“Any account of progressive, aggressive underground and alternative music of the past 30 years — a continuum that stretches from bands such as Black Flag, Voivod and Melvins up through Don Caballero, Dillinger Escape Plan, Tool and beyond — is incomplete without a mention of what Craw did,” said Hank Shteamer, a longtime fan of the band explained.
Based on his passionate discourse, it is no surprise that Shteamer convinced the Northern Spy and Aqualamb labels to reissue the first three records by post-hardcore heavyweights Craw in a six LP, limited-edition vinyl box set, 1993-1997. The box hit the streets on December 11.
“I’ve been dreaming for years — more than a decade, honestly — of reissuing craw’s early work. In 2014, I decided to launch a Kickstarter to try to make this a reality, but I had no idea what it meant to actually produce a vinyl box set. In 2015, we relaunched with the invaluable support of the Northern Spy and Aqualamb labels, who brought with them the expertise needed to make this project feasible in reality, and to bring costs down to a reasonable level.
“To this day, I find these albums to be among the most engrossing, overwhelming and astonishing records I’ve ever heard. They terrify and inspire me, and Craw’s passion and creativity remain a gold standard for any creative endeavor I’ve ever been involved in.”
But Shteamer isn’t the only one who has recognized the Cleveland band’s continued significance.
“The first time I saw it, it just completely blew me away,” commented Aaron Turner of Sumac and the Hydra Head record label. “I’d never heard anything quite like Craw up to that point. They were this strange mixture of noise-rock and metal with this very eccentric preacher-type character doing these weird pseudo sermons over the top of the music. It was just a very potent concoction of elements. Having a seen a band like that expanded the horizons of what was possible.”
Craw was formed in 1988 by guitarists Rockie Brockway and David McClelland, and bassist Chris Apanius, with vocalist Joe McTighe joining soon after. Drummer Neil Chastain completed the group’s first stable lineup in the fall of 1990. Following their first self-titled album, released in 1993 by Choke, Inc., the band sometimes included saxophonists Matt Dufresne and Marcus Rosinski, who contributed to both live performances and recordings.
“Speaking purely as a fan, I’ll say that personally, I find the output of Craw’s five-piece lineup, the period covered in this reissue, to be their finest work as a band,” Shteamer said. “There was a richness and complexity that they were able to achieve when setting Rockie Brockway’s more riff-based guitar approach against David’s textural command that I missed once McClelland left the band. Lost Nation Road is, for me, the peak of this aesthetic. Craw’s ability to assault and overwhelm the listener, both as a studio and a live band, was at its peak during that era.”
The group’s first three full-length recordings were recorded with the help of Steve Albini.
“I remember Rockie giving Steve a copy of Celephais when he came through Cleveland playing bass for Flour. Later the Choke, Inc. guys contacted him about recording craw. He was interested in recording the band, but he wasn’t interested in talking with Choke, so the band dealt with him directly,” recalled McClelland.
As a recording engineer, Albini is known for his work on some of the best-loved records of all time, including records by Nirvana, Pixies, Jawbreaker, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Cheap Trick and The Stooges. Albini recorded Craw in 1993, Lost Nation Road in November 1994, and Map, Monitor, Surge, with esteemed metal producer Bill Korecky lending a hand, in 1996.
“What Craw will use as a moment in one song, another band might use as a theme for a whole album,” said Albini. “Craw’s sound is spread out across a universe of disparate musical genres. They never imitate. Other bands imitate them.”
While esteemed fans like Albini and Turner are convinced of Craw’s lasting influence, McClelland sounds less sure.
“I hear bands doing things that we did, but I usually feel like it’s the case that Craw just got there first, rather than that the new band is copying what craw did,” McClelland said. “We certainly weren’t the first or only band to play ‘math’ rock—-there were already such bands in the underground, but there were also plenty of math-y things happening in popular music, if you took the time to tease them out, and of course in jazz and other non-rock music. I feel like we were part of a continuum, rather than stone-cold pioneers.
“Over the years, I have been told by musicians that craw meant or means a great deal to them,” McClelland added. “Doesn’t happen daily, but it happens.”
All though the complete original lineup of the band had planned to support the re-issue with a handful of performances, due to a medical situation involving one of the members, the band were forced to postpone them until March. On March 11, 2016, the band perform at Grog Shop in Cleveland, and they’re at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, the next evening.
(For more information on the reissue, visit www.northernspyrecords.com/music/1993-1997/.)