By quitting the arguably more lucrative and high-profile Down after 22 years and re-dedicating himself to the band he formed back in 1989, Kirk Windstein sent out the clear message that this is Crowbar time and all other distractions must and will be kicked to the kerb.
Any doubts that this album showcases a band clicking into a higher gear evaporate almost immediately. Opening track Walk With Knowledge Wisely adheres rigidly to the Crowbar formula – lissom, downtuned riffing, a prevailing sense of melancholy and rage, nose-flattening heaviness and aggression – but there is something different about the band’s delivery, as if what was once rendered only in vivid monochrome has now taken on three dimensions: a richness of colour and a melodic depth underpinned by a vocal performance that is plainly the finest of Kirk’s career.
Symmetry In White follows – another exercise in pulverising sorrow and, again, a manifestly more rounded and deftly crafted song that belies Crowbar’s myopic reputation. The simple truth here is that Kirk Windstein has written some of his best ever songs this time around, harnessing the irresistible simplicity of ancient gems like All I Had (I Gave) and Planets Collide and projecting it across a broader sonic canvas.
The band’s uniqueness is retained throughout, but the subtle embellishments and elegant maturing of Kirk’s melodic instincts ensure that Symmetry In Black is too strong and too distinctive to be overshadowed by revered past glories. It’s hard to imagine a song as beautifully realised as The Foreboding sitting comfortably on any previous Crowbar album, for instance.
Pitiless in its punishing, pendulous gait, the song’s central riff is instantly memorable and the big guy’s vocal harmonies are sublime, inventive and wickedly eerie. In contrast, Ageless Decay is a no-nonsense skull-cracker that harks back to the brutal clatter of High Rate Extinction (from 1993’s self-titled album) while still acknowledging the bolder ambitions upon which the rest of this album thrives.
In terms of surprises, Symmetry In Black is well-equipped. The woozy psychedelic mantra of Amaranthine makes perfect sense between Ageless Decay and The Foreboding; an oasis of sinister calm between two thudding downpours. In contrast, the riff that precedes Teach The Blind To See’s final chorus is as twisted and disorientating as anything on the new Triptykon album, but slots seamlessly between huge slabs of jolting groove.
Devoid of filler, crackling with renewed confidence and intent and, as ever, heavier than just about everything else you’ll hear in 2014, Symmetry In Black is, you may infer, the album that Kirk Windstein always wanted to make. Pound for pound, riff for riff, it’s a stone cold classic.