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Poor Atlas just can't catch a break. - 91%

hells_unicorn, October 11th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Pavement Music

It may seem counter-intuitive, but more often than not the earliest offerings of a newly born musical style will tend closer to what is common practice. The overall game of musical evolution is mostly a gradual one, and this goes doubly so for Kirk Windstein and Crowbar's earliest contribution to what became known as sludge. Having existed for several years prior under a couple of differing names prior to adopting their present moniker, this is a band that very much aware of how doom metal had developed in the earlier 80s thanks to the efforts of Trouble and Saint Vitus, along with the more epic strain offered up by Candlemass. As such, it isn't without some degree of precedence that the worlds of doom metal and hardcore would eventually collide, especially given the close association that Saint Vitus had shared with Black Flag years back, but as with most developments, the newly born hybrid style sneaked its way in rather than smashing down every existing wall like the enraged giant that would personify the sludge sound.

Obedience Thru Suffering was essentially the right album at the right time, beating Eyehategod's debut by about a year, as well most of the doom and groove bands that have since become associated with the Nola scene. Having said that, given that Crowbar was basically out on their own on this one, the musical results stick closer to the doom style, and results in an album that quite close in proximity to the traditional efforts of Trouble, importing the same sort of slow yet thrashing punch to the guitars, and throwing in some occasional dreary harmonic themes between the guitars that are somewhat reminiscent of the latter days of eighties Candlemass. The overall tone and tenor of the atmosphere is a tad bit heavier and muddier compared to said offerings, but apart from Kirk Windstein's gruff-obsessed yells paying direct homage to Discharge, this is the sort of album that would be mistaken for a pure doom metal affair.

The general pacing and feel of this album is about as slow and sluggish as could have been expected at the time, trudging forth with all the speed of an old school zombie film. There are occasional bursts of speed to be found on a few of the heavier and meaner numbers on here such as "Waiting In Silence" and "Vacuum", but there isn't really any sort of jarring shifts in feel that goes beyond what was heard during the days when Scott Reagers was fronting Saint Vitus. The drums are possessed of such a dense body and depth that they serve to make things feel a bit like a throwback to about five years before, whereas the guitars have all the force of a typical Scott Burns production of a death metal album (he was not involved), making otherwise minimalist and repetitive riffs like the ones heard on the punishingly heavy stomping machine "Feeding Fear" and the near funeral doom paced crawl of the title song "Obedience Thru Suffering" well worth the effort of experience a four-minute song that feels like it's twice that duration.

In some senses, this is a groundbreaking album in that it veers away from the typical eighties practice of augmenting slow-paced doom metal with flashy guitar solos and operatic vocals, as well as abandoning the old stereotype of emulating Ozzy Osbourne's nasally bellows. It reeks of a working class mentality that manages to crossover into a sort of atmospheric mystique that is just about as compelling as an offering out of Solitude Aeturnus. Then again, it is not with out a heavy degree of similarity to what came before it, pushing the envelope gradually in the heaviness and grittiness department while still sticking close to home. The visual of the towering hulk on the album art (who is assumed to be Atlas) being crushed under the weight of the load he's carrying is a fitting one for this album, an album that stands in contrast to subsequent works where a greater emphasis was put on up-tempo elements as if this same giant were shrugging off his load and leering on at the destruction it causes. Obedience Thru Suffering is, in the end, a sludge album for traditional doom metal fans, and it isn't surprising that most core fans of this band have taken more to their subsequent offerings.