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+ {The Bakerton Group}

Who’d have ever thought that post-grunge stoners CLUTCH would be reaping the rewards of their double-decade-long-plus existence in today’s shifting pop-rock market, but the Germantown, Maryland metal combo have weathered the storm to find themselves now riding high in the album charts.
Formed in 1991, vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, took their cues from BLACK SABBATH, FAITH NO MORE and SOUNDGARDEN. Building up a local following through plentiful gigs, their first release came out almost immediately in the shape of EP, `Pitchfork’ (1991), while a second `Passive Restraints’ shot out for Relativity-US/Earache-UK a year later; the abrasive and bruising lead track gelled alongside the similarly exclusive `Impetus’ and the 7-minute `High Caliber Consecrator’.
East West Records saw the uncompromising quartet’s potential and set about recording a full album’s worth of their punishing doom metallic noise in the shape of TRANSNATIONAL SPEEDWAY LEAGUE: ANTHEMS, ANECDOTES AND UNDENIABLE TRUTHS (1993) {*7}. Not since the days of ‘Sabbath and ‘Zeppelin had one heard a sleazier and greasier set of songs and, with their charismatic frontman Fallon’s growls of angst-ridden hardcore, there were signs of potential in `Binge And Purge’, `12 Ounce Epilogue’ and `Bacchanal’.
A promotional heavy touring commitment supporting the likes of fellow newcomers FEAR FACTORY and BIOHAZARD, led to a funkier follow-up album, CLUTCH (1995) {*8}. `Spacegrass’, `Texan Book Of The Dead’, `The House That Peterbilt’ and `I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth’ were star tracks aboard a stylistic set, a set that, with further airplay, might’ve given them their initial breakthrough.
They did, however, hone an engaging funky stoner-rock sound for their inaugural Columbia Records third album, THE ELEPHANT RIDERS (1998) {*7}. Stalling four places outside the lucrative Top 100, the forceful and subliminal elements of their metallic rhythms came no better than `Ship Of Gold’, `Eight Times Over Miss October’, `The Yeti’ and the prog-length `Dragonfly’.
Into the new millennium with the liberating JAM ROOM (2000) {*7}, CLUTCH found their independent groove – now on Spitfire Records – as they pummelled the hell out of preaching metal melodramas such as `Who Wants To Rock?’ (like TOM WAITS on grunge pills), `Big Fat Pig’, the sludgy instrumental `Swamp Boat Upside Down’ and the boozy, `Basket Of Eggs’; a mention too, to the almost narrative and CAPTAIN BEEFHEART-ian `Release The Kraken’.
Flying squarely in the face of musical fashion, CLUTCH’s free-spirited monster boogie injected a bit of good-time swagger into a chronically angst-ridden metal scene. PURE ROCK FURY (2001) {*7}, meanwhile (their first for Atlantic Records), laced the loping riffs with even more oblique lyrical musings, although, when the music was this fired-up, did words really matter? Roping in SPIRIT CARAVAN’s Scott Weinrich as a guest (LESLIE WEST was co-producer), the fiery Fallon and Co pushed the boat out in a cynically more political album; `American Sleep’ and `Open Up The Border’, sitting well with the MONSTER MAGNET-esque title track and the effortless pounding of `Sinkemlow’. LIVE AT THE GOOGOLPLEX (2003) {*6} rounded up all their devilish best tunes under one roof.
2004’s BLAST TYRANT {*7} was textbook CLUTCH, a record that took them beyond sonic stoner and mystical metal, and back into the realms of overtly ironic politics, railing against their government’s misdemeanours in `The Mob Goes Wild’ (soldier heroes dying for their country), `Profits Of Doom’, `Worm Drink’ and `Army Of Bono’. DRT Records also unleashed their J. Robbins-produced debut Top 100 entry, ROBOT HIVE / EXODUS (2005) {*8}, a mighty righteous and preach-worthy set that heralded newcomer, Mick Schauer (on JON LORD-styled keyboards), to complement the guttural groans of Fallon to full effect. `Burning Beard’, `Robot Lords Of Tokyo’, the binaural `10001110101’ and `The Incomparable Mr. Flannery’, accentuated their post-grunge grinding assaults, and surely CLUTCH were slowly but surely finding their feet among the genre’s premier combos.
FROM BEALE STREET TO OBLIVION (2007) {*7} continued their hard-working, slow-burning rise to the top of the heavy metal pile, albeit with a sound not that far removed from redundant precursors SOUNDGARDEN and KYUSS. Simpler in its back to boogie basics bent, album number ten flourished with classy cuts like `You Can’t Stop Progress’, `White’s Ferry’, `Electric Worry’ and the bluesy `When Vegans Attack’.
To emphasize their instrumental prowess, The BAKERTON GROUP, came about as a touring thought at the turn of the millennium, but with CLUTCH in reverse gear for a mid-life stocktake, all-but frontman Fallon delivered an eponymous album, THE BAKERTON GROUP (2008) {*5}. Coming out on the strength of CLUTCH’s concert piece, FULL FATHOM FIVE: AUDIO FIELD RECORDINGS 2007-2008 (2008) {*6}, the BG’s second effort, EL ROJO (2009) {*5} added Fallon on guitar; Schauer had now parted with both outfits.
Their own Weathermaker Music also uncaged CLUTCH’s blues-driven Top 40 breaker, STRANGE COUSINS FROM THE WEST (2009) {*7}. As always, heavy and hypnotic, there was a sequel to `…John Wilkes Booth’ in `Abraham Lincoln’, while the meat and two veg tracks were supplied the ‘Sabbath-y `Let A Poor Man Be’, `Motherless Child’, `50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ and Italian Norbert Napolitano’s `Algo Ha Cambiado’.
A mere four years in the making, CLUTCH’s comeback was made all the better for its Top 20 (UK Top 50) placing. Although a little unimaginative in title, EARTH ROCKER (2013) {*7}, the quartet reeled off some weird and wonder-“fuel” rippers by way of the bluesy `Cyborg Bette’, `Mr. Freedom’, `Book, Saddle & Go’ and the set’s only subdued swagger, `Gone Cold’. Twenty-two years and counting, CLUTCH seemed to keep their rough ’n’ ready rock in first gear, and may it long continue.
2015’s PSYCHIC WARFARE {*8} confirmed that the quartet would be steady contenders to add meat and balls to both the US and UK Top 20’s. Sporting an unconventional grey-ing beard and muscling in with the shout-y but sonic `X-Ray Visions’, `Our Lady Of The Electric Light’ and the southern-fried closer `Son Of Virginia’, Neil Fallon proved beyond any doubt that CLUTCH were no one-trick-pony stoner-metal act.
Repeating their Top 20 chart prescription by way of BOOK OF BAD DECISIONS (2018) {*7}, CLUTCH had metal-heads from all walks of life – and death – in their KYUSS-meets-ZZ TOP-type rawk’n’roll. Renowned producer Vance Powell extracted every chapter-and-verse of stoner-sludge from the stalwart 4-piece; their crunching chemistry coming to the fore on `How To Shake Hands’, `In Walks Barbarella’, Vision Quest’ and `Gimme The Keys’ (the latter concerning their disastrous inaugural gigs down memory lane).
© MC Strong 1998-2001/GMD // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Sep2018

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