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In times of sorrow and struggle - 86%

gasmask_colostomy, April 19th, 2017

Arguing about Crowbar is a perfectly reasonable activity to take part in, since one can see the surprisingly high scores they have obtained both for this album and Odd Fellows Rest here on the Metal Archives. However, arguing about Crowbar while actually listening to Crowbar is a different matter entirely and one that resembles the kind of argument you would have while facing off against a juggernaut while on your bicycle. Another way to put that is like this: on paper, Crowbar don't pose much of a challenge, but in the flesh (or on CD or whatever) they sure as shit get your attention.

I remember Kirk Windstein once saying that his plan with Crowbar was to find "the brown note", which would make their music so earth-shakingly heavy they would be able to sell Crowbar nappies (diapers) at gigs. Despite the fact that he was quite clearly joking, there is an element of doubt in my mind as I listen to this about how close the band came, because a song like 'Counting Daze' booms out from broad bottom-end guitars, while 'Awakening' would certainly aid the unwary in making use of that nappy with its shocking burst of speed. A lot of the appeal of Crowbar surely comes from the molten guitars and the riffs that Windstein and Sammy Pierre Duet produce: there isn't a great deal of complicated extras on this record, nor do the guitarists play anything that resembles a solo, aside from the dreamy breather that is the short instrumental 'In Times of Sorrow'. The style of Sonic Excess is thus based on attrition rather than immediate impact, meaning that you won't be instantly sucked into the music but will eventually be won over by sheer effort on the band's part. That word attrition is also useful for expressing the nature of the struggle that goes into the mood of the compositions and much of the lyrical content. As one might expect from sludge metal, nothing happens easily as though the bandmembers are being pulled back by some sticky concoction as they are trying to run and break free, causing the pace of most of the tracks to loom and lope in slow motion, which is more effective when contrasted by some sudden bursts of speed. Finally, there are also lots of references to rocks and stones and the slow trudge to recovery, which got their start back on the band's debut album, where the cover art depicted Sisyphus (or possibly Atlas, but I guess not) as he labours to push the boulder up the hill.

Anyway, all this talk about the aesthetic of Sonic Excess is nothing without some stone-cold evidence, so let's crack open some of the songs. Again, on paper, there's nothing really special to note, most of them following a vague structure and including some repeating part (riff or refrain, it's all the same), while defining factors tend to be the addition of speed, melody, or a memorable hook. On this front, 'The Lasting Dose' certainly stands tall among the songs, oozing in on melodic weight and featuring some of Windstein's most delicate vocals of his career, plus a core riff that you could headbang to and - as with all great slow riffs - hum in the shower. 'It Pours from Me' displays more propensity to play with melody in the guitars too, the key being that the melody does not counteract the heaviness but rather winds itself inside the crushing weight and reaches emotional heights. This technique is probably the greatest asset that Crowbar developed in the 10 years following their formation, since the jarring, thuggish heaviness can provide a discomfiting experience without really attracting the listener on an emotional or musical level. Here, the balance is pretty good, 'Failure to Delay Gratification', 'Awakening', and 'Repulsive in Its Splendid Beauty' making up the gnarliest, toughest contingent and 'It Pours from Me', 'Empty Room', and 'The Lasting Dose' smoothing things out to a greater degree.

Although those songs I have already pulled out are perhaps the most memorable, there is also the feeling that the album gains in intensity as it progresses, so that the latter half seems to connect more directly than 'To Build a Mountain' or 'Through the Ashes (I've Watched You Burn)', while the similar themes and constant riffs build up through accretion - to use another geology term - so that little by little we can realize the whole as one. The slowness is instrumental in this effect due to the fact that it takes some time to acclimatize to the pace, especially as Tony Constanza doesn't play drums straight under all the riffs, adding a lot of fills and diversions that prevent anything becoming too groovy or sleepy. When the aggression steps up on 'Awakening' and particularly 'Failure to Delay Gratification', however, the effect is instant and powerful. The other feature that certainly grows on one is Windstein's voice, which is simply uncomfortable to listen to at first, such is its forced dryness, but later it begins to seep into your consciousness that it's the real thing and has its own pleasant subtleties. You could imagine that you met a filthy beggar and were initially too nervous or repulsed to feel anything but aversion, though with prolonged exposure you would begin to recognize the personality and experience beneath his appearance - that's how I feel about the vocals.

