In the mid 1990’s, Pantera frontman Philip Anselmo was just starting to dabble in side projects. He started with Christ Inversion in 1994, and later continued on to Down and Superjoint Ritual (among other bands). Christ Inversion didn’t last long, so no one really expected much from Phil’s other projects. And surely no fan expected Down’s 1995 debut to be so good. Down was clearly onto something with this album, and they didn’t become so famous just because Anselmo fronted the group. “Nola” (which is an abbreviation for New Orleans, Louisiana) is about as good as or better than anything the band members had made before. Even though the members of Down came from Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and Eyehategod, “Nola,” sounds like a mix of Pantera and Black Sabbath, with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern influence. This is a bludgeoning album which is overflowing with thick, hefty, doom-influenced riffs, solos, and crunching rhythms. Plus, Phil’s wailing yells sound perfect against the dark, meaty sounding music, helping to give this album a “timeless” feel. Phil’s vocal style is pretty much the same, here, as on any Pantera record, but it’s an impressive performance nonetheless. His vocals couldn’t be more full of emotion; he yells, growls, howls, yelps, bellows, and songs like “Rehab” show he can even sing/croon a little. Plus, I enjoy how Phil builds from a grunt to a scream on some tracks (like the very Sabbath-y door opener, “Temptation’s Wings”). “Lifer,” “Pillars of Eternity,” and “Hail The Leaf,” which are very catchy songs with churning guitars, the fiery riffs on “Losing All,” the tortured, Crowbar-esque “Swan Song,” and the punching, grinding album closer (“Bury Me In Smoke”) are some of the standout tracks on here and good representations of the album as a whole. Even with mellower moments (like the acoustic “Pray For The Locust” and “Jail,” which is very similar to Pantera’s 1994 cover of “Planet Caravan”), there is hardly a weak moment on all of “Nola.” Pantera fans should be cautious when checking into this album because it’s typically quite slower and sludgier than anything Pantera put out. And, even though it could stand to have a few more fast songs, if you’re looking for a very powerful, brooding, and satisfying metal album, put this near the top of your list.