Clutch: Full Fathom Five

Clutch: Full Fathom Five (2007)
Weathermaker Music

Maryland is a proud little state with diverse demographics ranging to avaricious yuppies and old money straight down the line to working class swill chuggers who are the backbone of the region. The people here are passionate about crabs, driving recklessly and their Baltimore Ravens, the football team that carries the mood of the state (those who aren't Redskins fans in the lingering DC suburbs, of course) on their fearsome defensemen's backs; the vibe of Maryland completely depends on a Ravens win or loss. At one time the state had the hard rock band Kix to brag about, even when Steve Whitman and the boys pulled a Poison act and jetted to LA from the going-nowhere east coast. Since their brief stay at the top of mainstream rock, the Kix remnants call Maryland their home again and honestly, there's been but a handful of other music-minded notables hailing from this state ever since Kix struck gold. You have Saint Vitus and The Obsessed's Scott "Wino" Weinrich (who has started many new bands in Maryland, the last being the now-defunct Hidden Hand), as well as soul diva Toni Braxton.

If you're to request my vote as a lifelong Marylander who the best homegrown acts in modern music to break through are, it is without hesitation Tori Amos and Clutch. Clutch are local icons since who scored a recording deal in 1993 with their grungy debut album Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes & Undeniable Truths. Though Clutch remained a cult band throughout the nineties and early 2000s with their swamprat stoner struts on albums like The Elephant Riders, Pure Rock Fury, Clutch, Jam Room and Blast Tyrant, within the past few years, Clutch has risen to prominence. Of course, the embracement and breakout of sludge rock has come about via Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age, while The Hives and other garage-oriented acts have made straight-nosed rock 'n roll hip once again. Homme is considered these days the Duke of the New Renaissance of Drop Tuned Rawk, even if he'd been trolling around beforehand in the highly influential Kyuss well before there was a Queens of the Stone Age to talk about, much less his other current post behind the drum kit in Eagles of Death Metal.

As Kyuss' Blues For the Red Sun is held with the same esteem as Fu Manchu's No One Rides For Free and on a deeper, doomier level, Sleep's Jerusalem, Clutch has now enjoyed an overdue comeuppance from the metal, punk and stoner sects. Where they travel, the venue is normally guaranteed a sellout. As newer dropkicked groups such as Mastodon, Baroness and Wolfmother are becoming quite the rage, and longtime keepers of the sludge like Cathedral, Candlemass, Weedeater, Bongzilla and Corrosion of Conformity still pop up from time-to-time out of their lucid sonic haze, Clutch's position has risen by attrition.

Finally, after 15 years on the circuit, Clutch has a DVD to brag about, perfect timing now that they're in their zone as a band. They've been lately dabbling with soul, honky tonk, gospel and jazz improv on their last two studio albums Robot Hive: Exodus and From Beale Street to Oblivion, even as they've already staked claim as the funkiest set of fuzz rockers on the scene today. Further stated, "The Soapmakers" remains one of the funkiest jams of anyone's genre.

Full Fathom Five: Video Field Recordings 2007-2008 is an hour and a half's worth of uncontaminated Clutch spliced from various gigs the past year or so in Pittsburgh (you know the Baltimore folks are hatin' that), Boulder, Colorado, Sydney, Australia and New Jersey's Starland Ballroom, one of the premiere metal and punk venues on the scene today. Pounding out Clutch classics such as "The Yeti," "The Elephant Riders," "The Soapmakers," "Texan Book of the Dead" and "Escape From the Prison Planet" along with more recent ditties like "You Can't Stop Progress," "Power Player," "Electric Worry" and "Burning Beard," this DVD is a full-frontal smack in the puss rock-style.

Using the rare tactic of double-frame (and even quadruple on occasion) presentation in the midst of straight-on camera delivery and foot-level sweeps, Full Fathom Five attempts to submit Clutch as huge as their fans and critics have recently made them. With additional personnel on guitars and keyboards the past two albums, Clutch's chum bucket sound has opened up gratuitously, making a damn good band into a damn excellent one. This also allows vocalist and lyrical brain Neil Fallon to promenade onstage without slinging guitar as much. If you've been following the band a long time, it takes some getting used to seeing Fallon on the prowl without a six-string, but he is somehow more footloose as a result. Maybe he's fiercer when cutting notes from his guitar while yelping into the mike, but now he, like Clutch as a whole, possess the confidence and swagger that exudes from the liquidy wa-wa stamps of Tim Sult's distortion pedal and Jean-Paul Gaster's rock-hard drumming.

It's good to see local boys make it big, and even better to see Clutch has withstood the test of time with their grimy barrage instead of falling to the wayside of a Los Angeles curb as fallen stars. At least Clutch is proud enough of their home state to drape an oversized Maryland flag onstage. Go ahead, count along with them, why don'tcha? "10001110101…"