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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.