Long-running New Orleans sludge/doom leaders Crowbar has revealed their new album is due this fall. The Serpent Only Lies is due out from eOne on October 28th. You can watch the new album teaser at this link or below:
Frontman Kirk Windstein comments on the new album:
“We are so excited about our 11th studio record! The Serpent Only Lies is a powerful follow up. Eliran Kantor did a brilliant job with the artwork! Our first release, ‘Falling While Rising’, is Crowbar at its finest… HEAVIER THAN EVER!!!”
The Serpent Only Lies is the follow up to the acclaimmed release Symmetry in Black that sold over 4,000 copies in its first week of release in 2014, the highest of any LPs in the band’s 27 year career, beating 2011’s Sever the Wicked Hand.
Further discussing the album Windstein said “To me, it’s a fresh-sounding version of old-school Crowbar.”
“I intentionally went back and listened to a lot of old Crowbar stuff, like the self-titled and Broken Glass albums, to get a feel for what my mindset was 20-plus years ago. I also went back and listened to the bands that influenced Crowbar in the beginning, like Trouble, Saint Vitus, Melvins, and the first Type O Negative record. So it was kinda me doing my homework.”
“Even lyrically, the approach was a little more old-school. Some of the songs have less lyrics to let the riffs breathe a little more, which I had kind of gotten away from over the years. It was a conscious thing to go back to that.”
The Serpent Only Lies marks the return of original Crowbar bassist Todd “Sexy T” Strange, who left the band back in 1999. He now now joins Windstein, drummer Tommy Buckley and guitarist Matt Brunson. “Todd helped start the band, so having him back is important to me and, I think, the fans,” said Windstein. “It’s a great feeling to be standing onstage next to him. It’s a breath of fresh air for the band and makes us stronger.”
This month’s Under the Surface has us traveling from the familiar trappings of Manchester, New Hampshire all the way to London, Scandinavia and the heart of Southeast Asia. The mission as always is the pursuit of the latest and greatest in unsigned or undiscovered heavy music.
I start not too far from home, with New Hampshire’s At the Heart of It. The challenge, particularly in the New England area, is finding a way to stand out in a crowded hardcore scene. You can’t swing a dead cat in Boston without hitting 14 bands cannibalizing each other’s sound. With their self-titled EP, At the Heart of It found a way to stand out. And the here’s the catch what helps separate them is not their aggression, but the more quiet moments like in ‘Create/Sustain’ and ‘This World Has Teeth.’ The vocals are so pained that I just want to buy the band a cup of coffee and tell them that things will get better soon. But not too soon, I’m really digging this sound. 8.0/10
Next is Abodean Skye and their new LP Echoes of an Astral Empire. This UK trio are the type of band that gladly remind you that it’s hip to be square as proven by singing that would make Geoff Tate, soaring melodies and keyboard runs that wouldn’t feel out of place in a vintage Final Fantasy game. Then you have song titles like ‘Battle of Tears’ and ‘Return of the Fleet.” And that kind of nerd cred isn’t a knock, either. Echoes is a very fun album, particularly if you have a sweet tooth for histrionics and bands like the underrated Cellador.
Sure at 55 minutes it can feel a bit lengthy, but it seems like epic was the MO here. And while on the subject of epic, I would’ve liked the production to have a little more pop to it. The mix here is serviceable, but the compositions could’ve used a little more energy to them. It’s a quest worth venturing. 7.0/10
Keeping with that same nerd enthusiasm is Helsinki, Finland’s Tulitera. Seriously, that cover art is probably the geekiest thing I’ve ever seen and I collect Batman comics. But this instrumental collective is so much more than their art suggests. Move past Tulikaste’s crude sword illustrations and you will find a very sophisticated and ambitious sound. Fans of Tesseract will feel right at home with songs like ‘Voidborn’ and ‘Firedew’ has sweeping synths that sound like something that Vangelis forgot to use in Blade Runner. And while ‘Firedew’ is one the album’s highlights it illustrates that much like Abodean Skye, Tulitera let the songs run for a little longer than expected. Case in point, ‘Percolator’ feels less like an introduction and more like 3 minutes of nothing.
