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As sure as daylight shall break, Crowbar will serve up a heaping helping of Louisiana sludge metal for its masses. The ever vigilant Kirk Windstein returned once again after some time in supergroup Down to rekindle the fires of his original band. Needless to say, anyone familiar with this group knows exactly what is in store for those bold enough to trudge into the oppressive sludge infested swamplands this band offers.
It had been some time since I had paid any attention to this album, until a few weeks ago when I began reviewing some of Crowbar's material. I've been a fan of this group for quite some time, not to mention I find their brand of simple, yet relentlessly heavy assault on the ears irresistable. Crowbar essentially represents what one wants from a band they like, and that they remain reliable in their sound with only subtle modifications. To say Crowbar has never evolved is missing the point, evolution is there, but in small baby steps which is exactly what you want out of a band like this. Yet there is little difference between "Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form" and this album, so fans of the former need not worry.
One thing to know about "Lifesblood for the Downtrodden" is that this is a completely different band. Kirk Windstein remains the only constant member between this album and last, with Rex Brown, Warren Riker and Crowbar veteran Craig Nunenmacher returning to the stage. It speaks to Windstein's ability as a band leader and musician to hold the group together after a nearly complete overhaul of the entire line-up. Yet from the dreary "New Dawn," one can instantly assume nothing more than the faces have changed, as the music itself remains consistent with what Crowbar fans want out of their musical sledgehammer of choice.
As one can guess with most Crowbar albums in "Odd Fellows Rest" and afterward, the band pulls few stops between up-tempo assault and the more familiar drudging heaviness. A particular note here would be "Slave No More" which is the usual intensity Crowbar amounts to when things start picking up. "Dead Sun" also plays into this some, reaping a sorrowful melody during the chorus. A personal favorite of mine is "Fall Back to Zero," which illuminates an interesting atmosphere that reminds one of dark skies fast approaching before it thrusts into more usual Crowbar. Even more of an anomaly comes in the form of the title track, which is delightfully different than what you'd expect out of this band. Its absolutely beautiful in most senses of the word, and easily stacks up against numbers of a similiar nature like the title track to "Odd Fellows Rest," though there are differences between them, mind you. In any event its a successful bid of experimentation, albeit one Crowbar has shown signs of in the past.
Though some fans of this band might disagree with me, I'm honestly coming to believe this is one of the band's best. It definitely ranks up there with more recent material like "Odd Fellows Rest" and "Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form." Some might simply see this band as going through the motions each and every time, making little improvements to their sound since 1993's self-titled album. Those detractors are obviously missing the point, since Crowbar has been pushing the idea of added elements to their mix (such as the title track and "Fall Back to Zero,") for some time now, at least since "Time Heals Nothing" way back in '95. Its been a slow evolution, even slower than the superton beast this band represents. At the exact same time, the sound that Crowbar plays is one that is distinctly their own, so as far as I'm concerned they can hammer out as much oppressive groove from the grim tar pits as they please.
Based on its own merit, "Lifesblood of the Downtrodden" deserves attention from diehard Crowbar fans. It stacks up well against all of their other releases, standing up as one of the Top 3 in my opinion. This band seems to get better with age, as many a Crowbar fan will tell you. Its been five years now since this album's release, and I keep hearing rumors a new one is in the works. For the time being, we'll just have to make do with this incredible slab of reliable sludge metal and enjoy the aura of impending doom and merciless heaviness.
A Sludge Masterpiece
New Orleans sludge metallers Crowbar released this album after going four years without an album, something different after releasing albums in consecutive years three times (1992-1993, 1995-1996 and 2000-2001). What to expect here is typical Crowbar with a few songs that show the band’s creativity, hinting at being atmospheric, but still turning out to be heavy as a two ton brick. Kirk Windstein continues belting out blistering vocals and heavy-as-fuck riffs, and his bandmates back him up nicely. The album was recorded with Rex Brown on bass and former Crowbar member Craig Nunemacher on drums, who assisted Kirk only in the studio. These guys don’t disappoint one bit, bringing an arsenal of balls to the wall heaviness.
The album gets underway with “New Dawn”, which is a fitting opening track, with sludgy, grimy riffs and some nasty vocals from Kirk. Next comes “Slave No More” which is a bit more melodic with yet again a slew of riffs. The breakdown at the end is reminiscent of something you’d hear off of their self-titled release. “Angel’s Wings”, the third track, begins quite fast for Crowbar with blistering blastbeats and ear-shattering vocals. It calms down for a short time and picks up once again, with many tempo changes to accompany the sheer heaviness throughout. Coming Down is a slower, more typical Crowbar song, where Kirk decides to incorporate more harmony in his vocals, giving the song a somewhat atmospheric sense.
By the time you reach “Fall Back To Zero” you think you’ve heard everything. But this fifth track takes that idea and breaks it in half. FBTZ has to be the most depressing song Crowbar has ever done, yet it is as majestic as it can get. It begins with a clean guitar riff which sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a drive through a desolate Louisiana swamp. At 1:14 the chorus comes in with brutal vengeance, only to resolve back to the clean riff. The song progresses nicely, with plenty of that brutality right in your face. The thing that really caught my attention was how after nearly three minutes of unforgiving heaviness, Kirk and the guys manage to bring back the clean guitar riff in an incredible transition that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. It’s quite a memorable thing if you enjoy transition in music, but not every Crowbar fan will appreciate it.
Next up is “Underworld” which goes back to typical Crowbar, with a great main riff. Another standout is next with “Dead Sun”. The chorus is slowed and depressing, something that any Crowbar fan will enjoy. The song’s structure is strong enough to make it one of the high points on the album.
“Holding Something” and “Moon” are somewhat atmospheric, but still crushing. The lyrics on “Moon” are a bit more thoughtful than most lyrics from the band, which shows the band maturing a little. But don’t get me wrong, they still kick as much ass as they have in the past. This is made clear on “The Violent Reaction”, with insane blastbeats and scarring vocals - yet another strong track on the album.
The closing track, “Lifesblood”, clocks in at over 7 minutes. It ends the album on a calm note with plenty of clean guitar which gives the track a soaring and majestic feeling. They even incorporated piano into the track, something that was only done in 2000 on Equilibrium. It’s a nice touch, and there’s even a guitar solo thrown into the mix. All in all, it’s sort of the hidden exclamation point to the album.
If you enjoyed Crowbar’s past albums you should enjoy this. They try new things and they sound good, while keeping their traditional heavy roots alive and well. This is a must-have for any fan of sludge metal and/or Crowbar. It goes to show how these guys just don’t want to quit, even after going four years without an album, which is something that should be treasured in the metal community today.