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Originally published at http://suite101.com
Kirk Windstein may be better known in the mainstream metal community as a contributing guitarist for bands such as Down and Kingdom of Sorrow, but he’s always been renowned in the underground for being the leader of Crowbar, one of the biggest bands that the New Orleans sludge scene has to offer. This is the band’s ninth studio album as well as their first release to come out in six years. In addition, it also features a new completely new lineup of musicians alongside the ever-persistent Windstein among them are Kingdom of Sorrow guitarist Matthew Brunson and Goatwhore bassist Pat Bruders.
When listening to this album as a person that has only heard a handful of past Crowbar tunes, I immediately notice that the band doesn’t seem to have changed very much over the years. The songwriting is still going by a mean mix of hardcore and doom metal while the band’s performance is consistently oppressive and gritty. But at the same time, there does seem to be an almost accessible quality to this release. The more modern production brings a lot of clarity to the instrumentation and there are a number of melodic segments that brighten things up. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to call it a commercial move but I do wonder if his experience in other bands had some subtle influence in this album’s writing.
Speaking of experience, the vocals are easily the band’s most unique attribute with Windstein being on the exact middle of the harsh-melodic spectrum. Phil Anselmo is the easiest person to compare him to as they share a rather similar sandpaper bark. However, Windstein seems to take on a more middle of the road approach as he avoids sounding too clean while not imitating his more famous counterpart’s occasionally incessant screeches. Fortunately, the other band members don’t slouch and go along with the material’s changes quite smoothly. As expected for a veteran sludge band, the guitars dominate the mix and do a strong job of leading and structuring the songs. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many moments where the rhythm section stands out but that seems to be rather expected at this point…
If there’s one thing that this album has going for it, it’s the songwriting. As previously mentioned, the album goes between a lot of the expected doom and hardcore influences and manages to do so with a lot of class. In addition, the songs themselves manage to be really memorable and well composed without sounding too disposable. For the most part, the doom seems to be the band’s most dominate side. “Liquid Sky And Cold Black Earth” is probably the slowest song on here with the vocals weaving their way around a long series of drawn out guitar riffs though the opening “Isolation (Desperation)” and “Heal Me, Cleanse Me” operate similar in a similar fashion. “Let Me Mourn” and the closing "Symbiosis" are also worth noting for their murky atmospheres and a vague grunge feel that makes one wonder if Crowbar are Alice in Chains fans or if it’s the other way around…
In contrast, there are plenty of faster songs on here. While there are a few borderline thrash songs on here such as “The Cemetery Angels” and the title track, most of the tempo changes could be attributed to the more groove-oriented songs like “As I Become One” and “I Only Deal In Truth," though the former also has an interesting instrumental closing segment I may be a sucker for doom but these songs are arguably the most memorable that this release has to offer.
The one song that truly stands on its own two feet is “A Farewell To Misery,” a nearly four minute long instrumental ballad. Like Warbringer’s most recent album, this piece avoids being token atmospheric filler and has some really effective chanting at certain points. As a new Crowbar listener, it’s enough to make one wonder just how they’d do with a “normal” ballad…
Going off that remark, this is definitely the kind of album that could interest those who were previously unfamiliar with Crowbar’s past works. The songwriting is varied, the band is tight, and the production effectively brings out this album’s heavy appeal. If there’s anything here to really nitpick that I can think of, it’s that the highlights may be a bit hard to pick apart at first and the album’s sound does have a rather dry touch that may rub some listeners off the wrong way. It doesn’t lessen the album’s appeal but may keep it from being a top album in 2011. Maybe.
“The Cemetery Angels”
“As I Become One”
“I Only Deal In Truth”
“Heal Me, Cleanse Me”
Crowbar have always secretly distinguished themselves by the quality of their classic rock/pop songwriting. This has never been so apparent as when the covered the Gary Wright song "Dreamweaver" a few years ago. Like Johnny Cash's American recordings, they take a seemingly incompatable song and made it their own, sounding like any other Crowbar song. Crowbar have one of the most singular sounds in all of metal, but behind the thick sludge riffs and hardcore attitude, there lays a songwriting ethos that can be translated into any musical vernacular. These songs could pass for quiet piano ballads, gentle folk songs, or churlish indy rock. The lyrics have a special sensitivity and the melodies are subtle and sublime. I would love to see what Johnny Cash would have done with these songs.
