The Wednesday Sludge: Remembering CROWBAR's Genre-Defining Self-Titled Album
Every week, Nic Huber dissects the heavy riffs of bands — new and old — in The Wednesday Sludge. This week's column is dedicated a band I discovered on a Phil Anselmo t-shirt.
Being a kid growing up in Northeast Texas in the 1990s, you couldn't help but be completely enthralled in all things Pantera. Especially those music videos. Phil was practically a walking billboard, showcasing all the great bands from his hometown that we desperately needed to discover.
One of those bands was Crowbar, which I originally noticed in Pantera's "I'm Broken" music video. Formed originally in 1988 as hardcore punk band Shell Shock, with Jimmy Bower on drums and Kirk Windstein on guitar, the band went through several stages and band names before finding its low-tuned groove and adopted moniker.
The band, then known as The Slugs, had already broken up when Kirk and bassist Todd Strange (ex-Down) decided to reform the band as Crowbar with Craig Nunenmacher (ex-Black Label Society) and Kevin Noonan (later replaced by Matt Thomas) on guitar in 1991. While their first album was a failure in terms of notoriety and sales, the band's self-titled sophomore album, Crowbar, was the right album at the right time.
Produced by Phil Anselmo in 1993, Crowbar is 37-minutes of mind-crushingly slow, agonizing, sludge that make up the band's signature sound. Songs about perseverance, loneliness and pain coupled with the slow meaty riffs and bellows of Kirk Windstein help give the album the distinction of being the first album that truly sounds like Crowbar.
Compared with the band's 1991 debut Obedience Thru Suffering, Windstein's vocals are more restrained and convey every ounce of negative emotion that he bellows out. There are several songs that contain bursts of hardcore riffs, such as "Self-Inflicted," but most of the songs are slow and gloomy.
The video for "All I Had (I Gave)" was a regular on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, and both videos for "All I Had (I Gave)" and "Existence is Punishment" were forever immortalized in episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head where the two title characters poke fun at the band's physical size and doom-laden riffs.
"I thought it was amusing," Windstein told Rolling Stone of the appearance. "They could have a field day laughing at us, but as long as they jammed out to it and didn't say we sucked, that's cool."
The band's cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" is one of my favorite tracks on the album. While it doesn't necessarily out-do the original, Crowbar truly make the song their own by slowing it down and showing how fucking heavy Led Zeppelin could have been if they quit with all the psychedelic shit.
Aside from the riffs, one of the biggest highlights of Crowbar is its melancholy lyrics. That is something the band has yet to stray away from, even if Windstein is now no-longer an alcoholic. Even Beavis and Butt-Head had to quip at the line, "I gave my heart and soul to you," and later questioned if "Existence is Punishment" was actually a love song.
While not every song on Crowbar is memorable, there is no denying the album as a landmark for sludge. Crowbar might have gone on to record with more well-known songs like "Planets Collide," but the self-titled will always remain their most genre-defining.