Heavy Lies the CROWN

How does a metal band that’s defined as being swampy, Southern sludge mixed with forceful Sabbath-style blues for nearly 30 years reinvent itself? In the case of New Orleans natives Crowbar, by reaching back to the past and reconnecting with the crushing, slow-and-low sonic attack they perfected in the ’90s, when nü-metal and rap-rock blasphemed metal’s truly heavy roots.

For their 11th full-length The Serpent Only Lies, Crowbar founder Kirk Windstein not only revisited his own band’s early material, he called upon that of influential, confrontational work by Trouble, Saint Vitus, Melvins and Type O Negative. And if titanic lead single “Plasmic & Pure” is any indication, this new material mashes up melancholy and brute-force riffs as well as anything that’s come before it. Even better, founding Crowbar bassist Todd Strange is back in the fold, and nearly every review of the band’s shows since he rejoined have been glowing.

The only downside? Windstein tells Folio Weekly that Crowbar won’t be performing anything off The Serpent Only Lies ahead of its Oct. 28 release date. “The main reason is because everybody videotapes everything with their cellphones. It could end up on YouTube or Facebook with really crappy audio, and I don’t want that to be the fans’ first experience
of new material.”

If you’re familiar with these Louisiana legends, though, you probably won’t mind. Windstein says that Crowbar’s previous 10 albums yield plenty of live-show fodder, including go-to fan favorites like “High Rate Extinction” and “All I Had I Gave.” Tommy Buckley’s drums are slow-paced but chest-rattling in their impact, while second guitarist Matthew Brunson provides an adept canvas for Windstein’s solos.

It’s the frontman’s tortured vocals and fierce look that most firmly root Crowbar in the metal landscape. But after 10 minutes on the phone with Windstein, his congeniality shines through. When asked to slot Crowbar somewhere on the insanely sub-atomized metal spectrum, he declined, describing the band as “Black Sabbath on steroids.” He then launched into an enigmatic story about his wife (who runs merch) excitedly bringing Kirk’s doctor up to watch Crowbar’s most recent hometown show. “At my next regular visit, I said, ‘What’d you think?’” Windstein laughs. “He said it was great — his description was ‘classic rock on steroids.’ That’s perfect. I’m not a fan of all these sub-genres. It’s metal, or it’s punk, or it’s hardcore, or it’s sludge, or it’s doom. Whatever you want to call it, it’s heavy.”

Even better, it’s long lasting. Crowbar first coalesced in the late ’80s, when thrash was at its pinnacle. But instead of cultivating a reputation as hell-raising terrors, whether at home or on the road, Windstein and company have persevered by sticking to their stylistic guns — and by following the holy trinity of tour survival: tons of water, tons of vitamins and tons of rest. “I sleep three times more on tour than I do at home,” Windstein laughs, “because my body needs it.”

How does a band of unassuming metalheads from The Big Easy endure through 30 years of recording and performance? By deciding to buck the metal trends they were faced with in the beginning and do something to separate themselves from the pack. Windstein cites Mötorhead as career inspirations; in press for The Serpent Only Lies, he said, “Slow and steady wins the race. If you continue to put out killer records, continue to kick ass onstage every night, and continue to treat your fans with respect, that’s the stuff
people will remember.”

“We’ve always strived to be original,” Windstein continues. “We survived every type of metal — screamo, black metal, death metal, rap-metal, nü-metal … You name it, we outlasted it. I love the fact that we don’t fit into any genre. We’ve always stayed on an even keel, building our following slowly and keeping our fans happy by doing what we’ve always done. We’re proud not to sound like anyone else.”