Clutch – “Psychic Warfare”

Photo by Dan Winters
Photo by Dan Winters

Clutch is a four-piece Frederick, Maryland-based band that was formed by vocalist Roger Smalls, bassist Dan Maines, drummer Jeal-Paul Gaster, and guitarist Tim Sult in 1991.

Vocalist Smalls departed the original lineup shortly afterwards, and was replaced by longtime friend and schoolmate, Neil Fallon. The band has gained their fan base through constant touring, and this year is no different from the preceding years in that respect. “Psychic Warfare”, the band’s 11th and current release on Weathermaker Music — the band’s own label — hit store shelves on October 2, 2015. The band immediately embarked upon a North American tour directly after the release date to support their new album, coming to a venue near you, so be sure to keep a look out for them on the road. Rumor has it that they put on one hell of a show.

The new album starts out with a short audio bit (called “The Affidavit”) of a man meeting someone in a restaurant bar, asking him to sit down and start telling his story. That’s when the album launches into the first music track, “X-Ray Visions.” It’s a driving, pulsing, fast-moving song that has a good, chunky guitar and bass mix, with a really devastating snare drum cracking above the din of it all on the downbeat. Couple that along with a forceful bass line that complements the guitars nicely with its bottom end, and the album is off to a roaring start.

The end of the first music track segues smoothly through a drum interlude/intro that meshes into the next song, “Firebirds,” just as seamlessly as you please. The drum work lends itself to providing a nice texture to underline the verses, where otherwise things thin out a little where the choruses start to pick up the slack and thicken up the song. The guitar progression of the song is pretty basic, but it’s upbeat and with the drums and bass driving it along, and the authoritative, aggressive lyrics and vocals this song gets the fists pumping in the air instinctively.

“A Quick Death in Texas” has a funky guitar intro that evokes a sense of coiled aggression that is endemic to Clutch’s style, with a sass that the drums and bass play up nicely. It’s a little like a ZZ Top style of song, with a heavier guitar and vocal part. It’s all Clutch, though, especially because of the strength of the vocals on this song, and the heavy thump of the guitars on this track. It’s a good piece to demonstrate the versatility of the music they have written for this album. It’s a strong rock song that shows off that the band can have a bluesy and funky side as well, and for me that really sells it with this release.

On the next track, “Sucker for the Witch” it’s the bass line that really drives this song from the first note to the last. It’s a straightforward line, but it takes command of the song and really makes the guitars take the follower’s position, which is usually the position left for the bass. It’s a nice surprise from a band that is clearly more guitar and vocally driven.

“Your Love is Incarceration” is another track that incorporates a dirty, funky beat from the get-go that is actually more evocative of some early R&B stuff from the likes of Prince, but with a hard rock twist. It’s pretty cool to see a band like Clutch drawing from so many varied influences, but still remaining true to their hard rock roots. It’s a funky, heavy carnival for the ears that I think everyone who hears it will find themselves having a hard time sitting or standing still… You’ll end up dancing in your seat if you’re sitting down, it’s that groovy.

“Doom Saloon” has a retro, “clean guitar through an overdriven twin-reverb sound” to it that starts the intro of the song. It’s a delicious segue into the following track, “Our Lady of Electric Light.” The guitar line continues with that signature 60’s clean reverb twang that is instantly reminiscent of the movie soundtrack to Pulp Fiction and the great surf guitar tunes of that era. The tempo of the track is slow, plodding almost — but smooth as the lyrics tell the story. The production values are high, and the mix is well done throughout this release. I’m a fan of the old spaghetti western genre of movies, and this song brings the impressions of that kind of high musical drama back to mind.
The next track, “Noble Savage” is off like a bullet from the first note, and is rough and raucous as any Old West gunfight with a rock and roll twist. This is good, hard, straight-forward rock at its best, with blistering guitars trading off riffs, and the bass and drums pounding out the rhythm and keeping it all from falling off the rails.

The beat gets thrown about and turned over on its head time and again with the next track, “Behind the Colossus” that soon finds its footing and charges headlong at our senses. The vocals are strong and throaty, as Clutch has become known for over the tenure of the band. There’s no mystery here, no magic to what this band is doing. Their music is plain as the nose on your face in what it’s trying to accomplish — its singular goal is to kick your ass with every note they play, and more often than not on this album, they meet or exceed that goal.

Clutch_Cover_Small.jpg“Decapitation Blues” has some tinges of Black Sabbath in it, especially the early stuff, particularly in the guitar riff and overall arrangement — particularly where the beat turns over and the breakdown with the heavy drum fills before the song heads back into the verse. It’s nicely done, and adds an interesting element to the song that otherwise would be another straight-forward heavy tune. Just to clarify, comparing this song’s writing and arrangement to an early Black Sabbath song is definitely meant as a compliment. It’s a cool tune!

“Sons of Virginia” has an unmistakable southern twang to the guitars and intro as a whole, evoking a little “swamp music” southern-rock in a hard rock style. With the richness and depth of Neil Fallon’s voice, the vocals really stand out on this track, making it one of the high points of the album. The mood is heavy and dark, but not gloomy. Rather, this song picks up with a good beat that moves your feet and will have the Rebel Flags out flying in force in their stomping grounds.

The last part of the track concludes with the interviewer of the man in the restaurant bar stating his disbelief, asking the storyteller to sign his statement, and the album concludes. If you listen to the lyrics and read them as you would read any storyline, the album sort of fits into the “concept album” genre — but without more in the beginning track to set you on that path, as well as some interludes throughout the album to further that storyline, it fails to make the grade as a concept album. However, that doesn’t discount the fact that this album contains some seriously good, well-written music that I highly recommend you take a listen to. Therefore, I give this album a 7 out of 10 skulls!

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