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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”