Thursday, 15 October 2015

Clutch - Psychic Warfare (Album Review)


Release date: October 02nd 2015. Label: Weathermaker. Formats: CD/DD/Vinyl

Psychic Warfare – Tracklisting

01. The Affidavit
02. X-Ray Visions
03. Firebirds
04. A Quick Death In Texas
05. Sucker For The Witch
06. Your Love Is Incarceration
07. Doom Saloon
08. Our Lady Of Electric Light
09. Noble Savage Clutch
10. Behold The Colossus
11. Decapitation Blues
12. Son Of Virginia

Band Members:

Neil Fallon: Vocals/ Guitar
Jean-Paul Gaster: Drums
Dan Maines: Bass
Tim Sult: Guitar

Review:

Everybody who knows me knows how important Clutch is for me. They were my gateway to the scene, that big game-changer that everybody has. Blast Tyrant changed my perception of music as a form of art, and I've been praying at the altar of the burning beard ever since I discovered them. So to say that I would go into this review without a bias would be a downright lie, and I could almost claim me being biased would defy the idea of a critical approach to reviewing this album, but everybody who likes Clutch knows that these guys are unable to release a bad album, even if they tried. That being said, I did go into it with some fear due to my observation of me perceiving a lot of new albums as growers rather than instant love, and I was afraid that it would be the same with Psychic Warfare. But song titles like Sucker for the Witch and Decapitation Blues get me excited so, lets dive into it.

The albums kicks of the with the half-minute intro The Affidavit, which has resident madman preacher Neil Fallon asking for a an account of happenings (apparently he wanted Tommy Lee Jones to do the intro and outro, alas Mr. Jones is a busy man).

Fittingly it launches right into the first single of the album, X-Ray Visions, with the line "First thing that I did was buy a pack of smokes". Neil seems channel his inner paranoid conspiracy-theorist in that song, recalling songs like Sleestak Lightning and Escape from the Prison Planet. Lyrically it is what you come to expect from an Clutch record: Hard-rock sermons with Neil's ingenious humour-drenched allusions to (urban) mythology. Lines like "I was quickly overtaken by the angry spirits of Ronald and Nancy Reagan" will stay with you for some time. Above all it is just an insanely fun song to listen to and embodies everything Clutch stands for.

Firebirds picks right up where X-Ray visions left off, another fun high-octane rocker with however if you've been longing for that southern fried Blast Tyrant era Clutch, then A Quick Death in Texas will satisfy your needs. This funky chunk has a bass-line that will make you dance in an instant, rounded off with some cowbell in the bridge for good measure.

Sucker for the Witch is a standout. Neil in conjunction with Dan's bass spins into a proper frenzy, to unload the built up energy in a ferocious chorus. This is probably the closest Clutch have ever gotten to something akin to a breakdown, and it works better than expected. The lyrics are hilarious (I highly recommend you to watch Neil's series of lyrics explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh-mT_pJa_M) and it has become one of my favourites off the album.

Your Love is Incarceration works much in the same way as A Quick Death in Texas, about another affair with the ladies gone sour, and Neil keeps it delightfully vague. His exclaimed "Ugh" sets the tone, and Dan's bass-line is downright infectious.

Doom Saloon is a sombre interlude/intro piece of strummed guitars, that leads right into Our Lady of Electric Light, a thick slab of blues that in combination with Doom Saloon marks a major change in pace and sound for the album. Slide guitars paint desert landscapes, and although he doesn't vary much in his singing voice Neil lays down his best vocal performance on this album. This is heavy stuff and much like its brother in spirit Gone cold from Earth Rocker it is destined to become a fan favorite.

Good-time rock Noble Savage brings a harsh contrast to Our Lady and is a barnstormer, the chorus "Unapologetic Lifer for Rock and Roll" does justice to its own matter. Jean Paul and Tim deliver one of their best performances on the entire album. Behold the Colossus doesn't change the recipe a lot, but thanks to the driving beats and the wah drenched guitars it turns out to be quite a stomper. But Clutch decide to send off Psychic Warfare with a proper bang with the next two songs.

At this point I'd pay Neil bare coin to tell me bed time stories and Decapitation Blues shows once again that he is no stranger to odd lyrical inspirations(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ff4EysaOko). When Mastodon sings about Methheads chopping down trees to pay for their drug habit, then Clutch sing about neck problems, and both manage to conjure up a killer tune fit for head-banging if you dare to do so.

Mining the darker mood set by Decapitation Blues Clutch prepare to bid us farewell with Son of Virginia. This slow cooking ballad has a long build-up before it erupts into a huge riff, only to get back into the echoing twang of Tim Sult's guitar and spiralling yet into the furious riff swagger again. However the the real farewell is a short outro at the end of the song to close the loop with the The Affidavit. Neil, somewhat doubtful of the truth of the events that unfolded the previous 40 minutes wishes a good night.

I admit, I am among the vexed, so, was this a grower or instant love? I am happy to report that it is the later. Clutch crafted another great soundtrack for weekends of greasy BBQs and Saturday afternoon truck cruising. The musicianship is high class, but you'd come to expect such a thing from a band that has been playing with the same line-up for almost 25 years.

Dan's bouncing bass-lines are pronounced (and luckily it seems that he is given more time overall in the spotlight on this record), Tim wields his axe with proficiency, dealing in short but efficient solos and catchy southern-rooted riffs and JP behind the kit keeps the pace with a snapping accuracy and groove, bringing (in cooperation with Dan) massive drive to songs like Noble Savage. Neil doesn't bother move out of his comfort zone, prefers to dish out hobo-wisdoms varying only between his his gravely singing voice and lower end barks. 

Together they form a tight unit, the chemistry between each member is great. Credit should definitely go as well to the top notch production by Machine, who was also behind Earth Rocker and Blast Tyrant, which also may explain the overall similarities between these three albums. The production is really crisp, each instrument is clearly audible, and the mix packs a punch, making this album really fun to listen to. In comparison to its straight forward predecessor it is a more challenging, diverse listen, but all the more rewarding.

Clutch doesn't reinvent the wheel with this album, but they make it run a little bit smoother than it did before. You shouldn't get your hopes up for them to ever be avant-garde, and they make no secret of their own groundedness. They're mom's home-cooked meal of hard rock/stoner. It will never stun you with innovation, but it will always taste good, and you'll always come back for more. Its a familiar, warm embrace. The only envelope they push is in terms of quality, as they're yet to tarnish their discography with a bad release. Psychic Warfare holds up to any other music they released before and further cement their position as one of the greatest rock contemporaries.

Overall it could be summed up as a logical continuation of Earth Rocker, unsurprisingly, as the material was written shortly after ER's release, but also revisiting some of the sound found on fan favorite Blast Tyrant as well, rounded off with a healthy dose of Blues and some sprinkles of Funk. Seeing that Psychic Warfare was only released 2 1/2 years after Earth Rocker means that we will probably have to be patient for a new album. But Psychic Warfare will keep me entertained for those long years ahead. Get it now. You won't regret it. You better believe me, brother!

Words by Calvin Lampert

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