Chicago “Spring” Concert Preview

Chicago always takes a while to heat back up again, but a sparse January leads into one can’t miss show in February and then a packed March.  So for those of us who avoid the logical decision and don’t kill ourselves this winter, here’s what we have to look forward to:

Corrosion of Conformity/Crowbar–February 9–Bottom Lounge

Play Down songs.  Play Down songs.  Play Down songs.

Or just All I Had I Gave and Albatross.

 

Decibel Tour–Cannibal Corpse/Morbid Angel–March 4 Concord

I wasn’t a death metal fan yet when these two bands were coming up, but I have to imagine the debate between who was the best death metal band often came down to these two, particularly in discussing the Florida scene (fuck off Deicide; Death, fair play).  Looks like Corpse is going forward despite their guitar player apparently being a bath-salted doomsday hoarder crazy person, replacing him with Erik Rutan.  So…Rutan, get involved with Morbid Angel too?  Crossovers!

For real, as long as the rumors are true that MA will go back to playing pre-Formulas stuff on this tour, the lineup at this years Decibel Tour is stacked with good death metal and well worth it.

 

Clutch–March 13–Concord

I didn’t care for Book of Bad Decisions.  That doesn’t mean I’m gonna miss a fucking Clutch show, c’mon now.  The sets last year started to get a little weirder in a great way–Open up the Border?  Big News I and II?  50,000 Unstoppable Watts?  I’m in.

Hopefully on this trek they are passed the “9 new songs” stage and ready to go full 2003 Live in Flint with it.

 

Lucifer–March 21–Reggies

Johanna Sadonis is supposed to be a captivating figure in the live setting, and I wouldn’t doubt it based on the performances on the first 2 Lucifer records and the sadly one-album The Oath project.  Did you know the guitar player from The Oath, Linnea Olsen, has her own band as well now, Maggot Heart?  Lucifer and Maggot Heart are both worth your time.  I’d liken Maggot Heart to In Solitude playing garage rock.  But listening to both bands is a little heartbreaking, because you can see that the dynamism between Sadonis and Olsen is that little thing missing from the two solo projects.

 

Uncle Acid/Graveyard–March 26–Metro

Two bands on different trajectories.  I thought Graveyard was ready to crossover into what Greta Van Fleet is now (I guess?), but the last two records saw an unfortunate decline in memorable songs.  The opposite is going on in the Uncle Acid camp–The Night Creeper had Melody Lane, maybe their most immediate song, and Wasteland is excellent front to back.  Let’s hope Graveyard re-finds their form.  Maybe a more metal-tinged tour will be just the thing.

 

Baroness/Deafheaven/Zeal and Ardor–March 31–Riviera

I’m very interested to see Zeal and Ardor in a larger setting.  If the crowd is unfamiliar, it could be very weird at first, though I suspect (a) there will be enough hipsters in this crowd that a lot of people will know the band, and (b) the uninitiated will be won over quickly because Zeal and Ardor are amazing.

The Deafheaven hype turned me off enough that I haven’t listened to the last 2.  I did see them live recently.  And….they were still pretty ok; and non-descript; and would not be a thing if non-metal people didn’t jizz on Sunbather as if they knew anything about metal.

Baroness may never be that band we heard on Red again–the band of extended, insane guitar solos loosely wrapped up in song structures, the band that was immediate and intricate and harsh and accessible all at the same time.  But the current, classic rock version of the band is plenty worthy.  There was some edge back on Purple as well–The Iron Bell, anyone?  I think this is the first tour in full with the new line-up, so I’m interested to see what past eras of the band play to this line-up’s strengths.  So long as Baizley is at the helm, you can expect a good show and some great album/shirt designs to stare at while stoned.

Then we’re in April, and free!…after two more snow storms.

 

 

Sup in 2019?

Here are some things to get me through this goddamn month.

2018 was excellent for metal.  It would be crazy to put those expectations on this year, but there are definitely some things on the metal and metal-adjacent docket worth enduring winter for (in chronological order):

1. Expected new records–Release dates unknown

-Deftones–Can they bounce back from Gore?

