It feels like too long since Crowbar last put out a record. Even though some bands go considerably longer without new output, 2005’s ‘Lifesblood For The Downtrodden’ really does feel like a long, long time ago since Kirk Windstein’s men stomped a proverbial mudhole in our collective guts. This is in no small part down to Kirk’s involvement in Down – who’ve only become more and more prominent with their success – and his other side-project Kingdom of Sorrow. But as news of ‘Sever The Wicked Hand’ came to light, so did Kirk’s admission of a struggle with alcoholism. There’s no need to go into that story – lyrically, ‘Sever…’ does that for us. It pictures an overriding theme of a quest for redemption that largely runs against the themes of agony and negativity of previous Crowbar albums, instead replacing it with a more uplifting tone throughout.
Thankfully, Crowbar haven’t lost their penchant for delivering slug after slug of sludge anthems, and they return here with renewed focus. Make no mistake, they mean business here. Opener ‘Isolation (Desperation)’ is vocally and musically so aggressive that it’ll leave you bloody-nosed and asking for more of the same – which they obliging do with the title-track. Crowbar aren’t pulling their punches at all and continue to deliver hit after hit with the same intensity throughout.
One thing you will find is the number of shifts between fast and slow are upped here compared to previous albums, and it keeps the listener on their toes. ‘Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth’ is a stand-out track on this album, it’s mournful tone providing a return to familiar negative territory and the doomiest moment on this record. It sets up ‘Let Me Mourn’, which thunders along in much the same way but is no less uncompromising. The intensity re-up’s with ‘The Cemetary Angels’, which maximises the fast/slow shift to brutal effect with a monstrous breakdown sure to get moshpits around the world quaking to full effect; and ‘As I Become One’, which possesses a fantastic groove for the most part, Kirk practically celebrating his new-found sobriety in the lyric ‘I’m reinventing the man that you all thought was gone’. That’s the first part of the album done there, and not a foot put wrong.
‘A Farewell To Misery’ provides a break in proceedings, an instrumental track in keeping with the album’s theme but completely different to everything else, featuring a male-choir and a somewhat haunting piano. It’s pitched perfectly and sets up the remainder of the record very nicely. It struggles a little to rediscover the pace – there’s nothing wrong with ‘Protectors of the Shrine’ and ‘I Only Deal In Truth’ – both tracks are solid sludge numbers but don’t quite stand out as brightly as the majority of the rest of the record.
Yet just as you think it’s lost its momentum, they produce a diamond in ‘Echo An Eternity’, as fine a sludge ballad as you’ll hear all year round. When Kirk’s trademark croon reaches the chorus – ‘Innocence/beauty and innocence make me whole‘ – you soon realise that Crowbar have delivered yet another trademark mournful anthem in keeping with other classics among their back catalogue. The album closes with ‘Cleanse Me, Heal Me’, which sees Kirk discussing his struggles more evocatively than ever before, and ‘Symbiosis’. Both tracks are punishingly heavy and the latter finishes the album nicely with some dual guitar melodies that reflect the largely positive message that runs through ‘Sever The Wicked Hand’s’ arteries.
The production here is a little crisper than previous Crowbar releases, but thankfully it doesn’t allow for any sacrifice in sludgy bludgeonry. Pat Bruders (ex-Goatwhore), and Tommy Buckley (Soilent Green) deliver those goods in abundance, and Matthew Brunson also duels well with Kirk, particularly on ‘As I Become One’ and ‘Symbiosis’. Continuity clearly isn’t an issue for Kirk, especially with two more of Louisiana’s finest in the line-up.
Crowbar can definitely be proud of this one – it’s a stunning return after so long away, and one can only hope that Kirk’s commitments with Down and, to a lesser extent, Kingdom of Sorrow, don’t get in the way of further Crowbar releases in the future. Over 20 years strong, Crowbar are still showing why they are masters of their craft.