After ten releases, a rock/metal band is usually expected to be in its winding-down transition. Yet, some find their way to soldier through writer's block and exhaustion, resulting in what most should consider a commendable feat. Fortunately, in the case of Clutch, the latter notion stays true as their continual genre fusion has aged like a fine wine.
Now don't get me wrong, a fair amount of albums speckled throughout the middle of their catalog (ex: Jam Room, From Beale Street to Oblivion) suffered from a lack of focus and songwriting in totality. But personally, I believe 2013's Earth Rocker put the group back on the map. And while Clutch may currently stand high on the stoner rock mountain right next to Kyuss and Monster Magnet, they still have to prove their worth and longevity with Psychic Warfare.
A playfully sinister mood is set by the opening spoken words of "The Affidavit" before breaking straight into "X-Ray Visions." On the initial few listens, this first taste of the album seemed a bit bland, but the vocal hooks and energy as a whole is quite compelling. These exact strengths leak onto "Firebirds," beckoning a chorus sing-along every time. The tempo is calmed for "A Quick Death in Texas," yet the compositional exploration is a definite plus, while "Sucker for the Witch" exemplifies the modern Clutch sound by the numbers.
A good chunk of the center tracks including "Your Love is Incarceration," "Noble Savage," and "Behold the Colussus" fall in the 'direct in delivery, but subpar in impact' category. On the contrary, "Our Lady of Electric Light" has an exceptionally memorable quality. "Decapitation Blues," surprisingly the first of their studio album catalog to possess the 'blues' tag in the title, keeps a lively pace onto the finale. By far the longest and most impressive track, "Son of Virginia" is the sublime climax to the twelve-song journey. Each time I listened to the album, I eagerly awaited the build-up and explosion that this composition delivered. It may not become a live staple, but quite likely a fan favorite.
In retrospection of their career, not only has Clutch created their own culture consisting of a cross-contamination of American historical themes and oddly fitting obscure imagery, but they have paved the way for future coming stoner/blues/alternative/hard rock groups. As hinted at previously, there are highs and lows through the discography, yet the fact that Clutch are capable of exploring a bottomless pit of styles and still can rebound to an aesthetically pleasing territory is certainly commendable. Placed side to side with their debut, Transnational Speedway League, there is a clear difference. The raspy vocals and fast tempos have smoothed away, however, even as forty year-olds, these rockers can still represent the attitude of heavy music.
Approaching an album listed at the bottom of a group's impressively lengthy career is always a gamble, yet many factors of this release add up to proving the risk is worth taking the plunge. I must applaud the potent amounts of energy, tasteful homages to classic rock, and numerous infectious melodies. While the ground may remain unbroken in regards to noteworthy stylistic, musical changes, this LP is indeed a congenial add to the catalog. As a whole, Psychic Warfare showcases exactly what Clutch does best: beefy riffs and captivating hooks coated in a tongue-in-cheek machismo.