-Amon Amarth–Can they bounce back from Jomsviking?

-Baroness–Can they bounce back from…wait, Purple was good, NM.

 

2.  New Tool album–??

Gets a separate heading.  Fuck these guys for all the teasing and bullshit and $600 clinics.  But they are also Tool, so they are basically untouchable, and if a new one actually comes out it will be nothing short of a fucking EVENT.

 

3.  The Raconteurs Return

I was late to the party on this, and not a huge Jack White guy, but fuck if Consolers of the Lonely isn’t a top 10 rock record of the last 20 years.  Do it again?

 

4.  Lords of Chaos movie release–Feb 8

I’ve been waiting on this for awhile.  The book has its problems, but the subject matter is nothing less than compelling and an important part of modern metal history.  Plus, it is salacious as fuck and there is a Culkin playing Euronymous.

 

5.  COC and Crowbar Tour–Bottom Lounge, Sat Feb 9

Pepper is there.  Kirk is there.  Phil is watching horror movies in his basement (which hopefully doesn’t have any unfortunate banners on the wall).  Just make it happen!

 

6.  Uncle Acid and Graveyard tour–March 26–Metro

Uncle Acid clearly > Graveyard at this point, but the head to head matchup should be a good night, and at least Graveyard has some solid back catalog worth hearing.

 

7.  Game of Thrones–April

AHHHHHH.  Must. complete. re-watch.

 

8. Chicago Open Air–May 18-19

No vendors, no second stage, and the ticket prices can beat it…

BUT who can pass up Tool and System of a Down?  Hold you nose and take the plunge.

 

9.  Judas Priest (May) and Iron Maiden (August) Shows

It will only be about 5-10 years when young metalheads will look in disbelief when you say “I saw Maiden with Bruce and Priest with Rob in the same summer.”  Take advantage while you can.

 

10.  Psycho Las Vegas–August 16-18

I’ve yet to make the trek out there, but it is always the most enviable U.S. lineup (look at 2017’s if you don’t believe me), and maybe the second only to Hellfest worldwide.

 

Fuck January.

 

Best of 2018

I love all the year ends. They always bring new leads for excellent stuff that I missed, and reminds me to give a few additional spins to records I may have neglected for a few months. I got hot takes on all kinds of shit, so let’s go:

MUSIC

Disappointment

Clutch–Book of Bad Decisions

Sucks to put this here, but any Clutch record that isn’t an instant top 10 has to be considered a disappointment. I’m with the people criticizing the production–there’s a song on here called “Weird Times” that sounds like the Black Keys, and the Black Keys have a song called “Strange Times,” and just the prospect of finishing this thought makes me uncomfortable so I’m moving right along.

And you know what was a “Bad Decision”…A crab cake song! Nailed it.

Honorable Mention

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Tomb Mold–Manor of Infinite Forms

Lucifer–II

Scars on Broadway–Dictator

Revocation–The Outer Ones

Top 10

10. At the Gates–To Drink From the Night Itself

Image result for to drink from the night itself

The band doesn’t miss a beat with a new guitar player (somehow–how can there be only one Bjorler in At the Gates?) and picks up the energy from the return album. A savage live show at the Decibel Beer and Metal Festival didn’t hurt either.

9. Horrendous–Idol

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They seem to keep pumping them out. A little concerned that nothing has topped Ecdysis for me, but that’s like saying I’m concerned that Covenant and Domination aren’t quite as good as Blessed are the Sick. These guys are reaching that pantheon, and they are still early in their career. An Enslaved-like trajectory towards a decade of brilliance (say, Isa through RIITIR?) is not out of the question.

8. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

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Thunderous return to form. Fuck that Sleep record, fuckin HIGH ON FIRE!!! (not really, but kinda).

7. Skeletonwitch–Devouring Radiant Light

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The initial reviews were confusing for this one because I just did not see a legit black metal turn for this band–maybe because my favorite record of their’s, Breathing the Fire, is basically a Kreator record. But damned if they didn’t go from Kreator to almost Memoria Vetusta-style Blut Aus Nord. Very impressive.