And I can already hear you shouting “but Hans, this progressive metal, it’s supposed to have longer songs.” Yes and no. If the riffs are there then go for that 14 minute Between the Buried and Me musical freakout. If not, then trim it and get your point across a lot faster. But given that this is a debut LP it’s a flaw that can be overlooked. 8.0/10
And since we’re on the subject of longer songs why not talk about the Burning Water split EP between Philipino sludge acts Death After Birth and Surrogate Prey. How do I put this? One of these bands has a promising future and other does not. I take it they haven’t been around long, but Death After Birth really shit the bed with their half of the recording. They slog by checking off all the traditional doom and sludge checkboxes with a sound that only can be described as basement quality. It’s like Crowbar, but without the riffs or Kirk Windstein or the great guitar tone. However, Surrogate Prey sound like they know a thing or two about playing low and slow. ‘Crevianitus’ is soul crushingly heavy and memorable and ‘Banquet of the Beasts’ has a breakdown the size of Alaska. Surrogate Prey save the day here. 6.0/10
And to wrap things up we have another split EP, Irk | Wren, featuring the British talents of Irk and Wren respectively. Irk storms out of the gate with a brand of noise highly reminiscent of fellow Brits, Fudge Tunnel and a vocal delivery that sounds like Jonathan Davis on Quaaludes. And tracks like ‘You Sound Like my Ex-Wife’ and ‘Cibo Per Gattini’ are some of the rare and very awesome instances where the bass is more prominent than the guitar. As good as Irk is, Wren steal the show with some of the heaviest post-metal goodness since Isis. If you’re still heartbroken over their breakup then Wren are more than willing to fill in that blank space in your life. Forget an EP, after listening to the atom smashing closer that is ‘An Approach’ I need a double LP. 9.0/10
Crowbar has spent much of 2014 touring behind their tenth full length record titled Symmetry In Black (out now via EOne Music). Already headlining a tour with Revocation, Havok, Fit For An Autopsy and Armed For Apocalypse; the Symmetry In Winter tour with Unearth and Black Crown Initiate, and appearing at Maryland Death Fest and the Scion AV Rockfest, they have kept themselves busy and also celebrating 25 years of the band in the meantime.
Photo By Keith Chachkes
One thing frontman and guitarist Kirk Windstein did was bow out of his long time “other” band Down in 2013, which the decision helped with him focus on Crowbar instead of balancing multiple bands.
He admits that leaving Down allowed him to put all of his time into Crowbar without juggling schedules. “I do have a clearer vision but it’s not that I have another band to worry about. It’s just that Down is a democracy and so is Crowbar. The difference is, and when I told Phillip [Anselmo], he understood me. ‘You’ve always been in charge of your career. You did what you wanted to do. If you wanted to stop doing Down and do Superjoint [Ritual], you did it. If you wanted to stop that and concentrate on a record label, you did it. Stop that and do a solo record, you did it.’ He was very cool about it, of course. He is my brother. I love him until the day I die. He was very cool about everything.”
“The situation for me in my life had changed to simplify my life was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Now I’m in control. Now as in an arrogant asshole – I’m in control of when I tour, where I tour, how long I tour. My wife does merchandise. To us, Crowbar is a family business. So if we’re not on the road doing Crowbar, we’re at home being a family. To me, it was a logical, perfect step for us as a family. You saw what you saw and this band kicks ass. I put us against anybody. I ain’t scared of nobody. We don’t need bells and whistles, explosions, dragons, demons, light shows or none of that bullshit. I’m proud of what we do and I believe in what we do. That’s why I’m doing it.”
He said he likes how things are moving along with Crowbar and has regained control of his career. “Now I call my own shots. At my age…not to sound like a dick but I deserve to be in control of my own life and my career. With Crowbar, I do that.”
25 years is a milestone for any musical venture, and with Crowbar, they have crafted their own style around a slowed down tempo, riff oriented metallic rock sound that is often emulated but rarely topped.
“We sent Mike Judge a package with a video, a t-shirt….’hey, here’s a couple videos of our band Crowbar. Have fun…make fun of us.’ Sure enough…we’re on Beavis and Butthead! What?! We thought it was great.”
“Occasionally…ok maybe once a year, somebody will say something and we’ll watch it. It’s great and it’s an honor to be on the program. It’s a great show,” recalls Crowbar frontman and guitarist Kirk Windstein, about those early years and the exposure they got from the iconic television series.
They released their tenth album earlier in 2014 titled Symmetry In Black (eOne), which reaches a new milestone in the band’s career. Sticking to a sound that they as much as their hardcore fans know very well, they created a record that hits as hard as they sound.