But first and foremost, this is sludge metal, which is an amalgamation of doom metal and hardcore. This is a formula that Crowbar have stuck to since day one without ever becoming redundant; a feat which I chalk up to the quality of the song writing. The riffs chug along with force and purpose, a pummeling wall of sound that serves to enhance the power of the songs, but never really dominating them (though they do obscure them somewhat). The rhythm section is a meat and potatoes workhorse; nothing fancy, just capable and powerful, expertly holding down the slow, lava-like sludge grooves, and the occasional hardcore bashing.
It is the singing and lyrics that really distinguish this album. Where, in the past, the lyrics were incantations of rage and regret, there is hope. This is apparent even from the song titles, containing such beacons of light as "A Farewell To Misery" and "Cleanse Me, Heal Me". The spiritual sentiment is obvious:
"I'm seeing a light but it's distant and dim -
At least it's bringing me hope
Created this world I am struggling in -
At last I am learning to cope
I'm all alone - fighting to live
It's taken my all - please God take my hand."
Not exactly a black metal Satan fest. There is Christian bent to these lyrics, but unlike Christian rock, it is never preachy or missionary. Kirk Windstein howls these hymns like a fallen angel, aching for Yahweh.
And hence the comparisons to Johnny Cash abound. These songs are full of sin and repentance, a nod to the band's Southern roots. It's an interesting niche for a metal band to occupy. All in all, this album stands up well against classics like Time Heals Nothing, which in my mind the genre standard bearer. Worthy, indeed.
Crowbar is one of the very first sludge metal bands, having been around since 1989. If you've ever wondered about the difference between sludge metal and doom metal, Crowbar is your go-to example of what pure sludge sounds like, with heavy, simple, Sabbath-inspired riffs played with that warm, sludgy tone and a hardcore-inspired attitude. Kirk Windstein's vocals are also pure sludge, bordering on hardcore tough guy but not quite venturing into that territory. Crowbar sounds like the most generic sludge metal possible, but that's for good reason: every sludge band copied them.
I'm not terribly familiar with the band's back catalog, but by all accounts Sever the Wicked Hand (their ninth) is the band's finest record. I'm not surprised, because it's very convincing. Being newly sober after essentially destroying his life (hence the title), Windstein's songwriting is great, but I also want to point out the lyrical content. Yeah, I know, I usually say lyrics don't matter, but there's an exception to every rule. Kirk claims to be a Christian, and to have always been a Christian, and it comes through in the lyrics. He accepts the fact he fucked up, acknowledges he brought pain to himself and others, wishes the best to the people he's hurt, and asks God for forgiveness. While most of what earns the "Christian metal" label falls flat because either (a) people with a perfect, unwavering faith haven't suffered enough to create good art, or (b) people who won't acknowledge imperfection in themselves can never be Trve, this falls into neither trap. It's uplifting, as written by one who has suffered, which is exactly what Christian metal should be (but rarely is).
The Verdict: No one's called it Christian metal yet, but it would easily fit the bill. And it's a perfect example of how pure sludge metal can be done well, even without evolving the form.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Crowbar is of course a legendary band from the swamps of Louisiana. This is their first album since 2005 and features most of the things you would expect from a Crowbar release. Crowbar is the baby of Kirk Windstein, who uses the band as a vehicle for expressing his own personal struggles and hardships, in particular with this album, his ongoing attempt at sobriety.
Windstein's sludgy, doom-laden riffs are of course the main highlight in any Crowbar album. His Sabbathian riffs are extremely distorted and down-tuned and they twist and writhe along with the pounding rhythms. The rest of the instrumentation is impressive as well, but let's be honest here, this is Windstein's show at this point. The other musicians are just along for the ride.
