Time flies when things are heavy. CROWBAR have been a weighty musical force for an impressive 32 years now, and yet nothing about “Zero And Below” indicates that founder and talismanic frontman Kirk Windstein is anywhere close to running out of steam — or riffs. With classics like “Odd Fellows Rest” and “Time Heals Nothing” already guaranteeing his band a seat at heavy metal’s high table, Windstein would have been forgiven for treading water. But if “The Serpent Only Lies” (2016) and “Symmetry in Black” (2014) elevated the CROWBAR sound to new levels of crushing craftsmanship, their twelfth full-length goes even further, offering up some of the finest songs to bear the band’s name in many years.
“The Fear That Binds You” is just the oppressive, riff-driven tonic that CROWBAR fans have come to expect. Huge of riff and insistent of grove, it’s as brutish and unforgiving as anything in the band’s repertoire, and Windstein sounds newly engaged, clearheaded and seriously pissed off. “Her Evil Is Sacred” turns up the doom and the tempo, and it’s CROWBAR in their absolute element: riffs that just won’t quit, and an incensed, near-feral vocal from the man himself. “Confess To Nothing” and “Chemical Godz” both deliver the classic Windsteinian goods: the former is a slithering, swamp-dwelling thing, propelled forward on waves of unease; the latter is a turbulent, soul-sapping monolith to its creators’ original blueprint, with SABBATH-ian rumble and woozy, tripped out terror equally integral to its impact.
So far, so eminently CROWBAR, but “Zero And Below” is a more adventurous record than its first few salvos might suggest. “Denial Of The Truth” is simply mesmerizing, with Windstein switching between a soulful, psychedelic croon and his usual anguished howl, all at a crippling snail’s pace, with true doom roots sticking out like the Devil’s trident. Elsewhere, “It’s Always Worth The Gain” revels in glutinous noise rock grooves and Louisiana swagger, while “Bleeding From Every Hole” is a crusty, punked-up hammer attack and a worthy successor to previous CROWBAR riot-starters like “High Rate Extinction”. Rather brilliantly, “Crush Negativity” must surely be the most remorselessly negative and menacing song about embracing positivity ever written, while “Reanimating A Lie” is a straightforward four-minute doom riff masterclass.
“Zero And Below” ends with its bruised and brooding title track, wherein Kirk Windstein‘s hoarse rasp floats through a shimmering fog of sludge, perfectly nailing the melancholy, regret and sense of loss that forever plagues humanity, and perhaps more now than ever. Heavy times demand heavy music. CROWBAR continue to be among the heaviest ever.