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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.