Sound — 6
In their career spanning over two decades, Clutch's musical offerings have both stood on the poles of serious business (like the hearty serving of blues rock in their highly lauded 1998 album "The Elephant Riders") and goofiness (like the infectious rap rock single "Careful With That Mic"). Though the serious business side of the band is what got them signed with two different major labels in the earlier era of their career, the inherent levity of Clutch is more or less the reason why they couldn't stick around with Columbia or Atlantic for the long haul. Enjoying the freedom to run on their own weird frequency, they began to release their music under their own label Weathermaker, starting with their ninth album, the contained but measurement-tricky stoner rocker "Strange Cousins from the West," which was then followed up by their tenth album, "Earth Rocker," which earned much praise for its driving metal characteristics.
Now on their eleventh album, "Psychic Warfare," Clutch take the heavy metal penchant that was present in their previous album and add it to the amalgam of their retro rock sound. Though plenty of songs wield heavier energy that continues in the vein of "Earth Rocker" (with the immediate 1-2 punch of "X-Ray Visions" and "Firebirds!," the triplet-chugging "Behold the Colossus," the Black Sabbath-style chorus in "Decapitation Blues," and the Motörhead-influenced uptempo drive of "Noble Savage"), the band also bring back their swaggering blues rock in "Your Love Is Incarceration" and the ZZ Top-esque southern flair of "A Quick Death in Texas," as well as a couple morose country blues of "Our Lady of Electric Light" and "Son of Virginia," and the riff of "Sucker for the Witch" bears a bit of surf rock flavor to it.
Though this merging of styles in "Psychic Warfare" is a step forward from their previous album, it's also a step back towards Clutch's home range of their blues/psych-inspired stoner rock sound, and one can't help but get a sense of the album's songwriting being more of the same. Though the guitar riffs in "Firebirds!," "Your Love Is Incarceration" and "Noble Savage" stand out nicely on the album, in the grand scheme of the band's catalog, they aren't superlative. A similar sentiment goes for Tim Sult's guitar solos, where the same pedal effects that are used exactly when one would expect them makes this batch of solos feel synonymous to any of the others in previous albums. And with drummer Jean-Paul Gaster using the same type of cowbell-driven beat in the break of "A Quick Death in Texas" that appeared in the "Earth Rocker" song "DC Sound Attack" and the "Strange Cousins from the West" song "Minotaur," it's hard to shake off the recycled feel that "Psychic Warfare" has.
Lyrics — 8
With frontman Neil Fallon sculpting a loose concept through the majority of the album, where the bookends reveal a reporter listening to Fallon's wild stories of being on the road, the lyrical style of "Psychic Warfare" is a convergence of Fallon's personal story-driven lyrics and his reverence for science fiction greatly exaggerating said stories accordingly. Fallon starts with a secret operative debriefing in "X-Ray Visions," then mentions his gallivanting fling with a power-crazed woman in "Firebirds!," which results in him needing to dodge the lethally vengeful husband of said woman in "A Quick Death in Texas." Fallon's continued stories of affection turning sour in "Sucker for the Witch" and "Your Love Is Incarceration" leads him to talk about his go-to hideaway to drink away his sorrows in "Our Lady of Electric Light," which both symbolically wields the faux consolation of a faithful woman and comfort of religion, both of which Fallon mentions struggling with in the album.
Though the third stretch of the album has Fallon dipping out of this linear set of stories and falling back on his usual lyrical topics of fantasy creatures (in "Behold the Colossus"), praising rock 'n' roll (in "Noble Savage"), and satirizing sci-fi (in "Decapitation Blues"), Fallon wraps up the album with the homecoming "Son of Virginia," where its moral of the entire story is to never forget your roots no matter how far you travel. With Fallon's detailed journey through America boosted with these shots of sci-fi, his lyrics in "Psychic Warfare" are like a fusion between Bruce Springsteen and H.G. Wells.
Overall Impression — 6
The role "Psychic Warfare" plays is a rational one, but regarding Clutch's long-standing tenure, the spot it's in is tough. Whereas "Earth Rocker" stood out for its heavier nature, even more so after dynamically parlaying from the reserved likes of "Strange Cousins from the West," the hodgepodge offering of old and new that "Psychic Warfare" brings is ultimately a role of continuation rather than innovation. Fallon's bout of conceptual lyrics makes for a good defining quality of the album, but this more-of-the-same output in sound is equal parts dependable and staid, and while it does satisfy a simple itch for rock, given the context of Clutch's catalog, "Psychic Warfare" doesn't push itself beyond being average.