Ultimately, I think the judgement of Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form comes down to taste as much as anything. Naturally, a propensity for the slow stuff helps (thrashers need not apply), while a necessary tolerance for ugliness in the vocals and rhythm department might discourage old school doom fans from listening. A few minor criticisms should be levelled at the similarity of many of the tracks here, since they are all cut from the same cloth, showing just enough variation to keep things challenging, while I feel like a couple of leads could have rounded off the emotional aspect of the album while also adding to the musical flavour. There is also the counter argument that 45 minutes is not overlong for this style and the building nature of the album works in its favour, so too many changes in style could dilute the impact. In brief, it's a damn good album, hits hard as a ton of bricks, and should be listened to in times of sorrow and struggle.

Just Know The World's Gonna Give You Nothing - 100%

dystopia4, June 7th, 2015

Easily one of the best sludge albums ever crafted - and arguably the greatest, perhaps the best way to explain the unsurmountable success of this record is to look at where most sludge bands fail. I've heard countless sludge bands vie their hardest to attain a certain sound. In solidifying their grasp on the filthy sludge vibe, they completely forget to back the style up with substance. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a sludge band get a solid hold on a good sound but only waste it with average riffs and non-existent songwriting. Kirk and company understand that style is only half the battle, and back that shit up with mammoth riffs, gargantuan bellows that still retain hints of melody and timeless songwriting. Crowbar are truly firing from all cylinders with Sonic Excess In Its Truest Form, and their seventh album turns out to be the best of their career as well as further proof that New Orleans being an immense spawning ground for killer music is not just a matter of history.

Odd Fellows Rest represented a turning point for Crowbar. The riffs were still as heavy as the musicians behind them, but it showed a willingness to expend the template. Swampy atmospherics lingered here and there, there was more melody and different things going on instrumentally. With equilibrium they seemed to perplexingly regress a little and create pretty much the most average Crowbar album there is (which is still miles above the average sludge band). This picks up where Odd Fellows should have left off. From the smoky guitars floating over snaking baselines in "In Times of Sorrow" that seem to evoke New orleans at night, to the melodic emotional potency of "Empty Room", this album stakes new territory while remaining true to the Crowbar identity. The secret here is that unlike Equillibrium, every aspect here truly is working in equilibrium. It's as if they took the best of all their prior albums and concentrated it into one enduring work.

The songwriting has a timeless quality, and could easily be transferred to other genres. I could see a classic songwriter such as Townes Van Zandt coming up with these tunes in a different form. Although this wouldn't make sense without the crushing yet catchy riffs, it is the songwriting that really allows it to be one of sludge's lasting statements. That said, goddamn do they ever manage to hit it out of the park with the riffs. They're to-the-point, but they successfully fulfill the dual purpose of being heavier than a freight train while being the catchiest of Crowbar's tenure of the kings of Nola. While Crowbar has always been Kirk's vision, the quality of the riffs are no doubt bolstered by Sammy Pierre-Duet. While Goatwhore absolutely had some killer shit back in the day, this and Acid Bath prove that Sammy's true talent is churning out slabs of slow n' heavy riffs. As for the vocals, this is what really give Crowbar their character. Kirk's bellows are as gruff and massive as ever (it's impossible to deny the impact of him yelling "Just know the world's gonna give you nothing on "Counting Daze" or "These things make you become a man" on Suffering Brings Wisdom"), there is a lot of melody behind his powerful roars. Like many other facets of this record, it is balance that is key.

