Just three short years ago Clutch released an album of such quality it blew the mind of many a fan. Psychic Warfare it seemed at the time was that album many a band has; it broke them through to a wider consciousness, increased their standing and was one that stands the test of time. Three years on the album is still on my turntable most weeks, the sounds forthcoming never growing old and sinking deeper into my soul with every play. The album was THAT good.
Come September the Maryland natives will release their twelfth studio album, Book of Bad Decisions, on their own Weathermaker label. Produced by four time Grammy winner Vance Powell, more recognisable for his work with in the country music field and with the likes of the White Stripes and Artic Monkeys than a group such as this. His approach to the production process has given the band a fresh outlook on how to record an album. Put to tape over a three-week period in Nashville, Book of Bad Decisions might just be the bands best offering musically, but will the fans take to it as much as they did its predecessor?
Kicking off with Gimme the Keys, the atmospheric ambiance builds through the quietly growing intro until Fallon’s vocals kick in and knock you back. The song has a upbeat feel and somewhat fast pace but ultimately the bands traditional sound remains strong. Jean-Paul Gaster’s drumming stands out on Spirit of ’76, with a seventies vibe to the sound recording the shimmering tone of the high hat rippling through the bluesy guitar feel and heavy throbbing bass line.
With the title track to the album you can immediately hear the different approach that Vance Powell has encouraged the band to take. Again, Gaster takes the lead with an echoing, almost haunting drum intro into the more traditional Clutch approach. How to Shake Hands takes us back to the feel of the previous album, a sound and vision that could have been lifted straight out of the sessions from three years ago, Fallon’s vocals have an edge fuelled by Tim Sult’s beautifully whining guitar.
In another twist, In Walks Barbarella adds a horn section and a whole new approach with the funk vibes of James Brown oozing through the recording. It may not be the bands traditional direction but it works so well, Fallons vocals softer at times and melding with the Jazz vibes. Whilst Vision Quest replaces horns with an old school piano sound that’s just majestic. If they can reproduce the buzz of these tracks live it will be a thing of beauty.
As the album moves on it very much grows on you, a different perspective on the same Clutch vision. Rather than continue with the Psychic Warfare template the band have turned a new page, stretched the envelope and challenged themselves. This is not a band resting on their laurels, they have stepped out of their comfort zone and taken that leap of faith to produce an aural masterpiece which will no doubt live on with us for an eternity.