South, immersing listeners in a thick wall of heavy, groovy, and blues-infused metal. From the thunderous opening track, "Temptations Wings," to the anthemic closer, "Bury Me in Smoke," the album relentlessly delivers bone-crushing riffs, powerful vocals, and infectious hooks that resonate with an unparalleled intensity.
The guitar work on "Nola" is nothing short of exceptional. Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein, renowned guitarists in their own right, weave a tapestry of massive riffs and searing solos that evoke a sense of heaviness and darkness. Whether it's the mammoth riffs of "Lifer" and "Stone the Crow" or the haunting melodies of "Eyes of the South," the guitar work is relentless, showcasing a perfect balance between raw aggression and melodic sensibility.
The chemistry between Keenan and Windstein is palpable, with their guitar interplay creating a dense and layered sound. The harmonized sections, intricate rhythms, and powerful chord progressions result in an unmistakable and timeless sonic experience. The guitar tone is thick and gritty, capturing the essence of Southern sludge metal, while the dynamic range allows the intricate details of the performances to shine through.
The songwriting on "Nola" is top-notch, with each track standing out in its own right. The album seamlessly transitions between moments of unbridled fury and introspective melancholy, showcasing the band's ability to evoke a wide range of emotions. Phil Anselmo's commanding vocals add an extra layer of intensity and depth to the songs, complementing the guitar work with his signature blend of aggression and vulnerability.
The production on "Nola" perfectly captures the raw energy and essence of Down's sound. The guitars have a thick and meaty tone, the drums thunder with power, and the bass provides a solid foundation that anchors the heaviness. The album has a gritty and organic quality that enhances the overall experience, giving it a timeless and authentic feel.
In conclusion, "Nola" is a seminal masterpiece that solidified Down's place in the annals of heavy metal. The guitar work, with its crushing riffs, soulful melodies, and remarkable chemistry, is a driving force behind the album's success. With its Southern flavor, dynamic songwriting, and powerful performances, "Nola" remains a pinnacle of Southern sludge metal and a must-listen for fans of heavy music.