Review Summary: Once more unto the breach
Clutch are a bit of a rare bird in the realm of stoner music, one of the few artists in the field to emerge and acquire a name for themselves even among those who pay little attention to the genre. In reality, it’s not that hard to understand why: while Clutch have always shared the typical stoner rock penchant for goofy lyrics, retro rock aesthetics, and fuzzy guitar, they really just rawk
in an easily accessible way which proves hard to dislike. That, combined with a quite solid record of consistent album quality, has been enough to solidify their revered status.
Sunrise On Slaughter Beach
, the band’s thirteenth LP, arrives at a moment in which this reviewer finds their spot on the pedestal getting ever so slightly shaky. Around thirty years into the band’s career, this isn’t so much an open criticism as an acknowledgement that (nearly) everyone slows down eventually. In this case, the group is nearly a decade removed from 2013’s late-era stunner Earth Rocker
, which was followed up by the rock-solid Psychic Warfare
and the somewhat disappointing Book Of Bad Decisions
. With four years transpiring since that last album’s release, this latest record stands as a strong clue whether Book Of Bad Decisions
represented the harbinger of the band’s long-averted decline, or simply a weaker effort undermined by a few ill-advised decisions (most notably its rather excessive runtime relative, given a dearth of strong highlights).
What’s the verdict? Well, a little bit of both, but (happily) mostly the latter. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach
is unlikely to retrospectively rank among Clutch’s finest albums, but it’s a rather strong effort nonetheless which should please the vast majority of the group’s fanbase while simultaneously correcting the primary mistakes of its predecessor.
In that sense, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach
is a dramatic adjustment. The new release features a tidy and well-pruned tracklist (nine songs in just over thirty-three minutes), and it’s all no-frills, bread-and-butter Clutch-ery. The opening duo of songs set the tone with the fast-paced, adrenaline-driven opener “Red Alert (Boss Metal Zone)” and the melodic crunch of “Slaughter Beach”, both of which are some of the album’s finest offerings. Among the later highlights are another ripper, “We Strive For Excellence”, and the closer “Jackhammer Our Names”, which leaves an air of gravitas in its wake.
As a whole, it doesn’t feel like Clutch are aspiring to do much new with this album, but it’s a powerful reprise of their long-running shtick, one that turns out satisfying and nostalgic for those who have been following the band for a while. It must be noted that the standout tunes here don’t quite match up to those of works like Blast Tyrant
or Earth Rocker
, and the track-by-track consistency here isn’t up to par with even second-tier Clutch albums like From Beale Street To Oblivion
or Pure Rock Fury
(while all of these songs are good and there are no obvious missteps, a few aren’t especially memorable). That said, though, it’s hard to imagine many Clutch fans (or even listeners who have just a passing interest in the band) not enjoying what’s on offer here. It’s simply a dose of what this crew does best, punchy rockers near-guaranteed to get feet tapping and heads nodding, infused with the usual quirky sense of humor, typified by Neil Fallon bellowing out Dungeons & Dragons-inspired lines in “Mountain Of Bone” or the anachronistic assertion in “Three Golden Horns” that “jazz music corrupts our youth”. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach
is far from a perfect effort, but it’s good to have the merry band from Maryland back again regardless.