Review Summary: Though certainly not for everyone, Crippled Lucifer is a crushing voyage into darkness. A slow, repetitive, horrible darkness. Yes, that's a compliment.
Heavier than a block of uranium, denser than osmium and about as fast as a ***ing snail, ladies and gentleman, it’s Burning Witch! Formed from the ashes of the criminally overlooked band Thorr’s Hammer, Burning Witch is a band dedicated exclusively to the primal art of playing slow and playing heavy, and of the seven “psalms” in this 1998 release not one of them breaks these guidelines. However, the album is a brilliant affair, full of despair, agony, sorrow, and of course, DOOM! Though it can sound slightly unfocused at times, and is definitely a hard pill to sallow for non-doomsters, Crippled Lucifer grows on you after a few spins, planting its seed of darkness and misery into your soul and bringing you just a little closer to manic depression.
The album comes out all guns blazing, even if they are blazing at 30 beats per minute. “Warning Sings” opens the record with immense power, with its droning riffs, harrowing vocals and incredibly crushing riffs setting the template for what is to be expected from the rest of the album. The music is very simple, at times startlingly so, yet it is this very simplicity which makes it so striking, riffs are repeated infinite number of times until they are drilled into your bloodstream, while vocalist Edgy 59 (contender for worst stage name in metal) lays his combination of chants and shrieks on top of it all, like icing on cake. Though his lyrics are often incomprehensible, one could argue that this is for the better, getting to hear lines such as “Sabotaging my feelings/ Pseudo Seppuku” (Sacred Predictions) and “I won’t give way/ Adventure overdoes/ I won’t give it to you” (Warning Signs) may actually subtract from the destructive musical experience of the album.
Though the album is in comparatively over the top in its embrace of traditional doom clichés and the exaggeration of these, one of its biggest victories comes in the ones it chooses to ignore. Perhaps the most important of these is the time honored tradition for doom albums to have ***ty production. Crippled Lucifer, though still raw, vibrant and drenched in feedback, sounds absolutely awesome, and though purists may frown upon this statement it is only so for the better, the album is all the heavier and more crushing for it. With every instrument in its proper place in the mix and every note clearly coming through the speakers, the riffs become ten times as powerful as they would be in a traditionally crappy sounding record. However with three of the tracks recorded by none other than Steve Albini (Big Black anyone") it should be no surprise that the album sounds as good as it does.
As much as I can praise this band for their masterful and hypnotic droning tendencies, riffs stretch out for as long as 8 minutes apiece, this is also the album’s weakest point. Some tracks succeed greatly in their task, looping riffs for eternities without sounding stale, rather trance-like, especially the longest ones, such as “Stillborn” and “Sea Hag”. Though the shorter tracks are still great, it feels compared with these other gems that they sometimes don’t have enough time to develop, sounding slightly unfocused. However this is easily overcome, as most of the droning usually leads to something, as in the case of the excellent climax of “History of Hell” which is probably the album’s best moment. Besides, slight variations in fills and drumming patterns keep things interesting for the attentive listener, and as these details become more apparent with every listen, the album grows on you with every single spin, and like fine wine, gets better with time.
Listeners looking for any songwriting value, any commercial tendencies, or anything remotely related to conventional music can look somewhere else, preferably somewhere very, very far away. Crippled Lucifer offers a painful and agonizing journey of droning rhythms and hate filled music which will probably only appeal to those who have already ventured into the fields of extreme music, be it noise, drone/ambient or metal, yet these listeners will be able to appreciate its powerful, relentless charm.