Review Summary: Clutch's shaky start is still a great one.
Though they are now better known for sophomore albums such as Robot Hive/Exodus
and the recently released excellent Earth Rocker
, Clutch sounded like a very different band to begin with. The band's debut album, Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and unbelievable Truths
, was released three years after their formation, and although some may be put off by the gritty, cutting edge rawness of the instrumentation and particularly frontman Neil Fallon's gruff vocals, it still showed Clutch as a band with a very promising future.
Clutch's first album is simply a collection of some of the most aggressive, straight edge songs that the band have ever written. You don't have to listen closely to realize this. Opener “A shogun named Marcus” is a short but rough number, “Binge and Purge” is so hateful that you just can't get Fallon's voice out of your head after screaming “Mother***er” over and over again, and the obvious hardcore influence in “12 ounce epilogue” is so bass-heavy that stereo speakers may be no more after the song is played. Slower songs such as the confusingly titled “Walking in the great shining path of monster trucks” and album highlight “Heirloom 13” make great use of the band's sludgy instrumental performance, and naturally Fallon's rough voice seems a perfect fit. There isn't really anything particularly remarkable about any of the instruments here, save the excellent guitar leads courtesy of Tim Sult, who makes songs such as “Milk of human kindness” and “Rats” all the more worthwhile to listen to. The drums are perhaps the least notable of all instruments used on Transnational...
, but still manage to keep the rhythm section from stagnating.
All this said, Clutch's debut album isn't really ideal for those who prefer the more upbeat likes of the band's more recent material. Despite the shorter, faster songs which barely reach three minutes, the whole of Transnational...
seems to rely too much sometimes on sludgy, raw instrumentation and on songs such as “12 ounce epilogue” and the equally as filler-based “Bacchanal” monotony certainly creeps in. It's not a terrible thing really, because as we all know, Clutch has been known to pull this sort of style off time and again, but it doesn't really improve the consistency of the album either. Another problem that some may find too obvious is Fallon's cleaner vocals in “Milk of human kindness” and the first half of “Binge and purge”, which are unsuitable for the musical style being performed at the same time. As a result the vocals unfortunately sound out of place.
Clutch's first album still deserves to be given a listen or two, if only because you'll be curious of what the band sounded like in their earliest years. Transnational Speedway League...
is definitely a good start to a exemplary musical career, but just don't go into this album expecting anything on par with albums such as Robot Hive/Exodus
or Earth Rocker