As always, the vocals are integral to the overall Crowbar experience. As one might expect, they are about the hard times and overcoming in the face of your world crumbling around you. Make no mistake, this is no generic "overcoming adversity" whining you'd see in your average shit-tier metal-core band - this is the soundtrack to the lives of hardened men doing hard labour (or hard time). This is about staying tough and persevering when the odds are not in your favour. This is about being a man when all you want to do is curl up and die. When another person I care about inevitably gets sick or dies, I always find myself coming back to this album and the lyrics are a big part of that. At no point are their lyrics more potent then in what I'd call the best song of their career "Thru The Ashes (I've Watched You Burn)". The lyrics are simple, but they are anything but ineffective. On the surface it's about drug addiction, but really it applies to life in general. The struggle to get back up and fight no matter how hard life beats you down or how pathetic you feel.

Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form is that one album that most bands never get. It feels like everything they've done up to this point converged into one masterpiece with only the absolute best parts getting filtered through. The worst song on this album would be the best on a lot of their other albums. The cool thing about this album is that all of the songs would work in most genres - the songwriting is classic and the guitar work is heavy but at its core not inaccessible. Unlike many bands in this style, there really is a lot buried under the sludge. An ode to hardship and the perseverance of the human will, this is not only Crowbar's magnum opus but one of the greatest triumphs of heavy music in general.

Working man's blues - 98%

The_Desolate_One, December 2nd, 2011

While I usually hold in higher regard bands that show a willingness to experiment and change, or at least incorporate different styles over time, innovating and further pushing their own genre, I'll always have a place in my heart for Crowbar. If you've ever heard a Crowbar song, you know what to expect from them: straight-up, no bullshit, riff-driven, dirty, punishing sludge. And, really, this style suits them perfectly, and it goes great with the identity they have built in their over-20-year-old-already career. Within this frame, then, Sonic Excess in its Purest Form represents the highest point for them, making the title a very apt description of the music contained.

Opening with “The Lasting Dose”, a song that would become a Crowbar classic, alongside “Planets Collide” and “All I Had (I Gave)”, Sonic Excess wastes no time getting started. You're greeted by a mournful, melodic guitar line followed by a powerful riff as Kirk sings his sorrows the usual way, with his trademark gruff vocals - not a growl, not a shout, but a very harsh and hoarse, and yet melodic, voice. Still, that's only an aperitif for the songs which come later and represent, in my opinion, the real emotional hard-hitters in this album: “Through the Ashes (I've Watched You Burn)” and “Repulsive in its Splendid Beauty”, some of the most melancholy songs I've ever heard in Crowbar's catalog, due to the strong, memorable guitarwork and the extremely heartfelt vocals, even more so than usual, I'd say. To help give this album a little diversity, these are interspersed, then, with some angrier bits, like “To Build a Mountain” and “Awakening”, that start with hardcore-ish intensity before slowing down. And it only gets better and doomier as the album marches forth, past the bluesy instrumental interlude “In Times of Sorrow” – which despite being what some could call a “filler”, serves, as a much needed break to allow the listener some room to breathe. We have some more aggression in “It Pours From Me” and “Failure to Delay Gratification”, and, between them, the main riff of “Suffering Brings Wisdom” rears its ugly, memorable, bassy head, before “Empty Room” closes the album in an extremely high (or, well, low) note, alternating between powerful riffs and the painful verses, when Kirk's only accompanied by the rhythm section.

