Overall Score: 7/10 Songwriting: 8/10 Riffs: 7/10 Production: 7/10 Pros: Clutch never disappoint, plenty of great stoner rock anthems and outlandishly brilliant lyrics Cons: More of a grower than recent LPs. Some songs take a while to reveal their charms
It’s hard to think of rock band who are on a better run of albums than CLUTCH. Certainly in the stoner rock genre there isn’t anyone who can match them, KING BUFFALO aside, possibly.
Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is the band’s 13th album, but we doubt there’s anybody expecting it to witness any great misfortune. It does come after a significant break, being five years since the expansive and remarkable Book Of Bad Decisions (2018), its embarrassment of riches having to tide us over all sorts of calamitous world events. If Book Of Bad Decisions was a feast then Sunrise On Slaughter Beach at first seems like a quick, but tasty drive-thru, its punk rockish brevity is a surprise, at a mere thirty-odd minutes and nine tracks it feels almost mean and on early plays you may feel short changed.
Opener and lead out single Red Alert (Boss Metal Zone) at first appears to epitomise the album, a no thrills banger that doesn’t mess about and is over in three and half minutes. Actually it’s a red herring and listening to the lyrics reveals a clue to the real under-lying vibe of the record, where Neil Fallon (vocals) describes himself as the “greatest living sci-fi writer”. Now however fantastical or tongue in cheek that may be, we think it speaks to the band’s ambition. We once asked Fallon what Unto The Breach from 2013’s Earth Rocker was about and he admitted it was his attempt to write a Dr Who story. Fallon is clearly a sci-fi fan and perhaps a frustrated screenwriter, with his desire to soundtrack the movies in his mind becoming ever clearer.
There are a couple of tunes here that have an epic sweep to them, more West End and Broadway than Maryland funk. The songs are less obviously wacky, however outlandish the tale may be, there is a new seriousness. They may be about vampires, space missions or booze fuelled nights on the town but in general they steer clear of outright goofiness, the storytelling is the be all and end all. Quite a few of the numbers are not as instantly catchy as the ones from recent albums and you have to listen closely, immerse yourself in their atmospheres and then the little twists and sonic experiments emerge.
The centre-piece of the album is the track Mercy Brown, creating a kind of dark spaghetti Western vibe but with a big shiny chorus that MUSE could have penned. There are passionate but wordless female backing vocals and ethereal synths too and it is more cinematic than anything they have ever attempted before. It still manages to fit in a great number of huge riffs though!
The title track also has plenty of low-slung heavy grooves as Fallon describes weird scenes by the sea, a little Middle Eastern sounding interlude suggests exotic entertainments heard coming from a carny tent. More unusual sounds can be heard on Skeletons On Mars, which uses a theremin alongside a tremendous psych metal attack from Tim Sult (guitar). It breaks down into a sort of dub with Hendrix-esque soloing before launching into a climax that is part HAWKWIND, part RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.
Metalheads are also well served by Mountain Of Bones which is windswept and heroic with classic metal guitar tones, switching up even further during the chorus, one of the best on the album, with Fallon crying “here I am still rolling, a 20 sided dice”.
If you’re looking for the more ‘fun’ side of CLUTCH then there is We Strive For Excellence, which finds Fallon getting all misty-eyed for his youth again. Going back in time even further than Gimme The Keys, to a childhood of Chopper bikes, grazed knees and missed meals as Evel Kneivel fantasies are lived out in a time before health and safety. It rages hard and is gone too soon, just like those days of summer.
The album closes with Jackhammer Our Names, almost a torch song, written as a waltz. Again there are wordless, dramatic female backing vocals and an obvious intent to paint on a bigger canvas. The band are aiming for the stars whilst still very much being in the recognizable orbit of CLUTCH-world.
There is patently lots more to explore and enjoy on this album – that drive-thru meal turned out to be more complex and harder to digest than originally thought. There has been a subtle elevation of the ambition in the songwriting, and yes, they are striving for excellence. Hey, it’s CLUTCH, they are still on a roll, but this time they’re rolling a little different.
Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is available now via Weathermaker Music.
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