Rejoice, fans of the riff, for the second of Down's four planned EPs is the best thing they have released in a number of years.
Down IV Part 2 strikes pretty much the perfect balance between the direct, aggressive style of historical favourites like Ghosts Along the Mississippi and Lifer, and the sludgy epics like Bury Me In Smoke that the New Orleans heavyweights are equally famous for. Of the EP's 6 tracks, basically 3 fall into the former camp and 3 into the latter.
Opener Steeple certainly sets the tone, with a particularly evil-sounding howl from the legendary Phil Anselmo over a particularly evil-sounding riff. Down were always clearly big Black Sabbath fans - the doom metal influence is just a little more obvious this time around. The track does a great job of tempo-shifting between doomy heaviness and some faster riffs to keep it interesting.
Next comes one of the great one-two punches in Down history. Firstly, We Knew Him Well, which launches into what might the most potent riff Down have ever written while Anselmo delivers a biting and occasionally indecipherable vocal performance (but you'll still pick out the best lines, like "Distrust the honest!"). Down have written plenty of headbangers in their time and this is one of the best. Better yet, it's followed up with Hogshead / Dogshead, which is every bit as good. This one has Pepper Keenan's fingerprints all over it from the word go - it's more than a little reminiscent of some of the great Keenan-era Corrosion of Conformity material (particularly Wiseblood) particularly in terms of the guitar work and the lead / rhythm guitar interplay. Having said that, as a straight-up band effort this is an awesome performance - bass and rhythm guitar blend seamlessly on the riff, while Pepper shreds some great solos and Jimmy Bower absolutely kills it on the drums throughout.
After that double blow, Conjure slows things down with 8 minutes of fairly overt - but very good - Sabbath worship. The sludge is strong on this heavy, atmospheric number and the guitar work gives it a real edge. Keenan, in my opinion, continues to be one of the most under-rated guitarists on the hard rock and metal scene and his combination with new band member / former stage manager Bobby Landgraf (who replaced Kirk Windstein) is pretty much seamless.
Sufferer's Years is the last of the faster tracks and although Keenan and Landgraf do another stellar double-act here and Bower pummels the cymbals into oblivion, this is probably Anselmo's best moment on the record as he alternates between his powerful mid-range sound and snarly upper-range.
Bacchanalia is a pretty apt way to round things out with a bang. At almost 9 minutes it seamlessly winds its way through a lot of the sounds found throughout the album - doom, sludge and straight-up riffs - before closing with an acoustic outro reminiscent of Jail or Pray for the Locust.
Down have provided six tracks of sheer, undiluted quality on this EP, and frankly it's a stunning example of why more bands might like to consider this approach to recording music. Excellent stuff.