6. Agrimonia–Awaken

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This sounds like Opeth if Opeth still sounded like Opeth. I see sludge and post monikers when looking at reviews of this. Don’t believe it. If you want to hear some mid-period Opeth type shit, look no further. Those sludge and hardcore tinges help keep Agrimonia just original enough. But again. Opeth.

5. Judas Priest–Firepower

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WAITING FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE

4. Khemmis–Desolation

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Could have been the best record if not for the opener Bloodletting, which I still can’t figure out after dozens of spins. I have no idea what that song is supposed to be. But Isolation and Flesh to Nothing? Crystal clear on those–trademark Khemmis epics. Also, any takedowns regarding the alleged quality of the sparse harsh vocals should be dismissed immediately. Its just someone trying to find a reason to be contrarian. Khemmis rules, jump aboard.

3. Amorphis–Queen of Time

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Maybe their two best records back to back roughly 30 years into their career. Stunning…but not number 1 because nothing here quite reached the heights of something like the The Four Wise Ones from Red Cloud. But still better than almost anything else out there, and The Golden Elk comes close.

2. Zeal and Ardor–Stranger Fruit

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I thought Devil is Fine was an interesting curiosity and nothing more. If you had a similar impression of this band overall, divest your self of it immediately and check this out. If you like rock, you’ll like a lot of blues. And if you like the blues and black metal, this shit will blow you away.

1. The Atlas Moth–Coma Noir

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The Atlas Moth has had many great qualities across their first few albums, but straight up metal was not amongst them. Not anymore–the title song rips your face off in the middle (and the beginning, and the end), and there is somehow no let down as the record continues. Each song has an aspect that grabs you and makes you excited for the next track as the current one before it is winding down. That is the core quality of a great record, not just a record with some great songs on it. Coma Noir works as a whole (even when you can’t tell what Stavros is shrieking about). I had no idea they were capable of this.

Just for fun, here are my best of lists for TV, live shows and movies from this year as well:

TV:

10. Altered Carbon

9. Atlanta

8. Sharp Objects

7. Killing Eve

6. The Americans

5. Haunting of Hill House

4. Big Mouth

3. Bojack Horseman

2. Better Call Saul

1. Succession

Shows

10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live–April 4–Vic Theater

9. How Did this Get Made?–June 2 and 3–Athenaeum Theater

8. Judas Priest–April 6–The Venue

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs–May 29–Aragon

6. The Chasm–August 16–Reggies

5. Zeal and Ardor–September 29–Subterranean

4. Decibel Beer and Metal Festival–March 31 and April 1–Philadelphia

3. Primus and Mastodon–June 6–Northerly Island

2. Pearl Jam–August 18 and 20–Wrigley FIeld

1. Nine Inch Nails–October 27–Aragon

Movies

*Shit, I forgot Sorry to Bother You–Let’s say #5*

10. Bad Times at the El Royale

9. Cam

8. Roma

7. Searching

6. Black Panther

5. Death of Stalin

4. Hereditary

3. Widows

2. A Star is Born

1. Annihilation

October/November 2018–New Records

I limit myself to new music once a month, because otherwise I’ll get new stuff every day, listen to it once and then totally forget about it.  And that’s a bullshit effort to give a band, particularly metal bands that still put out full, cohesive records.

I’m old.

Here’s what I scooped up recently, and what I thought about it after a few spins:

1. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

The new High on Fire is remarkably good, and that feels to great to write after the complacency of the last two.  There were cool songs on Luminiferous and De Vermis, but nothing that just grabbed your fucking attention like Rumors of War or Snakes for the Diving or Fire Flood and Plague and the like.  But here, right out of the gate, 3 of the first 4 tracks are classics.  Sanctioned Annihilation is the best mid-paced crusher they’ve done since Blessed Black Wings.  Perhaps a little let down on Side B, but not by much.

An excellent return to form, making Matt Pike’s recent injury and tour cancellation all the more disappointing.  Get well soon.

