Crowbar – Zero and Below Review

For over 30 years, Louisiana’s own Crowbar have been an institution, with guitarist/vocalist/main man Kirk Windstein helping redefine how downtrodden doom can be, and creating a pathway for future sludge worshippers to follow in his sizeable footsteps. During those years and eleven albums, Windstein and his crew of (forlorn) merry men provided a wealth of classics, with the likes of “All I Had (I Gave),” “Time Heals Nothing,” and “Planets Collide” (among a slew of others) laying the groundwork for many purges and cathartic sludgery. That said, with the exception of an occasional curveball, you pretty much know what to expect from Crowbar at this point, and on Zero and Below, that’s not going to change.

Which is fine! Not everything has to push boundaries, rip up envelopes, or throw wrenches into gears that run perfectly okay. If the formula doesn’t need doctoring or a touch-up, it’s best to leave it alone, and Kirk and company have done just that. Opener “The Fear That Binds You” wastes precious little time crushing you down, with Windstein and Matthew Brunson caving your head in with bludgeoning riffs and an overlying sense of urgency. Needless to say, like many Crowbar openers, “The Fear That Binds You” will go down a treat in a live setting.

That can be said for the vast majority of Zero and Below, honestly. “Chemical Godz” and “Her Evil is Sacred” both pummel you slowly, but contain just enough energy to spark many a throwdown in the pit. Elsewhere, “Bleeding From Every Hole” is almost straight-up hardcore. But that’s not the only gear they travel in, as there are some great moments of atmosphere peppered throughout. “Denial of the Truth” sees Windstein harmonizing vocally over a foreboding bass riff by newcomer Shane Wesley, and the closing title track is one of the most somber closers Windstein has recorded to date.

With all that said, though, the same problems that plagued Crowbar over the years continue to surface. While there aren’t any bad songs on Zero and Below, there’s not much here that differentiates itself from their older material, or even other songs on the album, so an overly strong sense of déjà vu permeates throughout. Also, Windstein’s always penned his lyrics with the nuanced subtlety of a two-by-four to the jaw, and it’s no different here, with some of those lyrics being incredibly heavy-handed like on “Bleeding From Every Hole”1 and “It’s Always Worth the Gain.”2 But I’ll take a heavy-handed Windstein wearing his heart on his sleeve over a majority of other doom metal lyricists any day of the week.

Besides, seeing Crowbar come back in-between Windstein’s jaunts with Down is always a welcome surprise, and Zero and Below has some great moments within. Does it topple the self-titled or Time Heals Nothing as my personal go-tos? No, but it’s a welcome aural bludgeoning while it’s playing. And like I said, the wheel doesn’t need further improvements. Some tweaks would be welcome, sure, but if the wheel works, leave it be.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: MNRK Heavy
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 4th, 2022


Reviewing the work of an important band late in their career comes with a unique set of challenges. Normally, one determines how an album performs based on its own internal logic PLUS how it sounds in the context of contemporaries. For a band like Crowbar, one must also consider how an album stacks up to the influential back catalogue, and balancing those things can be tricky. We all may wish that an album of extraterrestrial origin could just fall from the sky in the dead of night, and when we’re dispatched to the smoldering crater come morning, we’ll find an unprecedented experience to savor. “Oh damn, these doom riffs!” we’ll say. “This sludgy guitar tone! I’ve never heard its like.” But we have. A word forms deep in our subconscious, quietly at first, then louder, until it’s ejected from the mind involuntarily: “Crowbar. This sounds like Crowbar. But how can I know that? HOW DO I KNOW THAT NAME?” Suddenly the far future AI running the simulation hits refresh, having learned its lesson. A band like Crowbar is not only the reference point for themselves, but for a whole bloody genre. Without them, we wouldn’t even know what sludge doom should sound like.

Zero and Below, the 12th full length from these venerated New Orleanians, sounds unmistakably like Crowbar. Kirk Windstein’s voice is no worse for wear, still able to deliver that odd mix of “hardcore shout but singing,” as showcased on songs like “Confess to Nothing” or the title track. A production job that pulls the heavy out of drummer Tommy Buckley’s kit compliments riff craft by Windstein and Matthew Brunson that ranges from chugging stomps to epic doom crawls. Upbeat grooves are placed across Zero and Below, from the opening metallic boogie of “The Fear That Binds You” to the mid-album rager “Bleeding From Every Hole,” which sees Windstein reaching back to his OG hardcore punk past. That said, this is primarily and proudly a doom record, with down-tuned gut punches of melancholy like “Crush Negativity” doing the heaviest lifting. Speaking of crushing negativity, the lyrical themes of Zero and Below could be best described as a heavy metal pep talk. It seems the pandemic and general state of the world has Windstein feeling determined, so the general vibe is, as stated in “It’s Always Worth the Gain,” “Taking one step at a time, march on.”

It should come as no surprise that I’m an avowed Crowbar fan, so indulge my fanboying, if you will. Zero and Below is a case study in how to construct an engaging sludge doom album. Even in the most upbeat songs, the downward gravitational pull of a massive doom riff is always lurking in the shadows. Case in point, the final 1:30 of “Reanimating a Lie.” Directly following a hardcore sprint, the band stops on a dime and transitions into a carefully measured elastic riff that practically creates its own doppler effect. When the band goes for straight doom, as they do on “Confess to Nothing,” “Crush Negativity” and “Zero and Below,” the results are arguably the best songs they’ve written in a decade. It’s no stretch to say the title track or “Confess to Nothing” would fit snuggly into the band’s classic albums Odd Fellows Rest and Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form.

At this point in their career, people go to Crowbar for innovation like they go to casinos “for the buffet.” If you’re reading this and asking, “But Mr. Review Man, would I like this?” my answer is “That depends. How do you feel about Crowbar?” This is a band happy with the roundness of their wheels, no reinvention necessary, thanks. If you already like the way they roll, Zero and Below find them in fine form. If they’ve never clicked with you before, there is no new angle, no lean toward death metal or surprise blackened bits here that could open them up to you. I fall into the former camp, but I recognize that there will be folks who hear sturdy predictability and not much else. Thankfully, Crowbar sound predictably good to these ears.

Even as the band pushes into their fourth decade, Zero and Below find them with a pep in their step. They may be comfortable in their style, but the songwriting remains strong and the guitar tone pleasingly dense and undeniably sludgy. Crowbar have always been prime Cherd bait, and nothing here changes that.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Show 2 footnotes

  1. “I believe in strength/Never cast aside/And I will not let my emotions die./When you pay the price for the things you’ve done/You can thank yourself/You’re the chosen one.”
  2. “Burning for eternity/The fire that’s inside of me/Broken bones I feel the pain/But it’s always worth the gain.”
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