Review Summary: While being legitimate Clutch's album through and through, "Robot Hive/Exodus" is certainly the most experimental, diverse and refreshing record of the band.
I for one think that a transitional record stands a good chance of being the worst, most confusing and least cohesive in a particular band's career. In case of Maryland's hard rockers Clutch, this rule completely doesn't work. Their groovy hard rock heavily influenced by metal, funk and space rock was practised during the 1990s and perfected on such records as 2001's "Pure Rock Fury" and especially 2004's seminal "Blast Tyrant". If you don't know these albums by heart till now, then you ignored the greatest hard rock music of this decade. "Robot Hive/Exodus" combines the band's heavy rock from their previous records with more blues-oriented sound while retaining the groovy guitar work by Tim Sult, efficient bass playing by Dan Maines, thick heavy-sounding drums provided by Jean Paul Gaster, and bellowing preacher vocals delivered by formidable Neal Fallon.
While being legitimate Clutch's album through and through, "Robot Hive/Exodus" is certainly the most experimental, diverse and refreshing record of the band. Although one cannot classify this album as blues rock, there is plenty of influences and hints that surprisingly climaxes in the final two straight, rather faithful blues covers: Mississippi Fred McDowell's "Gravel Road" and Howlin' Wolf's "Who's Been Talking". These tracks perfectly fit the flow of the cd and are worthy additions to Clutch's canon bringing sentimental allusions to what's true and unforced in music. Especially, "Gravel Road" has the great toe tapping bluesy feeling to it which is so hard to resist. What's worth noting is the addition of the keyboard player Mick Schauer to the band. The piano and Hamond organs are very prominent here and combined with Tim Sult's more bluesy, southern playing result in a more laid-back, relaxed tone of the album.
Putting all the blues influences aside, Clutch tend to experiment on this record even more. Gone are fairly simple guitar riffs that populated "Blast Tyrant". This time, Tim Sult provides more complex riffing abounding with amazing solos and the frequent changes of structure, pace and tone. The precise pitch-perfect drumming of Jean Paul Gaster is also implemented with some new sounding cymbals/drum patterns which make the album seem surprisingly fresh every now and again. This is especially apparent in "Tripping the Alarm", but also "Pulasky Skyway" and "Circus Maximus" hold some surprises.
Clutch also provide the diversity in structures both within particular songs and an overall album, which wasn't an easy task bearing in mind there are as many as 14 tracks on the album. The approach is that the first half of the record is catchy as hell with instantly memorable sing-along choruses. Clutch simply excels in this part providing such instant classics as: brisk, yet heavy "Incorporable Mr. Flannery", massive "Burning Beard", lofty "Mice and Gods", stonery "Never Be Moved" and funky "10001110101", the chorus of which includes shouted binary code only Fallon could come up with. Afterwards, the band gets into much more unhinged teritory full of both structural and sound superb experiments almost absent on their other releases. Such tracks as "Small Upsetters" and instrumental "Tripping the Alarm" provide an additional dimension to this already reach-sounding record. Finally, "Robot Hive/Exodus" ends on a much sofer note with brilliant half-ballad "Land of Pleasant Leaving" and aforementioned blues covers.
The vocals also seem very diversed with Neal Fallon applying wide range of patterns that include fast funky jamming ("Naver Be Moved"), fast mechanical delivery ("Burning Beard"), intense screaming ("10001110101"), classic blues singing ("Gravel Road"), and even some Indian chants ("10,000 Witnesses"). He often refrains from his lower-register bark, in favour of a more mid-range sounding making his vocals more accessible to an average listener. As for the lyrics, Fallon has an uncanny skill of combining poetic visions ("Land of Pleasant Living") with surreal cultural commentary ("Pulasky Skyway"). His work is mostly abstract frequently relying on potent metaphors ("Mice and Gods").
With excellent songwriting, outstanding production values and undeniable high-profile musicianship, "Robot Hive/Exodus" depicts Clutch reaching their peak form. Although the band excels in their creativity in the supposedly stale genre, the album remains cohesive and supremely approachable throughout. This is, undoubtedly, one of the absolute best rock releases of this decade.