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A swamp was born, and her name was NOLA. - 83%

hells_unicorn, October 11th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Pavement Music

Going the route of the eponymous titled release can be a tad risky, particularly if it comes after the debut album, as it tends to send signals of it being the album that defines the band. Granted, this is often done later on due to a band either running out of concepts to sum up their releases or to try and revitalize a stagnant career, but sometimes there is good reason to plaster the band's name on the cover art and simply leave it at that. Crowbar's self-titled sophomore effort is one such album, and one could argue that it is their de facto debut given the limited impact that Obedience Thru Suffering had at the time, despite being a veritable colossus in its own right and beginning the road down a new medium expression for the metal world in a time when it was struggling to remain prominent. While a large part of the resulting success of the Nola scene owed to Phil Anselmo's constant promotional efforts and the commercial success of Pantera's Vulgar Display Of Power, one might argue that the inevitable influence that arose from him producing this album affected the musical results.

As has often been noted, Crowbar is one of the earliest expressions of sludge in its purer form, one that functions less as a hardcore twist on doom metal than an equal hybrid of the two. Nevertheless, when taken song for song, it still reveals a band that is a bit more in line with traditional doom metal and only occasionally breaks out into full out hardcore territory. Kirk Windstein's vocals have taken on a deeper and more raunchy character that could be somewhat compared to Anselmo's hardcore-steeped gruff at the time, but the sort of fast-paced fury typical to the hardcore sound and the abrupt shifts in feel are relegated to only a few isolated songs on here. The most obvious of the bunch is the speedy crusher turned MTV favorite "All I Had (I Gave)", which brings home that Discharge inspired fury with a heavier end and a side-order of Motorhead quite nicely, and cuts the tempo in half just as jarringly. The same sort of up-beat, rugged punk feel permeates much of the generally fast "Self-Inflicted" and makes occasional appearances on a few other select songs in a more fleeting form.

Despite the greater degree of speed found on here that was completely absent from the debut, the majority of this album is still quite heavily steeped in traditional doom conventions, albeit in a nastier form. The generally trudging grooves that make up the guitar work and slow-paced beats of "No Quarter" and the dreary fatalistic crawl of "I Have Failed" are all but textbook Tony Iommi fair, save down-tuned even deeper and minus the guitar solo work. Similarly, the occasional epic harmony nods that were largely a staple of Candlemass and occurred often on Crowbar's previous LP get some air time on this album's other hit song "Existence Is Punishment" and at the tail end of "Holding Nothing", though the dissonance gives them that sort of "South Of Heaven" character. Even when things take on a more mid-paced grooving character and starts to remind a little too much of Pantera's recent handiwork, songs like "High Rate Extinction" and "Will That Never Dies", the hopelessness that defines doom metal trumps any occasional hints at angst-driven rage.

Though generally viewed as Crowbar's crowing achievement, there is definitely something to be said for originality occasionally trumping accessibility, and despite this being the prototypical sludge album, it also presents the style as something a bit too well-rounded. A big part of this hinges upon the production leaning a bit too close in the Pantera direction at times, as the density of the atmosphere has been cut back for something a bit more percussive, though the drums do retain a certain level of depth. Obedience Thru Suffering could be rightly seen as a fluke of sorts that stretched the boundaries of doom metal while making it a bit less ready for prime time, whereas this album cuts away much of the original mystique in favor of an even more straightforward presentation. It's a fun album that avoids a lot of hokey excesses and ridiculousness that made Vulgar Display Of Power too comical for its own good, but it kinda plays things safe musically and plays into the newly hatched (at the time) groove fad. Definitely an obligatory album for doom fans who are curious about their sludgy southeastern cousins, but arguably not their greatest.