The album title sums it up nicely. The malevolence on Burning Witch’s Crippled Lucifer is of the dragging, hobbled kind. There’s not a single chugga-chugga riff across the whole two discs, just a banged-up Lucifer dragging his putrid toenails through the dirt after a hard day of soul-harvesting. Down-tuned guitar slime festers in his wake, and the rhythm section pours gravel in the fissures. Paces are typically in the realm of “dying elephant,” which is about what the sometimes screeched, sometimes sung vocals sound like, too. And apparently elephants take a long time to die — Burning Witch songs average more than nine minutes apiece, and their indeterminate structures make even the shorter tracks seem interminable. Crippled Lucifer is a pretty painful listen. And an absolutely essential one.
This expanded double-disc reissue of the long out-of-print Crippled Lucifer compiles the entire studio oeuvre of a band that explored the murky depths of extreme music more fearlessly than any act before it. Recorded by Steve Albini between 1996 and 1997, this material makes very few concessions to what minor pleasures sludge forbears Eyehategod and the Melvins offered through their greasy blues grooves and warped humor, respectively. There’s a visceral discomfort in listening to Crippled Lucifer, but this music isn’t about bodily experience — it’s about the downward pull of the tortured human psyche, a process it enshrines in both words and music. The band moves far beyond the pleasant barbiturate undertow of stoner-friendly doom bands like St. Vitus or Electric Wizard, toward a place where heavier narcotics are not only preferred but are also necessary. As Edgy 59 yowls in “Sacred Predictions,” “You seek to suffer/ I don’t care/ I’ve got all of my pills and things.”
Burning Witch’s music stands/wobbles/collapses on its own merits, but each member would graduate to at least one other important modern doom band, making Crippled Lucifer a crucial historical document, too. Burning Witch was formed in 1995 by Greg Anderson, Stephen O’Malley and Jamie Sykes after the dissolution of Seattle’s cult doom act Thorr’s Hammer. Anderson quit Burning Witch before the sessions that led to Crippled Lucifer, but he and O’Malley later founded the influential Southern Lord label and its flagship act, Sunn0))). Bassist G. Stuart Dahlquist would join Anderson in Goatsnake, second drummer B.R.A.D. later teamed up with Dahlquist in the drone-metal project Asva, and vocalist Edgy 59 led the alt-metal group Sinisstar, whose dubious claim to fame was being the first act signed to Fred Durst’s vanity label, Flawless.
Southern Lord spared no expense on the Crippled Lucifer reissue, padding the original seven tracks (drawn from the Towers . . . and Rift.Canyon.Dreams EPs) with two songs from a split CD with Goatsnake and another one, “Rift Canyon Dreams,” from a split twelve-inch with Asva. The mail-order edition, limited to two thousand copies and available only on the Southern Lord website, includes a drop-card that accesses two demo tracks and a full recording of Burning Witch’s first ever concert. These previously unreleased live tracks are the only Burning Witch recordings to feature Anderson on second guitar, and they’re even heavier and grimier than the studio versions.
Bands like Monarch!, Buried at Sea, and Khanate (another O’Malley project) have since stretched the Burning Witch aesthetic into even slower, bleaker territory. But Crippled Lucifer is the apotheosis of that impulse, standing as one of the tallest tombstone in the sludge-metal graveyard, a grim crossroads where art and pain collude in the pursuit of psychic extremity.