Clutch - Psychic Warfare
There’s no such thing as a bad Clutch song and Psychic Warfare hosts another collection of songs that refuse to buck that trend. Considering this record’s bigger brother, Earth Rocker, the fact the Maryland quartet so effortlessly ooze that same arresting class and brilliance from start to finish is highly impressive.
The press release is quick to accept the challenge the band had in following up a record of such a calibre as that, stating that the record “created an insurmountable peak. But Psychic Warfare has altered laws of physics by elevating the smart songwriting and impressive performances of that last album.” Bold talk indeed, but those claims are far from unfounded.
Tonally, the record fluctuates between the thick grooves – albeit thinly overdriven, and in a great way – of Blast Tyrant and the more blunt forcefulness apparent on Earth Rocker, a record very much inspired after touring the States with Motörhead.
X-Ray Visions kicks things off in typically punchy fashion; it’s all staunch grooves with instant sing-along vocals, while A Quick Death In Texas answers cries of “more cowbell!” alongside fatter-than-Mr-Creosote fuzz guitars and an archetypal lofty chorus.
A song which screams classic Clutch, Sucker For The Witch gravitates around Neil Fallon’s characteristically tongue in cheek lyricisms – ‘It goes against my Catholic upbringing I admit it / I’m a sucker for the witch’ – and is rounded off by an snappy boogie-woogie guitar solo courtesy of Tim Sult. And that continues on the strutting execution of Your Love Is Incineration which is doused with heavy wah usage and deadly bites of melody. Noble Savage meanwhile, toys with an anarchistic and adrenalised variation on the 12 bar blues.
"Like a river, the track listing laid out before us, like an aristocrat at some great, lavish feast, flows perfectly. Slower, more brooding moments are juxtaposed by rapid-fire compositions that arrive unannounced, smash things up and bugger off in a heartbeat."
“I spent a lot of time doting over the lyrics,” ringleader Fallon reveals. “It was fun because I have a great luxury that I'm a professional liar — that's what a storyteller is. It's the one socially acceptable way to completely deceive people, and that's what they want. If you sing it with enough conviction, people won't question it. I just love that escapism, the fantasy aspect of it. And fantasy doesn’t necessarily equate to dragons and wizards. It can be seedy hotel rooms and sketchy hitchhikers.” In the case of the spaghetti western styled Our Lady of Eclectic Light, this extends to a woman who, upon entering a ballroom and removing her veil, regales a tale with ‘a voice like running water.’ Preluded by the atmospheric instrumental Doom Saloon, it provides the album’s centrepiece. It’s the startlingly powerful imagery at play here, backed by moody tremolo guitars – think Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang meets Clint Eastwood – that has helped propel Clutch to the pedestal on which they let this album roam free atop. Moments of guitar work even go so far as to accentuate the protagonist’s voice with aqua aesthetics of their own.
Like a river itself, the track listing laid out before us, like an aristocrat at some great, lavish feast, flows perfectly. Slower, more brooding moments are juxtaposed by rapid-fire compositions that arrive unannounced, smash things up and bugger off in a heartbeat. The mid-tempo flutter of Behold The Colossus, peaking with a fine, memorable chorus, precedes the wonderfully named Decapitation Blues which sees Fallon’s holler and Sult’s impeccable single note riffs play a game of call and response in stunning fashion.
Underneath all that though, sticksman Jean-Paul Gaster is the pulse to which these songs dance to – be it racing or crawling where required. He is the hands on the steering wheel. “I listened closely to the rhythm of Neil’s vocals this time around.” he explains. “The rhythms he sings, are very syncopated. It was my goal to articulate these rhythms on the drums while keeping the pulse of the music strong.”
And really, that sums up what the band are so good for – they are a band by the very definition of the word, pulling the punches as brothers in arms. Fallon may be the mouthpiece everyone remembers, but Gaster is the heart, bassist Maines the skeleton and Sult the flesh and soul. Without one another Clutch simply wouldn’t be Clutch and this record wouldn’t be rich in the kind of rock n’ roll that never fails to put a smile on your face.
Words: Phil Weller