2. Anaal Nathrakh–A New Kind of Horror

I check in with these guys every so often, and it usually leaves me cold.  I keep looking for that feeling the first time Eschaton clicked in for me.  I don’t think that feeling is coming back.  Stick to Between Shit and Piss we are Born.

3.  Drive By Truckers–The Dirty South

I love this band.  Out of place on this list, sure, but a great rock band that scratches that Lynyrd Skynyrd itch like just about no one else out there.  I know Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day really well, but seeing them recently inspired a revisit to the catalog.  This was the consensus next best one, and I get it.  As with the other Truckers albums I’ve heard, there are plenty of swings and misses, but the hits really connect.  If it was just Where the Devil Don’t Stay and Lookout Mountain, the record would still be a worthy entry into their catalog.  But just focusing on those two would do a disservice to Isbell’s tunes.  Danko/Manuel, Never Gonna Change and Goddamn Lonely Love are beautiful tracks that Cooley and/or Hood would be proud to have written.

4.  Revocation–The Outer Ones

Always mean to give these guys more of a chance, and always end up missing their show or just not picking up the new one because a few other records look a little more interesting.  Don’t fall into that trap for The Outer Ones–it is excellent.  Fills the void The Red Chord left behind.

Plus they covered Pull the Plug the one time I did sack up and see them.  That’s worth supporting.

5.  Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Not quite up to the level of the first record, but I put it above the second and on par with the last one.  The highlight for me is Uncle Acid unveiling a few new moves, including some twin guitar attack on Blood Runner and some real doomy groove on No Return.  These are welcome changes of pace alongside the tried and true Uncle Acid formula on tunes like Shockwave City.  Their tour with Graveyard next year should be worth a look, even if Graveyard’s last couple records were pretty disposable.

6.  Horrendous–Idol

This is an amazing record, a worthy successor in their string of home runs, and a contender for album of the year.  The best comparison I can think of is post-Human-era Death.  You know every record is going to be heavy, catchy, complex, inviting, familiar and innovative all at the same time.  Horrendous may have unseated Enslaved as best active metal band for me (especially since the last Enslaved was kind of…boring…you didn’t hear me actually say that).  They also put on a high-energy live show that isn’t too self-serious, a rarity in progressive death metal.

7.  Behemoth–I Loved You at blah blah a fucking Children’s Choir?  Really Nergal?

I don’t have much else to say beyond the above.  There are two cool tracks in Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica and Sabbath Mater.  The rest is kinda butt, though not insultingly so.  Sometimes Behemoth is meh, like the Apostasy, and sometimes they are awesome, like on the Satanist.  The Amon Amarth dynamic.  Unfortunately, this one is on the down cycle.

 

All in all an excellent set of records, sans Behemoth and Anaal unfortunately showing their age.  New shit from the Ocean and Bloodbath on deck!

 

Nine Inch Nails–October 27, 2018–Aragon Ballroom

This was the third and final night of NIN’s mini-residency at Aragon Ballroom.  It felt a little more special because of how the tickets had been distributed–there was no initial sale through LiveNation and the other evildoers, and instead you had to literally stand in line for 5 hours to get them morning they went on sale.  Was it cold and aggravating to do so?  You bet your ass.  But that air of community and doing something with other people instead of through your screen while merely in physical proximity to other people was palpable, and worthwhile.  Until it became clear a couple hours later that the FUCKING TICKETS WERE ON STUBHUB FOR ONLY A $20 MARKUP.  Somehow NIN didn’t think to put a no re-sale on these fuckers?  Goddamn it.

No matter once the shows got closer though.  I’ve been to quite a few NIN shows, and they have not disappointed a single time.  The best of the lot was a With Teeth preview “club” show they did at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia in 2004.  That venue holds about 4,000, not dissimilar to the 5-6k at Aragon, and the energy was palpable.  But not far behind was Riot Fest just two years ago, where they smoked every other band from any of the three days by a wide margin.

