(Metal Descent says “self-aware not self-conscious”)
My first listening impression of Crowbar’s Symmetry In Black was, “Wow.” I did not expect to enjoy this album as much as I did. Imagine one part self-aware stoner and one part sensual sludge with a slick of psychological “mind-fuck” doom. This album is dark and dirge-like as if the sludge had putrefied into a thick, black smear of iridescent rot.
There is continuity to the songs. Each one is different, yet Crowbar has created a symphony with twelve movements. The tracks are loaded in an order that evokes the torment of Alice In Chain’s Dirt, but this is the evolved and cognizant version. There is no suicide watch. Instead, this is the album that reads the obituaries every morning to see who among its peers it has outlived. It is a wise and devious album. Think of Sever The Wicked Hand only fermented: deeper, jaded around the edges, and impossible to fool.
“Walk with Knowledge Wisely” sets the tone. Sludgy guitars introduce the album with a dark, minor scale set over a percussive groove. We’re told to “walk with knowledge wisely/you don’t have to die/put an end to what poisons you.” Everything matches: the tone, the sound, and the lyrical theme. The percussion is technical yet catchy. There is no fussiness or pretension in any of the songs in this vein: “A Wealth of Empathy,” “The Taste of Dying,” “Reflection of Deceit,” and “Shaman of Belief.” Here we catch flavors of Motorhead and Black Label Society with interesting time-changes and dueling guitars peppered throughout.
Perhaps my favorite song is “Teach the Blind to See” and not because it is technically or artistically more appealing than the other songs, but because this is where self-awareness of Crowbar’s artistic evolution is most evident to me. “Into freedom I lead you/know I’m not the enemy/I can teach the blind to see/just believe and follow me/this becomes a legacy.”
Fortunately, there is a variety that pleases as Crowbar ventures into some trippier territory with “Symmetry in White,” “Amaranthine,” and “The Foreboding.” These songs have a psychedelic tone without interrupting the flow of the album. The vocals are seething and atmospheric while each of the instruments contributes to the whole. There is no posturing. This is a united front.
For those of you who enjoy a faster, thrashier sound, Crowbar provides two well-placed tracks in “The Ageless Decay” and “Symbolic Suicide.” These songs pick you up and throw you against the wall just to remind that Crowbar hasn’t lost their edge, but right now they’re doing “adult” things and you need to sit down, shut-up, and let them finish. The album wraps up with an instrumental dirge to tie up any thematic loose ends. In “The Piety of Self Loathing,” is found the perfect, mournful finish.
I commend Crowbar for this effort and for sharing their evolution as seasoned veterans of sludge metal. There is alchemy to this album, as if each of the processes of this ancient art were blended into a sonic balance and tension. The feeling reminds me of the sensation of weightlessness you get when the see-saw is perfectly parallel to the ground. The achievement of such an effect with music is a sign of mastery.
I.O. Kirkwood is a Metal Descent contributor. You can check out her personal blog at http://iokirkwood.com.