The lyrical theme of the album is, as I mentioned, Windstein becoming sober. Even the cover art and title of the album allude to it. Windstein has a gift for writing heart-wrenching and somber songs and he takes full advantage of it with the tracks "Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth" and "Let Me Mourn".
This is a powerfully emotional album. It's often slow, but oppressively heavy. Windstein has done a lot of work with other bands, such as Down and Kingdom of Sorrow, but he always saves some of his best work for Crowbar. This is an early frontrunner for Album of the Year.
Sludge: blending aspects of Doom and Hardcore. Crowbar has been doing it longer than most and still does it better than almost all others that try 22 years after they were born in the swamps of NOLA. I could not have more respect for this band. Drawing fans from and influencing bands of both hardcore and metal for over TWO DECADES. Most amazingly, they have somehow found that perfect balance of not disappointing old fans by changing their style, and at the same time, not getting boring and redundant.
Sever the Wicked hand is everything you would want from both a Doom band and a Hardcore band. It’s heavy as balls and depressed, but simplistic and still fucking HARD. Every song has monster riffs, and you can feel Kirk Windstein’s sorrow and misery on every track. Don't get it? Have you ever heard a more depressed song title than Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth before? What about the lyric, "You gave me wings, then took the sky away"? Don’t look for a lot of fast, squealy solos here; only huge, powerful riffs and melodic, heartfelt moans can be found.
Most of the songs on the album are solid, and I believe this is their strongest effort since Equilibrium. However, it’s not quite perfect. Almost every song here has a slow melodic part. There’s nothing wrong with that, but personally, I need to be in the right kind of mood to truly appreciate it. That being said, I can listen to Cemetery Angels on repeat no matter how I’m feeling—the song is just that good. That song, Isolation (Desperation), and maybe a few others remind me of Crowbar’s glorious self-titled EP.
I would recommend this album to any fan of Sludge, although if you truly are a fan of the genre, you’ve already heard this. That being said, I think that anyone that is into HARD hardcore or the more aggressive Doom bands would be totally into this.
75% is the rating I give for the music on this record, but 100% is a more appropriate show of how much respect I have for this band.
Here it is. Kirk Windstein has finally gotten around to releasing something new with Crowbar. SInce the last Crowbar record, he's taken part in 5 records and tons of tour with 3 other bands. But for Crowbar, it meant 6 years of waiting since the last Crowbar album, 4 years since the last Crowbar anything, and 2 years since Kirk announced the plan for a new album, to actually release something. Kirk made it very well worth the wait though. Sever the Wicked Hand, Crowbar's 9th full-length record, delivers just what was expected of them - another masterpiece of classic sludge metal has arrived!!
From start to finish, Sever the Wicked Hand is yet another quality slab of miserable riffs of doom that rumbles to the bottom of your gut. For the most part, it plays out just as a Crowbar fan would expect. "Isolation (Desperation)" starts the record strong and downtrodden, and the familiar negativity is eventually championed in the cathartic "Let Me Mourn". Then the record shifts its gear a bit - the mid-paced single "The Cemetery Angels", a groovy sludge of "As I Become One", and the haunting instrumental (with a piano!) of "A Farewell to Misery" are three of the best tracks, lined up one after another. Afterwards, the brief dual guitar during the breakdown on "I Only Deal in Truth" impresses with the most melodic moment of the record. The following track, "Echo an Eternity", is a beautiful ballad where Kirk delivers his singing at its best. The remaining pair of songs cap off this record excellently, bulldozing with the heaviest 9 minutes of the record. Overall the record is somewhat faster than records from Crowbar's earlier days, but every riffs are unmistakably and uniquely Crowbar.
New for Crowbar, the record is treated to a professional production by Zeuss and Kirk himself, giving the riffs a modernized tone. It's hard to describe the sound well, but the guitar tones are relatively brighter and sharper for a Crowbar album, just as the album cover is. Those who listen to Shadows Fall or Kingdom of Sorrow might have a good idea of what I'm talking about, since Zeuss also produced their records.