So what did Trent have in store for this evening?  I was just a little bummed to discover it was not the Broken EP front to back, which has been and continues to be my favorite NIN release.  They did play Wish, Last and Gave Up though, so can’t complain.  And the rest of the set was littered with surprises (Last, Sin) and multiple stretches of true momentum.  Though Reznor is not nearly as crazed as the violent, barely contained maniac he was in the 90s and early 2000s on stage, the energy still surpasses 99% of any other band in any other genre.  The electronic/dance bent of so much of their stuff gives way to a cathartic aggression/release dynamic live.  I hope that never goes away.

The highlight was the sprint to the finish of the main set, where they unleashed in succession:

  • The Perfect Drug
  • Sin
  • Gave Up
  • The Big Come Down
  • Starfuckers, Inc.
  • Wish
  • Head Like a Hole

It was impossible to catch your breath, but I don’t think anyone wanted to.  For me, it was the thrill of realizing NIN’s bench is so deep at this point.  And with Reznor still so prolific and somehow healthy, their status as a dominant, EVENT live act may just be getting started.  Why can’t NIN become Pearl Jam?

The show of course ended with that contemplative moment where they cover Johnny Cash…er….you know.  If Hurt wasn’t perfect, I’d likely be annoyed with it by now.

This was the best show I’ve seen all year.   Now let’s keep it rolling Trent!

Paradise Lost–October 10, 2018–House of Blues, Chicago

I’m late to the Paradise Lost party.  An exhaustive Decibel article a few years ago inspired me to pick up Gothic, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but I did not pursue them any further.  I think my bad experience with Anathema (who sucks, guys, c’mon now) kept me away from the doomdeath/gothdeath scene.  Which may have been a mistake, because after everyone lost their shit over Medusa last year, I scooped that up and things suddenly started clicking.  It is fucking GREAT, and I am truly hooked now, giving Shades of God and Icon a few spins and excited to seek out more.

I was just getting into Medusa when this tour was announced.  It was welcome news because The Atlas Moth was opening and I had to miss their previous Empty Bottle show with Royal Thunder (which I’m sure was amazing, that’s a crazy bill).  But fuck, I missed Atlas Moth again here, so I have nothing to say about their performance other than Coma Noir is amazing and everyone should buy it.  They are a different band from their first 3 records on this one.  Sanford Parker apparently figured them out more than they could for themselves, and their new iteration has put out the best record this year.

Thankfully I was able to make it in time for the headliner, and more thankfully, the House of Blues was NOT sold out.  Now I want as many fans to come to these shows as possible to support the bands and all that good shit.  But as anyone who has ever been to the House of Blues knows, that place is one of the worst places on earth when it is sold out.  Not just concert venues.  Places, generally speaking.  Good luck moving an inch ANYWHERE on the floor–no beer, no bathroom, no breathing.  Plenty of needless pillars fucking up your sightline.  And an incredibly narrow viewing area?  Check.  Fuck this place.

But with the floor nice and open and conditions humane, this was one of the better experiences I’ve had at a smaller show this year.  A lot of that has to do with the professionalism of the band–pacing, stage presence, setlist, all of it.  The sound was a little spotty early, but they sorted that out in time for Greg MacKintosh to fuckin drill the lead on “Blood and Chaos” from the new one, and I was locked in from that moment.  The weight of each tune, the way they are able to make their songs feel like their own separate events in a set, is not a common skill in metal–outside of the obvious ones like Maiden, its really just Enslaved (when not just playing the new record), Opeth and Amon Amarth that spring to mind.  Paradise Lost has this, and it allowed the uninitiated like myself an easy in.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting was the sing alongs, though maybe that was more down to not being grounded in their more goth period.  “Say Just Words” was a lot of fun though, and there were a couple other moments of audience participation that I’m sure go smoother in Europe where the fans are typically more engaged.

Excellent show, excellent band, butt venue, buy Medusa and Coma Noir.

Clutch Albums, Ranked

 

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In honor of Clutch’s new record “Book of Bad Decisions,” below is my ranking of their studio records (in case you’re wondering, I would probably put Slow Hole to China somewhere around Jam Room, and Live in Flint above Live at the Googolplex, though both are amazing).

