Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-metal // Exclusive Excerpt from the Book by J.J. Anselmi

Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-metal, is the upcoming book from author and musician, J.J. Anselmi, chronicling the history and idiosyncrasies of the heaviest aspect of heavy rock music, and the weighty genres mentioned in its title.

The book comes February 11th, 2020, through Rare Bird Books, and ahead of its release we have an exclusive excerpt published for the first time, centered around sludge metal masters, Crowbar.

J.J. Anselmi, author of Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music, as well as drummer for several bands, including In the Company of Serpents and Former
Worlds, and currently of Drainage, states about the Crowbar excerpt:

"I tend to get bored by books that use the same structure and approach for every chapter, so I decided to mix it up with this one and write a recommendation letter for Kirk Windstein to be selected for the imaginary distinction of Riff Master General. I had just lost my job, so I was madly sending out cover letters and feeling like I didn't want to write (or read) one ever again. That somehow turned into a joke in my head about writing a recommendation/cover letter for a musician and trying to do something fun with a mostly-boring form of writing. Kirk is one of the most legendary figures in doom and sludge metal, so I think it's a way to highlight that in a way that uses both humor and sincerity."

Read the chapter below.


To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to recommend Kirk Windstein, founder and chief of NOLA sludge forerunners, Crowbar, for the position of Riff Master General. Mr. Windstein was among New Orleans’s first purveyors of sludge, which is to say he was one of the first purveyors of sludge, period. From Shell Shock and The Slugs to Down and, of course, Crowbar, Mr. Windstein has orchestrated hundreds of perfect riffs—the ones that buckle knees. His riffs are written with the structural integrity of the most enduring architecture. They’ll stand up for as long as humans are around.

Before Crowbar, Windstein played in Victorian Blitz, covering heavy metal classics by the likes of WASP and Judas Priest. Not long thereafter, he joined a crossover thrash band called Shell Shock, wedding the primitive attack of Cro-Mags with the blistering speed of Slayer. Jimmy Bower played drums—so yeah, it was good. In 1988, the band’s singer, Mike Hatch, committed suicide. He was one of Windstein’s best friends. Windstein immediately channeled that pain into music, holding band practice the day after Hatch’s funeral. When faced with crushing pain, Mr. Windstein uses it as the impetus to write riffs of great emotional weight. He knows that we live in a heavy world that demands equally heavy music.

After Hatch died, Shell Shock became After Shock with Kevin Noonan taking on vocal duties. The band went through a few more name changes, first to Wrequiem and then to The Slugs, enlisting Todd Strange on bass after Mike Savoie left. The Slugs fell apart fairly quickly, but the people at Grind Core Records didn’t know that when they called Mr. Windstein to sign his band. He hurriedly formed a new band with Noonan on lead guitar, the mighty Craig Nunenmacher on drums, and Strange on bass, handling vocals and guitar himself. They called it Crowbar. Listening to Crowbar is like getting bludgeoned by an unwieldy piece of steel, so the moniker is one of those rare examples of a band’s name perfectly matching its sound. Having existed in several different iterations since then— always with Windstein at the helm—Crowbar has been unleashing formidable albums for nearly thirty years. As with Wino, Mr. Windstein is one of those people who will be writing badass riffs until there’s no air left in his lungs.

Crowbar embarked on multiple tours with Pantera throughout the nineties. Fans of that band will recognize Mr. Windstein from his appearances in Pantera’s sophisticated video productions, Vulgar Videos (From Hell), aka The Home Videos. Pantera did not fuck around when it came to partying. Windstein fit right in. During those tours, he’d run around in full Hulk regalia for shits and giggles. He was also known to paint his face like Peter Criss of Kiss and run around, holding his hands up like claws and hissing. Cocaine was involved. Windstein and Crowbar also gained notoriety from their appearances on Beavis and Butthead. Videos for “Existence is Punishment” and “All I Had (I Gave),” both from the bridge-buckling Crowbar LP (1993), aired on the show as its protagonists provided such insight as, “This music is slow and fat.” These appearances helped to establish Windstein as a mythic figure in the metal world. Of course, his riffs are his true legacy.

