Crowbar – Sever the Wicked Hand
Release: 2011Feb08 (US)
Label: eOne Music
Lots of dudes can claim to channel one Tony Iommi, but man, Kirk Windstein proves it every damn time. That’s not all he’s known for, though. It feels like he endures a lifetime of tribulation with each album, and now, recording sober, a painful layer of redemption covers Sever the Wicked Hand. It is the band’s ninth full-length, released six years (to the day) after 2005’s Lifesblood for the Downtrodden, and features a completely different band behind the imposing Windstein.
It’s not like they just met or anything—the Louisiana sludge still runs deep. Soilent Green drummer Tommy Buckley joined the fold back in 2005, as did Patrick Bruders after 7 years in Goatwhore. Newest to the band is Matt Brunson, Kirk’s Kingdom of Sorrow bandmate. Brunson slings the bass in that band, but trades six-string licks with Windstein here, who may now lack substance in his veins, but has it tenfold in his soul (yes, in a good way).
I’m going to quibble a bit later, but rest assured, all the tunes range from good to thigh-punchingly awesome. “The Cemetery Angels” was a great choice as lead single, as it not only explores the contemplative and repentant themes found throughout the album, but begins with a faster tempo that slows to the most devastatingly heavy breakdown in my recent memory. I triple-dog-dare you to find another band that pulls this off as convincingly as Crowbar. And speaking of which, I now feel it’s necessary to again explore my aversion to tropes like “the light”, which appear on half this album—including the empowering title track. I never rolled my eyes even once.
Well, maybe once. I’m not into the artwork by Mike D over at DarkicoN Design, which feels too bright for the subject matter. Perhaps the colors are reflective of the album’s relatively positive messages, including the literal severed hands on the backside, but I found the layout somewhat garish.
Their strength lies in the arrangements, because Sever the Wicked Hand is so incredibly familiar, yet never feels rehashed. For example, I hear shades of “Existence is Punishment” in “Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth” (the longest and most deliberately-paced track here) but the latter is ultimately distinguished by Kirk’s tormented bellows, above all else. And there is certainly torment aplenty—there always has been with this man’s music, across Down and Kingdom of Sorrow as well. But as he states in “As I Become One”, he will “ride the wings of change” while “reinventing the man that you all thought was gone”. Unashamedly autobiographical about his spirited return, Windstein bares all without fear of judgment. In fact, he even addresses those who might, at the start of “I Only Deal in Truth” when he asserts “So you’ve been judging me / You need to feel my pain first”.
That being said, I have another minor judgment call: both that song and the detox-fueled “Cleanse Me, Heal Me” feel as though they end abruptly—like they need an extra minute to better “come down” (if I may be so bold as to pun). But to reiterate, these are the problems you want to have (“Oh darn, only five badass riffs instead of six… woe to us!”). You just cannot predict albums this great, only champion them once they arrive, and Crowbar is set to strike harder than they ever have before.
My first Best of 2011 contender!
FCC: 10? (I actually hear “for this dying world” and not “fuck this dying world”)
Try: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12
01. Isolation (Desperation)
02. Sever The Wicked Hand
03. Liquid Sky And Cold Black Earth
04. Let Me Mourn
05. The Cemetery Angels
06. As I Become One
07. A Farewell to Misery
08. Protectors Of The Shrine
09. I Only Deal In Truth
10. Echo An Eternity
11. Cleanse Me, Heal Me