Clutch remains awesome to this day, and right before the latest record had released two of their strongest ever in Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare. Bad Decisions doesn’t quite hit those heights–very much a Gore to Diamond Eyes/Koi no Yokan situation. But it is worthy in its own right, and Clutch’s continued existence is something to be celebrated.

12. Strange Cousins from the West–2009

strange_cousins_from_the_west

Strange Cousins is the album I return to the least. It seemed like they were a little out of ideas after the Blast Tyrant/Robot Hive peak, and just put out a stripped down blues record that also stripped down a lot of what made them interesting. That said, there are some big highlights on this record–50,000 Unstoppable Watts is a classic Clutch single that I’m surprised hasn’t stuck in their set more, and The Amazing Kreskin is possibly a top 10 Clutch song.

11. Book of Bad Decisions–2018

winters_bald_eagle_3000x3000

 

This may require some more consideration, but for now I have to say the new one is a disappointment. I guess it was always going to pale in comparison to Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare just on the backs of those albums’ openings–it is way too much to ask for a band to repeat Crucial Velocity/D.C. Sound Attack and X-Ray Visions/Firebirds/Quick Death in Texas-level quality on every record.

How to Shake Hands is the only instant classic in my book, though Vision Quest and Ghoul Wrangler are a lot of fun too. But Hot Bottom Feeder? Really? That shit is embarrassing. And I love Gnome Enthusiast from Jam Room, so…

10. Jam Room–1999

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Speaking of which, ultimately the most disposable of Clutch’s studio record. But it deserves a spot a couple of places above the bottom because of some real classics here–Big Fat Pig, Raised by Horses, and especially Basket of Eggs, any of which would’ve felt at place on Elephant Riders.

9. From Beale Street to Oblivion–2007

from_beale_street_to_oblivion

This is the line–from this record on onwards, I  love all of these records. Love. We are splitting hairs here, but that is the exercise I assigned myself.

This record is in the back of the pack because coming off of Robot Hive it seemed like Clutch wasn’t quite sure whether they wanted to commit to keeping organ as part of the sound or not, and got lost in the middle. So you end up with something like You Can’t Stop Progress, which is a perfectly fine Clutch song, but has misplaced keys that don’t need to be there. They ended up getting this type of song right on the last 2 before “Book”–see Once More into the Breach.

This record comes alive on the back half though, where Fallon unleashes some trademark weirdness/nonsense on top of some of Sult’s best riffs. The one-two punch of The Rapture of Ridley Walker and Opposum Minister is hard to beat in post-moshpit Clutch.

8. Transnational Speedway League–1993

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Moshpit Clutch. And their first record. And the one that bears the least resemblance to anything that came after (I’d contend S/T is much more similar to even Bad Decisions or Blast Tyrant than Transnational is to anything subsequent).

I first saw Clutch in 1999 at age 15. When Prison Planet started and it was more violent than the Slayer pit I cowered in fear from at Ozzfest, I was pretty confused. I’m still confused–can anyone explain to me the violence at Clutch shows for awhile? There a lot of awesome aspects to Clutch, but violence inspiration should not be one of them if we are just going on sound.

Monster Trucks still holds up, Shogun pops up live every once in awhile, but once Clutch entered “we play Electric Worry every show” territory this record took a huge backseat. Fallon’s wordplay mastery was on full display even here, when they were trying to sound like Helmet and Undertow-era Tool instead of themselves. That attitude thankfully evaporated as soon as Big News 1 started.

7. Earth Rocker–2013

Hot streaks! Clutch seems to have a real talent for putting out their best records back to back, and here is the modern-era one. Starting with Earth Rocker, which absent that bizarre chorus in the title track, was instantly worthy of pantheon status. The Face and D.C. Sound Attack are up there with anything in the catalog.

D.C. Sound Attack is part of one of my favorite Clutch moments–At Hellfest 2014 (where they were literally hanging from the rafters for the show, putting American Clutch crowds to shame), some crazy European dude knocked the shit out of me during D.C., picked me back up, then did the two-finger-point-to-eyes-i’m-watching you thing perfectly in line with:

I got blood in my eyes

And I’m looking at YOU

That was fucking awesome.

