CLUTCH – Earth Rocker

With a career spanning over 20 years now, Clutch have always been a tricky act to pigeonhole, frequently lumped into myriad subgenres in which their eclectic, seemingly ever-evolving sound simply doesn’t fit.

With this, their tenth album, however, the Maryland foursome have their collective eight feet entrenched firmly in rock ‘n roll soil. Rugged, in-your-face-and-balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n roll soil made of pure awesome, that is.

Actually, truth be told, they’re doing so much more than just getting in your face here – they’re running into the room and kicking your head in; opening with the absolutely killer title track, Earth Rocker snarls with a sonic assault that seizes your eardrums and throttles them into submission. With its sneering, cynical verses, instantly catchy sing-along-the-first-time-you-hear-it chorus and insane, carnival-esque bogeyman laughter capping each of those choruses, it’s not only one of the finest and most memorable tracks on the album, but also certainly one of the band’s most well-crafted to date, setting the bar high for the remainder of the record.

Up next is the deliciously 70′s Crucial Velocity, with its escapist fantasy lyrics and yet another huge chorus sandwiched between filthy, groove-laden verses, followed by the rapid riffs and catchy beats of Mr Freedom, a song that’s hard to listen to without breaking into some spontaneous air drumming and head-shaking. With its blues harmonica hook and rolling guitars, funky D.C. Sound Attack keeps the unrelenting momentum turned up to 11, another head-bobbing, groove monster earhole invasion that’d fill any rock hall dance floor in seconds. I daresay it’s the strongest standout song on the record here (it’s certainly my personal favourite), and one that’d translate very well in a live setting.

With possibly the most bizarre lyrics on the album with its tale of time lords and hobgoblins, Unto The Breach kicks off with yet more high-paced guitar riffs that could peel paint off walls, keeping the album’s tempo revved up to maximum before finally slowing down for Gone Cold, a slow, airy bluesy number that wouldn’t sound out of place on a David Lynch soundtrack, with lyrics more spoken than sung over a melancholy guitar. The decrease in tempo reminds me a little of the days of vinyl and cassette tapes, when a slow song would usually end the first side.

Opening the “second side”of the album then is The Face, throwing us right back into faster-paced territory, albeit with a slightly progressive, atmospheric ambience, making it another of the album’s strongest moments. Book, Saddle, & Go, yet another fast, heavy rocker with a charged chorus and rollicking guitars leads to the equally up-tempo bluesy riff and drum-roll fest Cyborg Bette, before shifting tempo ever so slightly for the more groove-oriented, meandering jam-session vibes of Oh Isabella, which, at 5:18, is the longest track on the record.

Revving the tempo back up for the album’s final push, The Wolfman Kindly Requests… brings back a little funk with its choppy-attack guitar work and staccato bass lines punctuated by heavy ride cymbals. An exuberant close to the album, the grooves keep your head bobbing right until the final, rather abrupt end.

With no weak points, Earth Rocker marks a high note for Clutch‘s career. Such a strong collection of songs that delivers ballsy, occasionally blues-tinged hard rock in this vein is likely to appeal to a huge span of people, delighting existing fans and winning the band new ones.

Having already played a few tracks from Earth Rocker live on their tour earlier this year, it’ll be great to see Clutch again on their next tour run, as every song on this album has potential as a strong live contender, especially D.C. Sound Attack, Cyborg Bette, The Face and Crucial Velocity. Possibly already an instant classic (a rare feat these days), and a very strong contender for album of the year, even though 2013 is only in its first quarter.

Earth Rocker may offer no frills, but it doesn’t need to. Its straightforward, all round emotional attack is what makes it such a truly excellent album from these veteran rock stalwarts.

“It might be the best Clutch album that has ever existed,” says guitarist Tim Sult. After listening, you will find it hard to disagree.