They began writing the record following Windstein’s departure from Down, the iconic riff rock outfit he was part of until 2013. From that point he made his focal point to be Crowbar and it began with the writing of the new album. “I didn’t even start writing until September ,” explained Windstein. “We entered the studio in December. It was pretty close. Our mindset was good is not acceptable. It has to be great. I told that to the engineer. I produced. I think we accomplished our goals and everything else we set out for the record.
“I co-produced with Duane Simoneaux. He’s an engineer, but he adds a lot. He helps me with guitar harmonies and rhythms like guitar, piano, bass, drums, whatever. He’s a jack of all trades. He understands everything. He did so much work on this one that it’s co produced.”
One of the changes that came with his departure from Down was parting ways with bassist Pat Bruders, who until recently was doing double duty with both bands. Having to make a choice, Bruders stuck with Down and Windstein having to replace him with former Thy Will Be Done bassist Jeff Golden.
“I kind of gave him an ultimatum. I said I’m only doing Crowbar. If you want to stay in Down I understand that. But I said you can’t be in both. I’m happy and that’s all that counts. We have Jeff [Golden]. He’s a great guy and he’s one of my best friends now and he rocks with the band with us now.”
Making that decision did not always sit well with his peers as well as critics alike, but Windstein was never one to do things but his own way. “You have some people who said I should have stuck around with Down. People think I’m nuts, but I’m not. I believe in Crowbar. Even though Down’s a bigger band…you know who our crew is? My wife. She works for free. As much money as I made with Down…I work a lot harder. I carry my own guitars and set up my own shit. I don’t give a fuck. That’s the way I started out and that’s the way I am. It’s humbling.”
Photos By Meg Loyal Photography
Windstein spoke about reaching this golden moment in his career, and whether it comes with any real surprise that he reached it at all.
“Yes and no. I mean the young dude in me was determined to do it. But to think the band has ten records and 25 years in, while a lot of bands have one or two records and fall off the face of the Earth. To be doing the same band 25 years in, it’s pretty amazing.”
He is proud of the sound he helped shape, but is a modest guy who appears more about the music than anything else. He became part of a musical movement within New Orleans who loved heavy music with a distinctive sound that sounded like no other. What came after that took a life of its own. “I’m not surprised that it did and I’m not surprised because we did something that nobody else had heard or a genre to put us in. They made a genre called sludge. To me it’s just heavy music. They made it for bands like Crowbar and Eyehategod. Ok it’s close enough! Sounds good…”
“We didn’t know what to make of it. The public didn’t know what to make of it. To me it’s the highest honor to hear all these great bands call us an influence. We appreciate that very much.”
Photo By Kaley Nelson
Crowbar has had a history of members coming and going, and some returning at various times. But despite their shuffling of lineups, Windstein has maintained good relations with many of them over the years.
“I keep in touch on and off with Craig Nunenbacher, obviously Jimmy Bower, Todd Strange a little bit, Matt Thomas emailed me out of the blue. I haven’t talked to him in years. It’s kind of weird. The guys who played on the records pretty much. I see Sammy [Duet] around New Orleans all the time.”
“Me and him [Jimmy Bower] kind of started it together, to be honest. ‘I wanna play guitar in a band’ – so he started Eyehategod. I would teach him stuff over the telephone on guitar – fret five, do this…back then we had nothing to do. It was cool. We kind of started around the same time as Eyehategod. It was our vision to do what Crowbar does”.
Photo by Meg Loyal Photography
One thing that is undeniable is how Crowbar’s sound has grown over the years with their ‘less is more’ approach, and crafting a powerful sound that fans have grown to love.
“It’s because WE get better. The odd thing is, I’m 49 years old but I’m still the 13 year old kid with the tennis racket playing air guitar to KISS. The passion is stronger than ever. It’s stronger than it’s ever been to do Crowbar. It’s 25 years. I spent half my life doing it.”
As for Crowbar’s impact on music, he says he has not changed much but experience has groomed him into what he is today. “I’m the same guy I was but it’s me. I’m the same man, kid, punk mother fucker, but at 49 years of age. I did my time on stage and that’s where I belong and I do my thing. I do it stronger and harder and my heart is in it.”
There have been a lot of killer tours of late, but few packed the variety and the punch of the bill accompanying Crowbar on their latest jaunt. Rather than take out a bunch of similar bands with an overlapping fanbase, the creators of this tour package took a bunch of cool bands that are all slightly different in genre and fandom make-up and sent them out to do something really unique. It definitely worked, because for a Tuesday night, the upstairs of the Palladium was fairly thick with heshers and heifers by the time my awesome photog for the night, Meg Loyal, and I rolled into the venue.