Also worthy of specific mention is The Wolfman Kindly Requests, a badass album and concert closer.

Career highlights 2 decades in.  This baseline consistency combined with a huge ceiling on each record is why they are the best American rock band in the last 30 years.

6. Psychic Warfare–2015

Storms right out of the gates with maybe the best 3 song string of any Clutch album, and Neil Fallon perfectly encapsulates the band in Noble Savage–

Unapologetic lifer for rock and roll

Fuckin A.

5. Elephant Riders–1998

Not unlike Jam Room and Robot Hive, Elephant Riders has a unique aesthetic that means you don’t always want to listen to it when you feel like jamming Clutch, but it is perfect if you’re in the mood for it. It also has a great Clutch in-song for the poor fools who’ve never heard them before–the stop/start jam of Ship of Gold hooks ’em every time.  Finally, Elephant Riders was the place where Fallon took full hold of his storytelling and scene-painting abilities, which would come define so man later classics like Opossum Minister and Cypress Grove and Quick Death In Texas.  Clutch hadn’t really tackled anything like the title track or Muchas Veces or the Soapmakers lyrically at this point.  Fallon found his footing here (give or take a Prison Planet or Wilkes Booth?), and hasn’t lost it since.

4. Pure Rock Fury–2001

Front-to-back classic with swagger and mystique. I even like Careful with that Mic–kinda.

3. Clutch–1995

Should anybody actually see and consider this post I suspect this will be the biggest point of contention. Have to imagine most Clutch fans would put this at #1, and I wouldn’t argue–career defining on album 2, with the all the stoner rock, blues, metal, punk, lyrical insanity and even that covert Christian bent that would come to define them (my buddy once asked if Clutch was a Christian band. I was infuriated of course…but also he wasn’t wrong.  Consider Tight Like That here or Gullah on Robot Hive) .

I’ll admit this didn’t click for a few listens when I first picked it up. I thought they were this crazy band with the live reputation to back it up–what he hell was I gonna make of the end of Texan Book of the Dead? Eventually it dawned on me though–this is a rock band, playing rock songs, with a lyricist you just have to roll with–not a metal band that has some blues and stoner elements, not a punk band that jams sometimes, not someone writing love songs or anthems. Just a unique, weird, grooving rock and roll band that dominates live.

Listen to them play Peterbilt or Prison Planet to this day, and they’re still that same band.

2. Robot Hive/Exodus–2005

Hot streak No. 2, this time with the most surprising and maybe rewarding result of Clutch’s whole discography. I did not see a lead-organ blues album with bananas lyrical gymnastics coming after the hard-edged assault of Blast Tyrant, but maybe I should have. They followed their heaviest record with their most mellow, and damn if it didn’t just fucking work. After these two records, you knew just who Clutch was, their range and what they were capable of.

Their most iconic lead off track–yes, even more so than Big News–and just lyric after lyric of genius.

Slowly broken windows, returning to the sand;

Half a mind to double up baby, three times is jive;

The seven habits of the highly infected calf

This album is Fallon’s peak.

The record provided three of Clutch’s most reliable live tunes in Mice and Gods, Broken Beard and Gravel Road.  But the real highlights are between the cracks.  Pulaski Skyway’s riff, the jammed out instrumentals, being transported to the weirdest place you can imagine in Circus Maximus, the (anti?) evolution/technology tension of 10001110101.  Any day you listen to Robot Hive becomes a good day. What better measure of a record is there?

1. Blast Tyrant–2004

The Promoter. Profits of Doom. The Regulator. Mob Goes Wild.  Clutch put the pedal down following Pure Rock Fury and made a record actually more fitting for that title, the heaviest and most aggressive record of their career.  Blast Tyrant maintains that momentum and charged atmosphere while still including classic rock jams (Cypress Grove) and real introspection (The Regulator, Ghost). It has an immediate character but seamlessly and effortlessly shifts. It kicks ass. It cemented that Clutch was going nowhere and meant business after the weirdness of Jam Room and jarring radio reach of Careful with That Mic. Its my favorite Clutch record.

There you have it! If you disagree, feel free to fuck right off.

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