Here in the HQ, we’ve been fans of Clutch for a long time. “A Shogun Named Marcus”-long. As a fan, it’s never been much wonder that the band didn’t hit it big or draw some sort of huge mainstream appeal. Neil Fallon’s staccato growl and barking mad lyrical stylings were not the sort of thing that radio likes to hear. And despite the popular advance of acts like Korn, there’s only so much chunky hard rock guitar that most people can stand. Add to this a stack of album releases that got essentially zero publicity in any of the major outlets, and you have the recipe for a true underground sensation, not an MTV favorite.
When three years passed between Pure Rock Fury and last year’s Blast Tyrant, I began to fear that the band was beginning the inexorable slide towards oblivion. Delays between releases, distraction by side projects, and ultimately, no more Clutch. It was all the more painful a suspicion for the level of sheer badassness that Blast Tyrant brought. It showed the band was, if anything, getting even better as time went on (though I still feel nothing has quite equalled their eponymous second album, a record that makes a mockery of the idea that all bands suffer a “sophomore slump”). Imagine my surprise to find out they were releasing yet another album, hot on the heels of Tyrant. I figured I was going to wait at least two years before another one, and if things went sour, that one would be a greatest hits collection and the last release.
[ad#longpost]Robot Hive/Exodus dispels any lingering worry I might have had that the band was slipping away in the night unnoticed. From the first track to the last, this album displays Clutch at the height of their rock-god powers, drawing inspiration from a host of musical styles to forge their unique sound. Fair warning: this album does a few somewhat unexpected things for a Clutch album, but the end result is of a great rockitude. First on the unexpected list is the seemingly permanent addition of keyboardist Mick Schauer, who did some work on Tyrant to great effect. Beyond that addition to the line-up, Clutch is digging deep into its bag of influences for this album, and coming up with some things that haven’t ever surfaced in their music before. Seventies arena rock, delta blues, and a little bit of tent-revival gospel mayhem all make an appearance here, and the result is the most potent record that Clutch has dropped since Elephant Riders.
The album opens with a handful of tracks that are straight-ahead Clutch jams, the kind of thing fans have come to love from the band. Heavy grooves, growling lyrics, and a strong undercurrent of…well, righteousness seems to be the only word that really describes the mood one gets listening to the tracks. By the time Fallon barks out the refrain of “Never Be Moved,” you’re ready to jump up on a table and shout “You’re damned right we won’t!” It’s one of the finest tracks on the record, and the old school church organ sound driving the song makes it feel like a fire and brimstone sermon. Also not to be missed is “Pulaski Skyway,” which I heard described (and quite aptly, I might add) as “Mountain Music electrified and cranked up to 11.” “Circus Maximus” comes as quite a surprise, then, when it opens with keyboard and a riff that sounds like it fell off the back of Les Claypool’s truck. The lyrics and rhythm section are undeniably Clutch, but the addition of the keyboard brings a little touch of the Bucket of Bernie Brains to the party.
“10,000 Witnesses” is a tamborine-shaking gospel-inspired challenge to all comers, with lyrics bellowing that “this year rock is comin’ back,” and “there’s plenty here for everyone, so come get some.” Clutch seems to want to address all the doubters, like myself, and let them know the band’s not finished. Despite the unusual opening, “Land of Pleasant Living” sounds the most like previous Clutch efforts, but jams no less for all that familiarity. The album finishes strong with the heavily blues influenced “Gravel Road” and “Who’s Been Talking?”, both of which show off the group’s mastery of the styles that gave their pure rock fury its origin. When the slide lap steel starts up on “Gravel Road,” there’s no mistaking that Clutch has decided to branch out, and the result is a tremendous success.
If you’re a Clutch die-hard, this is a must, though the addition of the keyboard may come as a bit jarring if you didn’t spend a lot of time with Blast Tyrant. If you’ve never heard of Clutch, this makes a fine place to start. Prior to this album, I always sent new listeners back to that eponymous album as the finest place to start a lifetime of Clutch worship, but now I’ve got a new place to send people to begin their own journey.