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Stereoboard Albums Of The Year: Clutch - Psychic Warfare

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Download Festival 2015: sun, rain, blood, sweat, beers. Clutch are rocking the tits off the main stage and they suddenly drop a new song, tentatively titled X-Ray Visions. It’s so good, a guy in the crowd does a backflip. But these are the expectations we have for any new Clutch album: backflip-inducing rock ‘n’ roll goodness.

With the follow up to ‘Earth Rocker’ on the horizon, every other band might have packed it in and gone home, but there have nevertheless been some valiant attempts to get close to the beard-happy Maryland bruisers across this year’s rock and metal Venn diagram. Cattle Decapitation, Extreme Noise Terror, the Black Dahlia Murder and Napalm Death each unleashed flawless, feral slabs of grinding sonic faeces.

Thy Catafalque and Shining, meanwhile, kept things refreshingly strange while Paradise Lost, Killing Joke and Cradle of Filth cranked out career-topping records that’ll carve the cobwebs clean from your groin. Basically, if you’re saying 2015’s been a crap year for music then you’re not looking hard enough.

But this year belongs to one band, and that band is Clutch. Their 11th record, ‘Psychic Warfare’, is the strongest of their career. Twenty-two years since ‘Transnational Speedway League’, the band have taken the bluesy, stoner rock skeleton of yore and sexed it up, sizzled any remaining fat and barbecued 39 minutes of unalloyed, unrivalled delight. ‘Psychic Warfare’ galloped into eardrums two years after ‘Earth Rocker’, an album that everybody bloody loved, and topped it.

“We’re not, er, accustomed to that kind of praise,” Clutch bassist Dan Maines said, chatting before his band played London’s legendary Brixton Academy recently. “It was surprising that there was a kinda universal, positive acceptance of ‘Earth Rocker’. I think it was maybe good timing? We were coming off the heels of some very prominent tours. We were getting more attention than usual through touring with Motörhead and Thin Lizzy.”

Good timing? Bollocks, mate. ‘Earth Rocker’ was adored by fan, critic and sewer rat alike because it was absolutely banging. It topped every end-of-year poll in 2013. If you couldn’t see it, it’s because it was placed so high up the list the naked eye was rendered useless. It was a rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece and this year Clutch bested it.  

“We wanted to follow up with something we felt was equally powerful, so there was an effort to maintain that energy ‘Earth Rocker’ had,” Maines added. “We wanted to do that but inject some flavours to the album that weren’t present on ‘Earth Rocker’.”

They didn’t so much inject as forcefully pump new flavours into ‘Psychic Warfare’. Noble Savage is a full-on Western barnstormer, Our Lady Of Electric Light and Son of Virginia both nod to the band’s earlier works and Neil Fallon’s vocal presence turns Clutch from a red hot rock outfit into a band so cutting edge they could slice open Satan’s colostomy bag, neck the remnants and still have room for dessert. If you’re asked who you’d have in your ultimate supergroup, the correct answer would be Jean-Paul Gaster, Dan Maines, Tim Sult and Neil Fallon. They’re exemplary musicians. They know when to be flashy and when to shut up.

“Sucker For The Witch has always been a fun song to play, especially now the album’s out,” Maines said, talking about songs from ‘Psychic Warfare’ as though they were just songs, because that’s the only way us puny humans can interpret them. “Decapitation Blues is great too. I think those two really set themselves apart on the record. They’re both songs that musically weren’t represented on ‘Earth Rocker’, so it was nice to branch out and show our funkier side and to explore our sludgier, doomier side. Your Love Is Incarceration is another favourite – it’s nothing ground-breaking but it breathes new life into our catalogue.”

Over two decades into a career that’s never delivered less than an 8/10 album, Clutch continue to improve on previous landmarks. How many bands can accomplish that in this day and age? You can’t honestly believe ‘The Book of Souls’ is Iron Maiden’s best album, can you? If you do, you’re mad. Even a man with Eddie’s face tattooed on his face has to listen to that record and go: “Yeah, it was all right, but there’s like two choruses over 11 songs.” Paradise Lost, Killing Joke and Cradle of Filth have all thrown out savage records this year, but even these will be bickered over by the bands’ eclectic fanbases. Not the case with Clutch. ‘Psychic Warfare’ is the best thing they’ve ever done. Better than ‘Blast Tyrant’. Better than ‘Earth Rocker’. Better than ‘Pure Rock Fury’.

Clutch seem to think so, too. Much like ‘Earth Rocker’ before it, the band’s latest release is getting an obscene amount of time dedicated to it in current setlists. And the fans are lapping it up. Again, how many bands could actually pull that off? Clutch are a fine, bearded bottle of wine that gets better with age and will never be emptied, no matter how much you guzzle.

“As a band, those are the songs which interest us the most,” Maines said. “We’re excited to play those songs. We try to mix up the set as much as possible. We’ve discovered that sometimes giving songs a break and coming back to them later breathes new life into them, so that’s what we’ve chosen to do on this tour. We’re focusing on the new songs but we’re mixing up the older stuff as much as possible. We have 11 albums’ worth of songs, and it’s hard to get all that into one set.”

And the shows have been phenomenal. The Brixton hootenanny was supposed to be held at the smaller, sold-out Shepherd’s Bush Empire, but damage to the venue forced a move into the cavernous confines of the Academy with only four days to shift thousands of spare tickets. As a result, the floor was heaving but the balcony was half-empty. If the gig had originally been billed there, Clutch would almost certainly have been playing to a sold out room.

The Clutch live experience is massive. It’s like commandeering a hot air balloon and flying straight into the jaws of Hell. It’s like being kicked in the face by an elephant in Doc Martens. No frills. No fancy props. Just rock ‘n’ roll. Fallon stalked the stage like someone’d knocked his pint out of his hand while the other band members created the tight-as-cling-film-over-a-toilet-seat background for the ramblings of this insane, bearded man-thing. “All aboard the fuck yeah express!” he yelled. All right, then.

“People really view us as a live band,” Maines said. “The majority of people who listen to Clutch are going to do what they can to make it to a Clutch show. The shows have grown by word of mouth and we’ve just been fortunate. We have an incredible fanbase. I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces at each of these shows we’ve been playing in the UK – people who were there last night, and the night before that. These are music fans and we will never take that for granted.”

Listening to ‘Psychic Warfare’ on shitty, tinny headphones is enough to make you want to saddle up and lasso your boss, your in-laws and Jar Jar Binks all at once before feeding them to the herd of flesh-eating desert horses biting at your heels. Tim’s guitar solos are more satisfying than being fisted by God. Jean-Paul’s off-kilter drum patterns hit like missiles filled with confetti and money. Dan’s bass-fingering wizardry kicks Sucker For The Witch straight from the speaker into your erogenous zones.

And Fallon has delivered the vocal performance of 2015. That’s it. No debate. It’s a fact. Garbled tales of paranoia, telekinesis and Greek mythology are thrown together like leftover crisps at a primary school disco and hurled out of the throat of a wild-eyed caveman. Nobody writes lyrics like Neil Fallon and nobody should ever try, because they’ll come off looking a right twat.

Try listening to Firebirds or A Quick Death In Texas without at least tapping your foot. You can’t. ‘Psychic Warfare’ is a feel-good rock ‘n’ roll party. It’ll make you want to sprint 17 miles in the nude and bench press a Panzer tank. Clutch are a band in a league of their own and, with this new one, they’ve outdone themselves. Again. This year can kiss Clutch’s grits.


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