NEW YORK When a "supergroup" finds success, it often leads to rumblings about whether the bandmembers are going to leave their bread-and-butter outfits to focus on their new baby. Especially when the musicians start griping.
For example, during recent interviews about their side project Down, Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown have been questioning the longevity of Pantera and confirming that the band is on shore leave.
"With the last record, we were kind of like, 'That's the best we can f---in' get it. What are we gonna do now?' " Brown said, relaxing in a deluxe hotel suite in Midtown Manhattan. "If you can't go any further, you can't go any further. And then you just burn yourself out and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when it's all said and done."
He cracked open a bottle of Jim Beam, poured some in a glass filled with ice and continued. "It's hard enough the four of us from Pantera getting in the same room. Phil lives down in New Orleans, we're all from Texas. And getting everybody on the level keel to say, 'Well, are you ready to do one now? Y'all got any riffs?' That's a tough one. Sometimes you gotta take time to sit back and recharge the batteries. And it's gonna take us awhile to do it."
However, in a statement issued by Pantera's label, Anselmo said Pantera are still very much together and will record a new record this year. He added that he cherishes the ability to work with both bands and that he's excited about Down's second disc, Down II, due March 26.
The album takes the murky Black Sabbath-influenced sludge rock formula of the group's 1995 record, NOLA, to a higher level of doom-laden craftsmanship. The first single from the album, "Beautifully Depressed," is a tumbling, trippy bout of fisticuffs that surges with rhythmic groove. While the track abounds with mind-bending guitars courtesy of Corrosion of Conformity's Pepper Keenan and Crowbar's Kirk Windstein, it's Anselmo's surprisingly melodic vocals that are the most arresting thing about the track.
"He sang like a f---in' lark," said Keenan, who grew up with Anselmo in New Orleans. "I haven't heard him sing like that since he was 16 years old. I didn't think he could do it."
"We had done a lot of the music, but not the lyrics. We took a break for Thanksgiving, and I came back and the guys went, 'Hey man, listen to the vocals,' " recalled Brown. "And I went, 'You all are f---in' with me. C'mon.' But they weren't."
For Anselmo, Down provides an opportunity to spread his wings and break through the barriers he confronted with Pantera.
"Pantera is very, very mechanical," he said. "It's very guitar-chop-oriented with heavy drums and some vocals. I'm not gonna bite the hand that fed me for years and still feeds me, I'm just saying that with Pantera the attitude is definitely all-out heavy metal and nothing else. With this, I wanted to add within the hooks some melody here and there just because I was a little tired of screaming over everything."
From the first dissonant opening notes of Down II to the last atmospheric fadeout, the album progresses like a journey, evolving in a way not dissimilar to the band's childhood favorite Led Zeppelin.
"Those guys were always known for their extravagance," said drummer Jimmy Bower, who also plays in Eyehategod. "There was always a mystical vibe to their records. For this one we wanted a strange vibe too, but instead of being proper English guys, we're a bunch of f---in' coon-asses from New Orleans, so we're just doing it our way."