Crowbar really need no introduction, New Orleans based sluggers, sludge icons captained by ‘the riff lord’ Kirk Windstein who has guided the outfit through 30 years of gargantuanly heavy, smoke shrouded, downtrodden and bruising slabs of doom laced metal. He has now carved out a massive twelve albums that have become the blueprint for an entire genre that his work still stands on top of.
Over the course of their career, Windstein has utilised a cast of supporting members to deliver the best in sheer raw power and musical devastation. Crowbar’s latest album marks ten years since guitarist Matt Brunson and drummer Tommy Buckley joined the ranks for 2011’s Sever The Wicked Hand. It also marks the third straight album recorded with producer Duane Simoneaux, who also worked on Windstien’s Dream In Motion, which means that bassist aside, Crowbar have settled into a long period of stability that has ensured consistency.
There are some bands who make albums that are unmistakably theirs, AC/DC are one example and Clutch are another; bands who have defined their signature sound and rarely dip below a high benchmark in terms of quality. Every release becomes a matter of whether the mood the band were in when they recorded connects with the mood you were in when you first heard it. Sever The Wicked Hand hit so hard at the time I heard it, that if I was to choose an album of ‘modern era Crowbar’ to throw on then it would be that. Zero And Below sees the band channelling their most unrelentingly doomy atmosphere since 1998s incredible Odd Fellows Rest.
Crowbar waste little time in battering the listener, The Fear That Binds You starts the album off at a lumbering paced propelled by Buckley’s robust, slamming drums that kick you in the face as the guitars crunch in with the trademark seismic riffing that seems as timeless now as when the band debuted with Obedience Thru Suffering in 1991. As the music slows down to create the air of anticipation that is classic Crowbar, you can literally hear Kirk’s vocals coming for a full 6 seconds before that familiar gravelly bellow is heard with his heavy drawl.
Alternating between barks and a gruff, yet surpassingly melodic lilt, the track is Crowbar at their fast-paced lumbering best before they do the classic juddering slow down where everything gets drawn out and more impassioned. Crowbar for all the primitive, lazy clichéd accusations of being a simplistic knuckle dragging soundtrack have a pinpoint sense of dynamics and understand the complex interplay between light and shade, heaviness, and melody to create a platform for Windstein to vent his emotional demons and outpourings.
Not pausing for breath Her Evil Is Scared slows the pace but ups the pressure and the heavier side of the band, Shane Wesley’s long ringing, rumbling bass notes allow the tumbling drums and string bends to cascade in a fluid motion around the reverberating rhythm. Lyrics spat with a vicious delivery are steeped in religious imagery and damnation, and the search for salvation will be the manna from heaven to the Crowbar faithful. Likewise, the lumbering of Confess To Nothing with its doomy atmosphere recalling the heavier moments of his solo album where he opened up to include a seemingly more sensitive side, but as this is Windstein’s ‘day job’, a biting twist is never far away.
driving slice of combative up-tempo sludge metal wrapped up in that deep blues heritage…
Chemical GODZ, released with accompanying video in the launch build up, is a typical driving slice of combative up-tempo sludge metal wrapped up in that deep blues heritage that defines the band as much as their mammoth riffing and vocal snarl. Constantly switching between full force battering and drawn-out melody, it’s like a mosh pit soundtrack with rest breaks that bring in delicious high-end guitar noodling that drips with feeling.
Denial Of The Truth is the moment when the band put the brakes on and channel some of the heady melodies that Odd Fellows Rest captured. Slow and thick, the drums beat with deep tom work in an understated fashion and the guitars set the scene for Kirk’s multi-layered vocals to intone sincerity in what passes for as close to a ballad as Crowbar get. Powerful and emotive, it provides both a moment of respite and a focal set piece in the middle of the album.
The grimly titled Bleeding From Every Hole allows Wesley to show off a little before the band barrel into a track that recalls Cemetery Angels from Sever The Wicked Hand with its hardcore tempo and slamming verses, a theme that’s continued with Its Always Worth The Grain and the stop/start dynamic showing off Buckley’s skills.
Crush Negativity with its frantic ending and Reanimating A Lie with the steady march and pleading vocals won’t be remembered in the canon of great Crowbar tracks, but are still thoroughly enjoyable and keep the momentum ticking over and create some great moments, particularly the letters dizzying lead guitar that close out the track. The final number and album title, Zero And Below, finishes the album with the smoky haze and intense crawl that the band seem to have easily at their disposal.
Introducing moments of acoustic picking that would again fit in on Odd Fellows Rest suggests now, more than ever, and perhaps because of perspective gained by Windstein’s solo album along with the line-up stability, Crowbar have a greater sense of who they are as they finish Zero And Below in style.
I said earlier there sometimes isn’t much to distinguish between the band’s releases, beyond time and circumstances, and there may be some truth in that; Neither 2014’s Symmetry In Black or 2016’s The Serpent Only Lies were bad albums by any stretch of the imagination, but in terms of high points I feel Zero And Below tops them both making it their strongest release for a decade.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden