Redemption is always a great place to go for creative inspiration, and the new Crowbar album Sever The Wicked Hand has a redemptive theme running through it. I can’t say for sure if the album is centered on Crowbar frontman Kirk Windstein’s sobriety, but you can feel that he’s using that for emotional impact.
This is the first new Crowbar album since 2005’s Lifesblood For The Downtrodden and while Windstein has shined in other projects (Kingdom Of Sorrow, Down, etc), this is where he seems most at home. Sever The Wicked Hand takes musical cues from older Crowbar albums like Broken Glass and Odd Fellows Rest but layers in more technical ability and emotional depth.
When I say emotional depth, I don’t mean to imply that suddenly Crowbar has gone soft. The dark, sludgy sound that the band is famous for still resides in Sever The Wicked Hand, but musically it’s clear they’re looking to move forward sonically. Crowbar seems more comfortable with dynamics on this record, using peaks and valleys together in a song as opposed to just bulldozing through it. While the incredibly heavy guitar sound still pours like molasses in the winter, Crowbar toss in some nice harmony work, allowing the guitars to play off of each other instead of the standard sludge-solo-sludge routine.
I always enjoy when an album places something outside of its normal context. Here that prize goes to Windstein’s vocals. While not varying from his guttural, animalistic howl, Windstein puts his voice into something that rises above the normal fury and rage of the genre. When Windstein growls in “Cleanse Me, Heal Me”, it’s the same pain but put through a filter of moving forward and learning from life’s past mistakes. It’s a song about the dark journey anyone fighting to get clean would take and the strength of coming out on the other side.
One of the best surprises on Sever The Wicked Hand is the acoustic “Farewell To Misery”. Again Crowbar surprises me by turning against genre to make their point. This is the kind of dark acoustic sound that made the intro to Metallica’s “Fade To Black” so powerful. The weight of each note hangs heavy in the air like humidity in the Deep South during the month of August. “Farewell To Misery” has no lyrics, just a haunting choir and a bit of piano to heighten the experience.
Sever The Wicked Hand is also a smart record. Often when a band constructs an album around healing or sobriety it can become weighed down in sentiment. The whole thing can end up a grandiose homage to personal struggle, and also incredibly boring. Crowbar side steps that problem by balancing the thematic elements of the record with doing what they do best. Fast paced High Rocktane tunes like “The Cemetery Angles” and erratic, huge sludge rockers like “Protectors Of The Shrine” seem to say that sobriety hasn’t slowed Windstein or Crowbar in anyway; they can still throw down with the best of them.
Crowbar doesn’t completely rise above some of my issues with them. Sever The Wicked Hand tends to drag in some places for me and the repetitive nature of the beast itself can get wearing at times. Interestingly enough, I think that’s a good thing. Crowbar do what Crowbar do and if they had completely changed their identity it would have rung false. Instead Windstein and his new crew show that Crowbar is not only here to stay, but also moving forward with their sound.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 7 1/2 OUT OF 10