Armed For Apocalypse was already on when I got in, and they seemed to be going over well with the the early crowd. Apparently I also missed a slew of great local talent, which pissed me off. Promoters of shows: stop beginning before 7 PM on a weeknight (Tuesday) when most of your crowd is driving from 65 miles away or more during rush hour. Armed… meanwhile put on a killer show I wasn’t expecting this early. Their talents lay somewhere between a sludgy metal base with some grooves, death metal flair, and occasional flashes of technicality. They also had a gang-vocal-thing going on from most of their band that I liked too. We’ll be looking out for these guys again!
Fit For An Autopsy has been grinding it out live non-stop this year. They continue to pick up steam since adding Greg Wilburn to their ranks. The Palladium crowd also takes a fancy to this band they know very well from numerous shows and fests, and so the crowd was amped up and the pit was instantly activated. These guys always put on a killer performance and inspired the best, most violent pit action of the evening. There is just something about the way they carry themselves with confidence and the brutality of their style, I can really see them stepping up to the level of a Suicide Silence or a Whitechapel when their next album drops in 2015. You’ve been warned, don’t sleep on this band!
At the midway point of the night, I caught myself feeling very positive about the current scene, and that a tour like this can even happen and pass through our neck of the woods. Sentiment. I need to watch that! Meanwhile Havok came on and clearly had some of their own fanbase in the house, because their entire front of the stage was more or less a total circle pit for their set. A band that has hit the 10-year mark and also has a big following in our area, had a triumphant feeling hitting the stage and thrashing their balls off. Front man David Sanchez, like his entire band, has some sweet musical skills and has a shriek not unlike Mark Osegueda of Death Angel, who make a fair comparison for the band too. Special note goes to Marshall Wieczorek of Wretched, who was filling in for Pete Webber behind the kit did a great job. The band recently signed with Century Media and are also planning a new album for next year.
The Palladium, even the more intimate part of the venue upstairs, can be a clusterfuck on any given day. It was cool seeing a lot of my my local brethren of metal fans and friends at the show. It had been a very heavy week of shows in our surrounding area, with many national and local bands worth seeing. Still, I was impressed that by the time Revocation took the stage, the place was pretty full. Ans why not? Being a Boston band and playing this venue was practically a hometown show and many people in the house were sporting their Revocation shirts (a no-no to me, but good for the band I suppose). The anticipation was higher than usual, since the band has signed a new deal with Metal Blade and are on the cusp of dropping their new album Deathless. The band played a tight set with a mix of “hits” and new songs that left bodies sweaty on jaws on the floor. As usual, a lot of folks are just here for the guitar fireworks in the form of Dave Davidson and Dan Gargiulo. Their rhythm section was augmented tonight too, with Jon “The Charn” Rice (Scorpion Child, ex-Job For a Cowboy, The Red Chord) filling in for Phil DuBois (arm injury). Revocation is just one of those bands that wears many hats and pulls it off extremely well.
Heading back stage to interview Revocation, I was just wrapping up my chat when I heard the strains of the first few songs of Crowbar’s set. The went on pretty quick with little turnover apparently, but I didn’t miss much. The crowd was doing the “slow acknowledgment” head-bang to ‘Symmetry In White’ when I finally made it back downstairs. Kirk Windstein made a funny crack about turning all the lights off, then just relegating the rest of the night to a sparse spotlight, that was befitting of this workman-like band. As their set list shows Crowbar is as important to this genre as they relevant today, with a string of great songs and new material that holds up too. Kirk likes to slide to the side of the microphone when not singing, an unintentional but necessary move that puts him where he belongs, front and center. He has a solid group of guys behind him these days, but it makes him shine that much brighter.
About half-way through the set I realized this was about the best Crowbar show I’d ever seen. Kirk has raised his game up a few more levels than he was already at over the years and his laser focus on this band has definitely paid off. While a lot of people associate the band with ‘All I Had (I Gave)’, it was a song like ‘Planets Collide’ that really write the story of this band in granite. Kirk, his voice up to a mic and his hands around a guitar neck are a treasure to the metal community. I hope we get to enjoy them for a long time.
Since 1995 Down has been the leading lights of metal. When the super-group released their debut NOLA (Elektra) it was an amalgam of the best of the best members of Southern influenced metal. Despite the great names among their ranks, they were almost an underground band, with little fanfare, that did a few short tours and then little else, at first. However, their fanbase grew over time, almost willing the band into full-time existence. Ever since 2001, the band has been regularly putting out fine releases, and passing on the torch to a new generation of other bands. With the release of the throwback feeling Down IV- Part II (Down Records) the band continues to cement their legend. Senior Editor Keith Chachkes chatted with the ever humble Jimmy Bower (EyeHateGod) about the evolution of the group.
