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Blast Tyrant


irst off, if you've never seen Clutch live, do yourself a favor and check them out. Seriously, they tour all the time, and it's well worth it. I've dragged my wife, who hates loud concerts so much that she wears earplugs at Will Oldham shows, to see them and she loved it. I took a buddy of mine to see them and he brought his girlfriend, who's a concert violinist who listens mostly to classical. Midway through their first song, during the five-minute drum solo, she turned to me and said, "Wow, these guys are awesome!"

But the albums, well...

Y'know how sports fans like to argue about who's the greatest pitcher who never won a World Series, or who's the best golfer who hasn't won a major? For a long time I would have called Clutch the best band that's never made a good album. In the past I would rave about Clutch to someone who'd never heard them, and they would ask which album was a good one to start with. I would wind up saying something like, "Well, um, the new one's pretty good, I guess, but... I mean, you've really gotta see 'em live, man." Their albums were never bad, but never good enough to be must-owns. Their fans know this, too, which is why they turn out in droves for the show and maintain extensive tape-trading lists online. Clutch: the Grateful Dead of metal?

Blast Tyrant is a big step forward. And frankly it's about time.

It's difficult to describe Clutch without using the word "but." They play hard rock. But they don't sound like AOR, because they've got a lot of metal in there. But they don't seem to have heard any metal recorded after, say, 1982, because there's no muted-strum thrash riffs, just a real seventies muscle car vibe. But it's not stoner rock, because they play with a lot of clean, sudden stops and odd time signatures that come straight outta hardcore. But they're not punk rockers, because they stretch out when they play live. But they're not a hippy jam band, because singer Neil Fallon bellows like a trapped animal. But he's not a tough-guy thug frontman, because his lyrics come from the worldview of a perpetual 13-year-old boy.

On Clutch's early albums, Fallon's vocals were always the love-'em-or-hate-'em line in the sand. While the band was riffing away, Fallon would unleash a torrent of lyrics about monster trucks, prison planets and yetis in his unmistakable throaty roar. But his vocal mannerisms have tempered with age, and he's gradually learned the value of subtlety. Now he imparts his wisdom with a range of tones never imagined in the bandís early days.

The real key to Blast Tyrant, though, is the arrangements. Clutch have never been able to capture the magic of their live noodlings in the studio, and here they've stopped trying. The songs are all tight, get-in get-out affairs, mostly clocking in at sub-four minutes. You get all you need in that space of time: an avalanche of riffs and slogans piled up like a highway wreck. Then just as you're starting to get into it, they move on to another number. Oddly for a band so renowned for live improvisation, this turns out to be the ideal format for Clutch's lumbering grooves.

Not that every song works; they try to branch out with a couple acoustic blues numbers here, and that idea might need to get shelved. But overall it rocks start to finish. If you've heard 'em before, you know what they're about and this is a damn good one. If you've never heard 'em, well, now there's a good place to start.

Reviewed by: Bjorn Randolph

Reviewed on: 2004-08-16

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