Published Feb 20, 2011They may be slow, even modestly dilatory, but one can't say New Orleans-based sludge monsters Crowbar are the least bit apathetic. Six years after the monolithic Lifesblood for the Downtrodden seeped out of speakers like a glacier full of sharp objects, these hardcore-infused behemoths issue ninth work Sever the Wicked Hand, another excursion into demonic, genuine dirges. Haunting, dynamic and embittered without hitting the point of cynicism or detuned cacophony, from bellowing vocals and lumbering drum patterns to barbarous guitar riffs, Crowbar strike the consummate balance between girth and momentousness. Tracks such as "Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth" are so cumbersome they seemingly started in the Proterozoic era, rumbling along into today. Offsetting that grind, aggressive, agitated tracks such as "The Cemetery Angels" are so explosively dominant they induce an adrenal cocktail of enthusiastic fear. With such weighty tunes, it's no wonder Sever the Wicked Hand took so long to realize. Wringing out these earth-shattering riffs was no small feat. While far from surprising or out of character, mainstay Kirk Windstein continues to infuse heaps of hooks into every song, creating 12 imposing, beastly, virulent tracks. Gaps between Crowbar albums may be measurable in epochs, yet when hearing such volatile fury, maybe that's good — our bodies need the rest.
This album finds Crowbar at your most popular some two decades in.
Windstein: It's weird. When we came out, we were ahead of our time. We were releasing records when the Internet didn't exist, yet we're selling three-times the amount of albums now, doing our best considering the state of the music industry/lack of retail outlets. But Crowbar haven't changed; we've matured at what we've done all along. In return, music is finally catching up.
That's an interesting way to put it.
We still sound like us, but it's not as out-of-place as when we started. Twenty years ago, it was rare and bizarre to hear a guitar tuned down, whereas it's common now. By no means am I saying we started it, but we had a big hand in it.
To go a step further, a lot of bands drop-tune, but it doesn't mean they're as heavy as Crowbar.
Thanks. Heavy is an emotion; it has nothing to do with how fast or slow you play or how you tune. It sounds fruity, but music is an expression, an art. You can use 20 stacks of amps and tune down to G; it doesn't mean it's heavy if your heart and emotion aren't in it.
It's nice to hear some new music after six years.
Yeah, we're going to try and keep things rolling, where it's not only one band for a couple of years, like we do, rotating between Down, Crowbar and Kingdom of Sorrow. We're going keep all three working and in the forefront at the same time.
You have to put the other two bands on the backburner as one takes focus? Is that what causes these spans?
Yeah. When we all put Down back together, for lack of a better term, we had to make it a priority and put other projects on hold indefinitely until Down had done everything we wanted to accomplish. Then we took a break and approached other things. It was my main focus since early 2006, other than a couple of songs or shows for Crowbar when I had the time. It was so time-consuming though, when I got home, the last thing I wanted to think about was music. After a couple of weeks though, that changes. You've cut the grass, been to dinner and a movie, so it's time to jam again. Now that we all want to make each band equally important, we'll roll with it.
What a juggling act.
Yeah, it's difficult and stressful, at times.
With that gap, are the songs on Sever the Wicked Hand all new or were they compiled over time?
Some of them, like "Protectors of the Shrine," date back to 2005 and some are sporadically from here or there. It wasn't until Down had slowed down — no pun intended — around 2009; I got ideas together then, but it didn't come around to the way I wanted until we got to jamming in August of last year. It fell into place just before we hit the studio, with riffs and songs finally coming together. They were arranged and the stars lined up — all that B.S. We were actually still writing some of them in the studio though.
Some last minute tweaking?
Not even. The opening track, "Isolation (Desperation)," was pieced together in the studio. We didn't even know what we were going to do with it; it was a throwaway track because it wasn't complete. I'm telling the drummer what I'm looking for; it all fell into place once we had a drum tack nailed down that we could use. Then we built up the guitar riffs and came up with the bass line and intro.
That sounds kind of tense.
It wasn't a problem or a stress-fest because it's not uncommon for me to work like that. Kingdom of Sorrow do it too. Until the last possible minute, things are still being written and arranged. It ended up being so strong, we felt it was a great album opener.
Improvising can take songs places you never expect.
Absolutely. That's the fun part of writing and recording; I hear it all in my head. The harmonies and melodies are there, but it's never complete until it's on tape, well, ProTools. That's when the creativity of layering stuff happens. That's the fun part I thrive on and it's okay to work under a bit of pressure, musically. It's not fun to be stressed-out in life, but in the studio, you can concentrate on making music, which is enjoyable.
That's the crux of musicianship, isn't it: letting out that subconscious side through your instrument?
For sure; it's the artistic expression of your personality. Taking a couple of simple riffs, breaking them, twisting them and beating them into something great and then layering harmonies, melodies and lyrics is a joyful experience — bringing something to life. The final product of putting all that together is so gratifying.
Is there a time when you listen back to what you've done and think about how it could have been done differently though?
Of course, but you can be the perfectionist type of musician that's never satisfied or you can realize that what you did is killer and doing it a hundred more times won't make it better. I'm the latter. I go by the vibe and emotion of it. If those are right — if it feels right — then it is what it is. We're human beings, not machines. We don't make music like other bands, where everything has to be perfect. If we all agree that we played our asses off and the song kicks ass, why revisit it to perfect it? Nothing's perfect and the spontaneity of working the way we do makes us stand by our work.
It's Zen metal!
It kind of is because if the vibe is there, everything's fallen into place perfectly. Why make it all match up on a computer? That's not the kind of band Crowbar are. Find it somewhere else.
Well, Crowbar fans expect a natural feel, not sterility.
You can get sucked into how easily technology can make things perfect, to be honest. We do believe in ourselves enough to know when we're satisfied, though. We've done things where we've demoed stuff in the studio, with Down and Kingdom of Sorrow too, then gone back and tried to recreate it and it doesn't work. We don't demo shit anymore. When we record, it's for the record because when you do it spontaneously and hear it, it's great. Then you go back and try to recapture that initial vibe, but it's gone. You can copy it or beat it to death trying to find it again, but the emotional side from the demo is missing.
Being the mainstay of a band hitting its 20-year mark, what does Crowbar mean to you now?
More than it ever did before. I've grown from a young, inexperienced guy new to the whole thing into the person I am today: a father and husband who's been through a lot. That's a long time to be striving and working towards one goal, which is getting this band to the level it deserves. That's not the only reason, because I obviously love it too. I'd still make the same music if it was just for myself because that's the creative part of me. But, damn it, if I'm going to put all of this blood, sweat and tears into this thing, I'm determined to get it the recognition it deserves.
To abandon it at this point, what a disservice that would be.
Absolutely. I look at Motörhead as an example: keep doing what you're doing and do it well. They were certainly way ahead of their time and very influential; I'm not saying we're anywhere near as much of an influence on people. Still, it seems that from what I read and hear, we're an influence on some people, which is pretty flattering. (eOne)