There must be something in the Maryland water. Ten albums into a colourful career and Clutch show no sign of easing up. If anything, Earth Rocker finds the grizzly quartet more fierce and ferocious than ever as they deliver a manifesto that practically demands for rock to return to a back-to-basics approach.
Within the opening minute of the title track, frontman Neil Fallon is sermonising that ‘If you’re going to do it, do it live on the stage/Or don’t do it at all’ – a line that speaks volumes about their whole career philosophy. Fallon is a fine lyricist whose vocal delivery is best described as chest-beating and pulpit-thumping.
Of course, all this could be seen as empty rhetoric were the band behind him not so gloriously heavy and therefore clearly leading by example. The harmonica-laden boogie metal of DC Sound Attack, for example, has such pendulous swinging balls it can’t walk straight, while Unto The Breach is a war cry of pure rock intent.
What sets Clutch apart from their contemporaries is that they play as if possessed with a biblical fervour. Fire and brimstone is their continued currency, and guitarist Tim Sult tears it up so hard that Mr Freedom devastates like hot magma bubbling and dripping from your speakers. Meanwhile, down in the basement drummer Jean Paul Gaster can be found propelling the beat with a wrist-snapping, hip-hop-style intensity.
Where other bands are content just to make a noise, Clutch find a groove and lock into it for an entire album. The only real change of pace and mood here is on Gone Cold, a sultry murder balled that squints back down the highway at the trail of blood and corpses it has clearly left in its wake. In addition to all the usual rock reference points – most notably Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin – Clutch also cite hardcore pioneers Bad Brains and Fugazi as influences, and they’re certainly there in their ability to streamline a song down to its bare bones.
Ultimately Earth Rocker is the sound of a band that’s revelling in their self-created niche like happy hogs in shit. ‘Everybody keeps telling me, Neil, you’ve got to quit your low-down ways,’ Fallon bellows on Crucial Velocity, but on the strength of this album, we’d be inclined to encourage the man to back-slide into sin as much as he wants. Because, like a fine wine, a gnarly country singer or an old, tan leather belt, Clutch are getting better with age.