We started off our chat with Jimmy by immediately addressing the departure of founding member Kirk Windstein from the group last fall. Whenever Down has lost a member in the past, it seemed to always be from within the Down extended family, and this has held true with Bobby Landgraf being chosen as the new guitarist:
“Kirk left the band last year. He wanted to concentrate on Crowbar full time. So on this EP, we introduced Bobby. He was our stage manager for five years. It was really cool and made sense to get Bobby into the band. The first Down EP had a couple of songs left over from our other records. This EP was all new stuff. This was one of the smoothest records we have ever made. Like you touched on, it kind of gets back to the basics of Down.”
“If you really think about it, you have to spend 24 hours a day with this person. You have to have the same influences. You have to know Down well enough, to know how to write a song with us. With Bobby, he’s been our stage manager for five years. He understands the Down sound and how we work. He is like family. He is family. We really like and respect his guitar style. He comes from the band Honky, which is really like a ZZ Top-style, Texas rock band that we dig. Like I said, you have to be able to live with this person. It was a really easy decision for us.”
Since this series of releases has been in the works for quite some time, we asked Bower if there were going to be any leftover songs from the Kirk era on future releases.
“Kirk wanted to do Crowbar full-time. We completely respected that. But the cool thing about this EP as well, is all these songs are brand new. I don’t think any old riffs of Kirk’s or anything like that are going to be used or anything, just out of respect. Because he might want to use some of those riffs in Crowbar someday. Besides, riffs are too easy to write! (Laughs)”
Although some eyebrows were raised at the time two years ago, the decision by the band to release a series of shorter releases instead of just a couple of full-length albums has proved to be an inspired choice. Jimmy went into detail about the concept, and how it evolved once Landgraf came into the fold.
“The whole idea behind the EPs was that each EP should reflect a different style and sound that Down does. We’ve got heavy stuff, mellow stuff, trippy stuff. Since Kirk left the band, we decided on this EP to just write a record with Bobby, you know? Just to have a fresh start. I’m sure the next EP will definitely reflect a different style. For this one, it just made sense with Bobby just getting in the band, you know, “let’s just write a good Down EP”. All the songs are brand new. It was one of the easiest records Down has ever made. All the riffs are brand new. Bobby came in with some riffs, everybody wrote riffs for this one and contributed. It’s great and it feels like a fresh start.
Several members of the band have long floated the notion that they band would make a mellow, acoustic album at some point in the future. Will this come to fruition soon? Bower reveals this as the possible direction for the next EP:
“It will be more reflective of songs like ‘Jail’ on Nola and, like Down II. You know, Down II was really kind of an experimental record for us with a bunch of different styles. We’ve already started talking about that actually, and everything like that. That was the whole point of these EPs, to represent all the different styles of the band. We are back on track with that.”
Down is currently out on the Revolver Golden Gods Tour with Black Label Society, Devil You Know, and Butcher Babies. We asked about the challenges of not being the headline band for a change:
“We are going out with Black Label. The only mis-fortunate thing about that tour is, we are only getting an opening slot. So I don’t think we are getting more than an hour. With that said, the plan is to definitely play songs off the new EP on the tour. At least three of `em. We’ve been practicing, and we’ve got three and have `em down pretty good. We’re just looking forward to people hearing the new stuff too. We’re really excited about it man. Again, the new material sounds really fresh to us, so of course we will be playing some of it live.”
2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the NOLA album, and almost 25 years since the band was formed. Jimmy mused about the spark of friendship that helped created the band, and what his feelings are today about the group:
I remember when Down first got together, I thought the idea was amazing. We were all friends and it was a very influential time. We’d always hang out and listen to anything from Soundgarden to Sabbath to (Saint) Vitus or Witchfinder (General). It felt good for us as friends to get together. We’d all hang out, get drunk and listen to Vitus, Sabbath or whatever. It just made sense that Down was created. I am just honored to still be in it. We always told ourselves when we started Down, that this was the kind of band we could all grow old in and jam. I say this all the time that Down is really one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had as a musician, and it’s just a really cool thing to be involved in. And for it to still be going on, like you said, next year will be 20 years. It makes me feel old, man! (laughs)