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Crowbar – Symmetry in Black

One of Crowbar‘s seminal songs is “Like Broken Glass,” a mid-paced trudge evoking images of getting dragged by the hair across a field of broken glass. That, to me, is what Crowbar’s sound has always been about: hopeless suffering in the most brutal, direct way possible. But it’s an artful suffering, one with intelligence and passion, not simply the dull clobber of so much metal. With Crowbar’s latest release, Symmetry in Black, Kirk Windstein and his rotating crew of doom-mongers deliver their trademark style of passionate and despondent hardcore-influenced sludge metal with ruthlessness and grace, crafting a masterful album consistent with their old releases, but with enough new, interesting stylistic choices to signify the growth of a band that has not yet tired of playing.

Symmetry in Black isn’t anything new from Crowbar, but it is a refinement of their sound. The guitars retain the god-tier tone that made previous albums so heavy, and on this release it’s even heavier. Kirk Windstein’s voice packs the same punch as it did in 1991, and the riffs. . .by Kirk’s beard, the man is a riff machine. You know how, in many songs, one is sometimes tempted to skip ahead to get to “that one riff” which is just crushingly heavy and insanely catchy? Well, every riff on this album is “that one riff.” There’s not one lick in 12 tracks that is forgettable. For instance, “Symmetry in White” and “The Taste of Dying” both open with the sort of riffs that make you hit restart just to hear them again. Kirk Windstein is kind of like this generation’s Tony Iommi: a master player whose talent isn’t defined by how many notes he can play, but how memorable the chord changes he crafts can be.

However, Symmetry in Black isn’t just a carbon copy of Odd Fellows Rest or Broken Glass. With their new bassist and Kirk’s new, singular dedication to the band, Crowbar do not overhaul their sound, but instead fiddle with it, the way any band secure with their sound would. Note the more subdued vocals on “Symmetry in White,” contrasting with Kirk’s usual pained wail, or that interesting dual-vocal on “The Foreboding.” Crowbar also explore their hardcore roots to a greater degree here than many of their previous releases. “Ageless Decay” thrashes, two-steps, and breaks down with such vitriol and minor-key tonality that it answers the question, what if Crowbar covered Terror? Conversely, “Amaranthine” provides a brief “Planet Caravan”-esque respite to the proceedings, essential for a record that seems so hell-bent on punishment (existence is punishment, after all).

Perhaps Symmetry in Black is not the most innovative album of the year, perhaps it is not even the most innovative of Crowbar’s catalog. But it doesn’t seek to be and it doesn’t need to be. This is the sound of Kirk Windstein, still alive and kicking, jamming with his comrades on the monolithic, forceful music that he has codified over the past two decades. The album is not trying to do anything but bring the riffs and bring the punishment, an honest approach for a band that has made a career out of uncompromising honesty and sincerity. Crowbar remain comfortable in their Southern discomfort and are here to let you know it, one heavy-ass riff at a time.

— Rhys Williams

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