Casual fans might not be aware, but Crowbar has actually been subtly evolving with each record since the mid-90s. On Sever the Wicked Hand, the elements of "evolution" would be the drummer and the lyrics. Tommy Buckley, also a drummer for grindcore-blues band Soilent Green, is by far the the most talented drummer in Crowbar's history, and brings in some diverse rhythm nuances that was lacking before. In his best moments, Tommy sneaks in blast-beats to songs like "Protectors of the Shrine" and "I Only Deal in Truth", adds a death metal flavor to the beginning of the title track, and he even does a rockabilly-meets-doom boogie on "As I Become One". If and when Tommy leaves the band, the next guy is gonna have a big shoe to fill.
And then there's the lyrics. Crowbar have always been compassionate, but they get even more sentimental on Sever the Wicked Hand. This time it's not just the same ol' beer-soaked mulling over personal defeat, regret, and mistakes; Kirk expands the song topics to triumph over personal woes and strength of love. Fear not, because they aren't schmaltzy. They're actually good because they are humble and relatable, but not dogmatic nor cliched. Moreover, there's substance to his positive attitude, backed up by Kirk's experiences from the past 6 years, including death of friends (e.g. Dimebag Darrell), Hurricane Katrina, birth of a daughter, divorce, kicking alcohol habits, etc. The best example in this regard is "Echo an Eternity", as the song is (presumably) a seriously touching tribute and show of appreciation to his little daughter. As a listener/fan, Kirk's new attitude is hard not to like. Ultimately, Kirk still has that good ol' tough 'n gruff voice, but Kirk on this record is a new, reborn Kirk, and it's refreshing.
When Crowbar hit its 20th anniversary mark in 2009, Kirk also promised us a live album and a box set of their old materials. I'm still waiting for the promise to come true, but for now, the new album will keep me really happy. This one is Crowbar's best yet - everything that made Crowbar great in the first place is still intact, and it's now strengthened by sincere positivity and wisdom. Thank you Kirk, for yet another beautiful record to accompany me in my life's journey.
Who has the most crushing, depressing, angry lyrics out there, but Crowbar? They are one of the most intense bands to see live (I've seen them twice, and I want to see them a thousand times more) and they always do their best to bring the pain on their albums. I remember talking to a Pantera fan in seventh grade and him telling me about this band. I had remembered what a big impact that took on my metal world. It got me into both sludge metal and stoner doom (like electric wizard). I had not heard anything remotely close to these guys, but they were so great. They have been around for years, inspired bands to go heavier (Pantera, mostly), and have always shown the dark side of life to the metal community without having to be fast paced. Their new album, Sever the Wicked Hand is no exception.
The first thing I have to say is that this is Crowbar - don't expect anything too different. If you want that, go listen to Dream Theater. Now that I have that out of the way, this album is just a bit too redundant. For me it felt like one long mediocre song. I have never liked that in an album (unless the album itself is one long song - ref. Dopesmoker by Sleep, The Dwelling by Sabbat, Floods by Boris), so that kind of put me off from listening to this in a whole, but separately, this album is great.
The album follows a simple metal rhythm that makes the song drone out, but sound extremely harsh in the process. It's Crowbar's way of saying "Fuck you, I don't need speed metal to kick your ass". I really dig the sound, but at the same time, it can get dull and make me want to change the song. Unfortunately, that's why this album took me a few hours to listen to.
Vocally, the album is different. Kirk took more of a melodic turn, making the music fit together more as a symphony (not in the traditional aspect), and making the music less about being as polarizing and abrasive as it was in the past. I really did like the vocals, especially on Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth, where he was rarely doing his scratchy, gruff, low end vocals and doing more of this melodic side I haven't heard much from.
Overall, the album is extremely stereotypical. Especially for a fan, this album just sounds like another one in the bunch, but it's still great. I am really glad that Crowbar is still around, and I can't wait for the next album, even though it will probably be the same.