In the early days, Crowbar trafficked in relentless heaviness, slowing down caveman hardcore to a knuckled crawl. That vibe comes across on every Crowbar album. From 1995’s Time Heals Nothing onward, Mr. Windstein has also illustrated a penchant for dynamic eeriness, intermixing brutish heaviness with foreboding ether. Neurosis is a fitting analog to Crowbar: both bands have evolved from unadulterated aggression to embrace haunting quietude. Both bands still educe tremors.

When it comes to choosing a favorite Crowbar record, some prefer the no-frills pugilism of Crowbar. Others gravitate to the sonically varied Odd Fellows Rest. To me, 1995’s Time Heals Nothing and 2001’s Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form are peak Crowbar. Throughout the former, Nunenmacher circles Windstein’s formidable riffs like someone trained in jiu-jitsu, finding syncopated points of attack. Opener “The Only Factor” sprints in a forceful D-beat and then gives listeners cauliflower ear with its sludgy chokehold. The song’s end section grooves so hard that it’s not safe to listen to while driving or operating heavy machinery. The title track, “Time Heals Nothing,” is a metallic New Orleans funeral procession for Mike Hatch that would’ve made the singer proud.

As for Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form, “The Lasting Dose” envisions Master of Puppets’ guitar harmonies through a watery opiate blur. Bower and Nunenmacher have laid down a plethora of staggering and unique Crowbar beats over the years, so it’s understandable why many people favor the records featuring those drummers. Tony Costanza of Machine Head plays drums on Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form. His percussion nods to Nunenmacher and Bower, but Costanza is also his own animal. “To Build a Mountain” finds the skinsman emphasizing those notes in Windstein’s riffs that make headbanging a biological imperative. Some of my favorite guitarists play guitar like a percussion instrument, which is to say that they play with violence. Windstein plays guitar with violence. His riffs pinpoint rhythmic pressure points, so their heaviness is something you feel as much as hear. You can tell that he hears drums in his head when he writes guitar parts by the way his riffs move. The opening section of “To Build a Mountain” showcases another signature Windstein tactic: putting skull-digger chugs alongside rubber-legged single notes. Windstein’s riffs are unmistakably his own. There have been many impersonators but no duplicators in terms of impact. Same goes for his gravel-throated yowls and the way his lyrics vacillate between determined encouragement and hopelessness.

As you might know, Crowbar is not Mr. Windstein’s only foray into spine crunchingly heavy music. Back in the early nineties, he started jamming with Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower, Pepper Keenan, and Todd Strange in Down, releasing the classic NOLA in 1995, a record that inhabits the same shelf of prestige as Paranoid, Reign in Blood, and The Great Southern Trendkill. It feels weird when people call Down a supergroup. That makes it sound cynical, like a marketing ploy. Down started as five buddies jamming, which NOLA perfectly captures. Those friends were members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and Eyehategod, so it’s a little better than what you or I would produce with our friends after a night out. In the way those guys’ styles gel, it’s so clear that their bands were guided by the same energy—not ripping each other off, just drinking from the same dark current. A lot of NOLA’s riffs are obvious collisions between Windstein and Keenan’s styles. Look at “Lifer” and how its linebacker chugs (Windstein) stomp through Sabbathian syrup (Keenan). There are also parts of the record that sound like pure Windstein: namely “Bury Me in Smoke” and the way it finds melodic movement between notes so close together, not to mention its heavyweight plod.

In conclusion, I ask that you consider the sheer number of timeless and emotionally dense riffs Mr. Windstein has given us: Eleven Crowbar LPs, four Down LPs, and three LPs with Kingdom of Sorrow, his band with Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta. Again, that’s literally hundreds of riffs that stand like marble columns. While the distinction of Riff Master General might be invented—a bit silly, even—it feels like a more accurate way to talk about Kirk Windstein than as a guy who plays guitar. Thanks for your time and consideration. Please let me know if you have any questions.


A fan


Author photo by Taylor Lacayo

J.J. Anselmi has also curated a couple of playlists, Origins+ Doom and Sludge, which tie into the book.

On February 21st, 2020 at Page Against the Machine in Long Beach, CA, the author will meet with music fans and sign copies of the book.

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