CROWBAR did irreparable damage to themselves, if ya ask me, back in the mid-'90s. After they emerged with their tar-caked, ham-fisted big-riff sound and vein-straining vocals, they spent a good while coasting. Even Methuselan mainman Kirk Windstein has said in interviews that a lot of the early songs pretty much sounded the same. More than one person has replied to me, when asked about CROWBAR, "Isn't that that slow-ass band where the dude sounds like he's taking a shit while he's singing?" Quite a typecast job — thanks, "Beavis and Butthead".
So a lot of people missed it when, around 1998's "Odd Fellows Rest", Windstein started throwing a bit more spice and texture into his molasses gumbo of a sound. Christ, "Planets Collide", the opener from that record, remains one of his most spine-tingling, astonishing vocals — wrenching pain and fury out of the depths of some New Orleans bayous and howling it into the humid Louisiana night. That record and its follow-up, "Equilibrium", are arguably the band's peak as a diverse, dynamic songwriting outfit still firmly entrenched in the doomy, mud-bog sound they pioneered.
"Lifesblood For the Downtrodden" is the first CROWBAR record in four years, and that alone makes it a welcome sight. Windstein has cobbled together a whole new band out of the incestuous NOLA scene, but longtime sideman Craig Nunenmacher (now of BLACK LABEL SOCIETY) hits the skins on the album, and former PANTERA bassist Rex Brown plays bass and co-produces.
The star of the show, as always, is Windstein — his pathos-drenched vocals somehow convey raw, bleeding emotion through a throat full of gravel and whiskey, and his riffs churn and throb like dark Gulf waters before a hurricane. There's a dirty, massive groove to these lurching dirges, "Slave No More" and the harrowing "Coming Down" (a tale of detox and rehab made all the more uncomfortable considering the substance abuse history of a lot of New Orleans' best and brightest) coming across as the most memorable cuts. "Angel's Wings" is a surprising bit of punk crankiness, while closer "Lifesblood" (featuring piano from former drummer Sid Montz) is a seven-plus-minute acoustic trip, spooky and brooding, a detour down a back alley into a past-last-call insomniac's reflections on loss and failure.
For the most part, "Lifesblood For the Downtrodden" is standard-issue CROWBAR, despite the above-mentioned curveballs. But who else delivers this sound like they do, so consistently (if not all that often these days)? This album will mightily please the faithful, and just might win a few new converts over to CROWBAR's brand of paradoxical melodic swamp sludge. I can't think of a band (besides, hell, maybe THE RAMONES) that better personifies the town that birthed it.