In 2016, if you’re still listening to Crowbar then you know what to expect: slow tempos, chugging riffs, raspy vocals, the occasional shifting time signatures, and – most of all – comforting, loud familiarity. The Louisiana sludge pioneers have been doing what they do best for thirty years after all, and even with their endless line-up changes, you can count on them to deliver the goods. After nearly three decades grinding away, they might not sound as fresh as they once were; often is the case with so many bands who don’t evolve significantly with time is they get stale. On the other hand, some bands try to evolve and end up worse because of it. But Crowbar are a band who’ve remained consistently good for the duration of their career so far without ever departing from their roots, and it’s never been to their detriment – nor is it now.
That said, latest album, The Serpent Only Lies, does contain elements which were non-existent on their 1991 debut, Obedience Thru Suffering. But these slight differences are minuscule and merely a result of the natural growth and maturity of a veteran band. Crowbar will always be the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners swamp titans they were the day they started, and their vitality to their scene all these years later is a testament to their still-burning passion and ability to continually hit that sweet spot only their most ardent fans will understand – and with original bassist Todd “Sexy T’’ Strange back in the fold, the old gang continue to exert their dominance over many of their peers.
For their 11th studio outing, as you’ve probably gathered already, it’s business as usual for the New Orleans foursome. Proceedings kick off with all the familiarity of a family reunion – albeit a very dysfunctional one with your angry, bearded uncle – as “Falling While Rising’’ trudges its way straight to the jugular. Thematically, it’s about overcoming setbacks; falling, dusting yourself off and getting back up again. This is an age-old adage Chumbawamba made famous, but Crowbar deliver it with more sincerity and grit.
“Plasmic and Pure’’ is more of the same, but veteran instincts kick in with “I Am the Storm’’ as the tempo is sped up a gear with a hardcore punk tempo and some master thrashing for good measure. In fact, it’s quite reminiscent of Hatebreed, and it’s one of the best tracks in their impressive canon. Better yet, it’s going to go down a storm during the live shows as it’s a certifiable mosh pit anthem most metal bands would be proud to include in their arsenal.
“Surviving the Abyss’’ is the highlight of the record, due in no part to its catchy southern rock riff and the raw emotion of Windstein’s throaty crooning. The title is also reflective of the Biblical theme running throughout the album, like that of 2011’s Sever the Wicked Hand. It’s also, perhaps, the most uplifting track on the album as it thematically explores the concept of growing stronger from negative experiences. The album contains a lot of metaphorical lyrics pertaining to themes such as loss, addiction, spirituality and the nature of humanity. It’s a dark record, but it’s not one completely devoid of hope either; it’s the honest pondering of experiencing life and the world at its best and worst and how one perseveres and comes out stronger in the end.
The Serpent Only Lies is no-frills, no-pretences sludge metal at its finest. While it won’t win over any non-fans to the band, it’ll provide existing ones with satisfying comfort food. Not many bands can simultaneously plod and pummel as masterfully as Crowbar, and after all these years grinding away, they’re still top of their game and as vital as ever.
The Serpent Only Lies is available now via eOneMusic.