OCTOBER 22nd 2015

Review by Lana Muirhead

Clutch is a band that has been a staple on ‘stoner rock’ and hard rock playlists for years. Knowing this, and knowing a new record was just released by them on their Weathermaker label, you’d think you’d know what to expect. You’d think wrong.

Although “Psychic Warfare”, the title for their eleventh studio album, is undeniably Clutch, it is arguably their most cohesive and hard-hitting album to date. It encompasses all that gives the band their unique sound, and can be said to be funky, melodic, bluegrass, country, and hard rock all in one breath.  Though the band members formed back in 1991 and Clutch was their only project at the time, all four members now also have side projects on the go (drummer Jean-Paul Gaster plays with a blues-rock band, guitarist Tim Sult dabbles in a reggae group, vocalist Neil Fallon lends his pipes to various one-offs and bassist Dan Maines plays with the band’s sister group, The Bakerton Group) which doubtless contribute to the eclectic sound on the latest release.

Characteristically Clutch, most of the songs hover around the 3-minute mark, a couple hit 4 minutes and the epic finale clocks in at 7 minutes and 15 seconds.  This does not include the short opener and closer and a mid-way instrumental track that all last about 25 seconds. The album starts a little strangely, with a man asking the listener to take a seat, provides a paper and pen, and asks us to kindly to “just start at the beginnin’ now…” But hearing the rest of the 12-track mind fuck this intro seems a great place to start and sets the stage for what’s to come.

Track 2 is “X-Ray Visions” and it hits hard and fast. The lyrics paint the picture of a man hitting up a hotel room with a briefcase and delving into horoscopes and the meaning of the stars.  I was immediately transported to a scene in “No Country For Old Men” where Josh Brolin is sitting on a seedy hotel room bed with a briefcase at his feet.  The song is a psychedelic trip for the mind by way of both imagery and musical senses. Next up is “Firebirds” which I found had distinctly country/bluegrass undertones but Fallon’s vocals kept it heavy enough to list under the hard rock category.  Again, I let my mind wander to picture Rob Zombie in his Dragula cruising down through a scene of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” or “Natural Born Killers”.  All in all the instrumentals on this one were very simple but the sum of the parts is what makes it worthy of a listen.

My personal favourite on the album is “A Quick Death in Texas”. Not only was the loop catchy, but there were drum and bass nuances that not only shaped but truly defined the tune and demonstrate how Clutch can not only do the same thing in many songs on many albums, but can keep it fresh and new to the listener.

Mentionable but not overly special were the tracks “Your Love is Incarceration”, “Behold the Colussus” and “Son of Virginia”. Don’t get me wrong: I liked them just fine but there were others that more caught my attention; particularly the ones that did not seem to fit with the overall theme of the album.  “Sucker for the Witch” seemed very out of place and would have been better included on an earlier album, such as 2009’s “Strange Cousins from the West”. The track “Noble Savage” had more of an Iron Maiden sound than the hard rockabilly that seemed to dominate the album.

When I heard “Our Lady of Electric Light” I immediately ran my mind back to the number 4 track “A Quick Death…”; this seemed like the perfect follow-up. Again I could see everything being painted before me as the lyrics bled from my speakers.  Whether it be the lyrics or the unmistakable story telling skills Fallon oozes, I was there, in that saloon, looking at this electric lady. The fierceness of the imagery was inescapable.

I was also very partial to “Decapitation Blues”, the second last track on the album. It embodied everything that is Clutch, flowed impeccably with the theme of the record and though it thrust the listener into darkness, it was undeniably uplifting. Or maybe I’m just fucked. The tail end of the epic “Son of Virginia” brought back the man from the beginning who had asked for the story, start to finish. The man asks if we are sure this was how the thing went down, then asks us to sign our life away at the bottom of “The Affidavit”.  After journeying through the tracks we come full circle and realize maybe it all was just a dream…or a really great trip. The compilation was aptly titled as I was literally lost in my mind throughout the playback. I had x-ray vision, I needed those energy weapons (urgently) and I walked into every one of those saloons, eyed up the patrons, and beheld the monsters that will once again take over.

I found the album to be one of their best, taking the sparkling parts from “Clutch”, “Pure Rock Fury” (a personal favourite), “Blast Tyrant”, “Robot Hive/Exodus”, and “Earthrocker” and amassing them into what has become “Psychic Warfare”. Hearing the tunes you immediately want to head back into their catalogue and search out the ones that impacted you back when they first came out. Nostalgia, fantasy (not of the dungeons and dragons type), and intricate gritty, grimy, brutal vocals and instrumentals are all present on this most recent effort and the effort definitely shows. I dare Clutch to one-up themselves and cannot wait for the supporting tour!!