Review Summary: You think you know heavy?
Before I start this review, I have to say I’m amazed that such an awesome band wasn’t on the Sputnikmusic listing until I added them myself! Science H. Logic!
But I digress. At the time of this album’s 1993 release, Crowbar were:
Kirk Windstein – vocals/guitar
Matt Thomas – guitar
Todd Strange – bass
Craig Nunenmacher – drums
Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, Crowbar
were hugely influential in shaping the “sludge metal” sound for which their hometown has become renowned in heavy metal circles. Indeed, this tag is especially appropriate for the music made by Kirk Windstein and his colleagues: despite their self-titled album’s relatively short 35 minute duration, it is a dense, punishing experience, akin to wading through waist-deep sludge. In terms of heaviness, this tops pretty much everything else out there – imagine a more dynamic, radically slowed down take on the super-downtuned wall of noise from which bands such as Korn would later make their fortunes. Lyrically, Crowbar plough the same relentlessly miserable furrow as Jon Davis and co., but the plaintive rage behind Windstein’s primeval howl elevates lines such as “I gave my heart and soul to you my friend/you let me fall” (Existence is Punishment) above tiresome self-pity.
However, it is these two things – the inescapable heaviness of Crowbar’s sound, and Windstein’s semi-human bellow – which are both the band’s greatest assets as well as, potentially, their main weaknesses. While I personally love the non-stop aural as
s-kicking which this album delivers every time I put it on, the lack of diversity on display here will deter metal fans who prefer the textures and varied approaches of bands such as Tool. Similarly, you will either love or hate Kirk’s voice. The raw brutality of his vocal delivery perfectly compliments the abrasive nature of the band’s music; however, he’s not exactly Jeff Buckley in terms of range or subtlety. The divisive nature of the band’s sound probably explains the limited appeal which Crowbar have consistently had throughout their almost twenty-year career, while contemporaries such as Corrosion of Conformity and Pantera have gone on to enjoy much greater success.
However, they deserve to be heard by anyone who professes to be a fan of heavy music. If you only listen to one album by this band, make sure it is this, their third, self-titled effort. Here is the perfect synthesis of their sound: a potent combination of rage and flat-out awesome tunes which they have never been able to better. Despite then-Pantera frontman (and Kirk’s childhood friend) Phil Anselmo’s slightly muddy production job on this album, the utter ferocity of hardcore-influenced cuts such as All I Had (I Gave) and Negative Pollution remains undiluted. The band’s more deliberate, riff-driven war of musical attrition, meanwhile, is perfectly exemplified by a monstrous retooling of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter, the funereal Holding Nothing, and the ominous, bass-heavy steamroller of Existence is Punishment. Throughout, the riffs remain simple but, much like the tool from which the band takes its name, brutally effective. Windstein’s musings are rarely (if ever) what you would call insightful or transcendent, but, as encapsulated by the infuriated roar of “I HAVE MOTHERFU
CKING FAILED” (I Have Failed) which signals the abrupt end of the record, the detectable anger and frustration in his voice lends gravity to even the tritest phrases which he spits out during these ten tracks.
Ultimately, this is a record, and a band, which will always be of limited appeal. Such is Crowbar’s unwavering commitment to heaviness above all else that, taken as a whole, the album resembles one half-hour long movement rather than ten separate songs. However, as subsequent attempts by the band to vary its sound (as on 2000’s Equilibrium) have shown, Crowbar’s music is at its most effective and immediate when the band concentrates on delivering simple, riff-based outbursts of sheer fury. This is a concise, angry masterpiece, and a seminal moment in sludge metal history. I advise you to give it a listen.