Due to how simple and direct Crowbar's approach is (it's just “assault you with massive riffs”, really), I don't think I can do them justice by talking about the songs themselves. Where it all comes together, and what I think is what sets them apart from other bands, is the feeling. While other prestigious sludge acts like Neurosis (and their followers, Isis, Kylesa et al) have found their style in contemplative, more philosophical/metaphysical themes, and bands like Eyehategod, Grief and Acid Bath tend towards a darker feel, exploring themes of politics, crime, misanthropy, nihilism and sometimes dark humor, Crowbar is more focused on the struggles of common folk. When they speak of suffering, that is not the be-all-end-all of their music, but something you have to get through in life. “These things make you become a man” and “Just know the world's gonna give you nothing”, Kirk belts out in Sonic Excess, in an oddly paternal manner. You're supposed to learn from suffering and not avoid or wallow in it, is what Crowbar's saying, and their music echoes it perfectly so as to make that a statement, the sound of someone struggling with the daily grind, and not merely lyrics one would phone in just to avoid making an instrumental album. And that's just not something you see in every other sludge act.

So, if you're already a fan of Crowbar, Down (where, as you probably know, Kirk plays guitar as well), Acid Bath (where Sammy Duet, the other guitarist here, used to play) or sludge metal in general, Sonic Excess is for you, as it's some of the best offerings in the genre. If you like doom metal (just as long as it's not in its more flowery or epic-sounding incarnations) or even old-school hardcore punk, this album might be for you too.

Crowbar is NOLA - 99%

shagnarokvonlustmord, December 8th, 2008

'Crowbar' are the definitive sludgy/doom band of the modern era. This being their 7th album in 10 years shows they are hard working and persistent in their campaign to bless their listeners with tales of life struggles, loss and hard-goings. I have always dubbed 'Crowbar' the working mans metal due to the equation between the average man and the never ending woes in his or her lives.

'Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form' carries on the path of what 'Crowbar' have always been known for. The NOLA sound has a distinction from other forms of doom metal in that it is heavy,down-tuned and extremely thick and slow. Kirk's vocals are harsh and full-forced with every bit of fortitude that his voice can muster. What is interesting to note is that when he is singing it is his natural voice that is highlighted due to the way he talks with a rasp and deep tone.

'The Everlasting Dose' is 'Crowbar's' signature song on the album. It comprises all the best attributes of the album and the bands harmony as a ever perfect flow from song to song. 'To Build A Mountain' is another good example of this. 'Sammy's' guitar work as always is a standout (along with Kirk's) whether it was in 'Acid Bath' or in 'Goatwhore', he is guaranteed to be at his best. The bass and overall drum sound is synchronized flawlessly and makes every song appreciable for its content and musicianship.

The opening to 'Suffering Brings Wisdom' is one of the coolest instrument parts to any song I have ever heard, quite frankly it is the most catchy on the album. 'Crowbar' is one of the most diverse bands out there today and have always been a crowd pleaser. While this may not be 'Crowbars' best album it is definitely top 3. The listener should appreciate the driving force that is the backbone to every 'Crowbar' release and therefore enjoy every song.

Quicksand Blood & Testosterone - 95%

tyrant, April 5th, 2004

First I wanna talk about Kirk, 10 years go by and his voice is still beautifully up to par. It's funny to listen to death metal vocalists sing and then in interviews they sound like Mike Tyson. Not Kirk tough, I've met and talked to him before a Down concert. His voice is deep and raspy. When he sings, it's naturally burtal and not forced at all (unlike most metal)

Sonic Excess is the sound of life's painful mind trip. Instead of getting pissed off and playing some really fast, mindless bullshit. Crowbar slows down, puts thought and feeling into the music. Which builds for some pretty sick intensity once you get into it.

They pick up speed in Awakening, Failure to delay Gratifacation, and an awesome break down on Thru The Ashes. Maybe since I am a fan of Crowbar I was thinking something different or branch out more. It was a real treat to hear the instrumental of Times of Sorrow. There's good melodies through out the entire cd. It seems everytime the line up changes they still manage to keep the same orah about them.

The drumming is really tight and clean while everything else is distorted and dirty. Crowbar's music hasn't changed much but with each new cd, they get more skilled and comfortable in their sound. Sonic Excess in its Purest Form is 11 songs of Quicksand mixed with blood and testosterone.