It’s almost become something of a cliché to say how consistent Clutch are, but it’s not wrong. Granted, feeding a combination of overblown golden age sci-fi and wailing southern Americana through a grisly blues-rock filter doesn’t exactly lead to a dearth of material, but considering they’re currently twelve albums deep without even a hint of slowing down, they’re deserving of every accolade that gets thrown their way. What’s more, they’ve managed to elevate themselves to a Mastodon or Every Time I Die level of reliability, that being a total inability to even perceive a bad album, let alone release one.

And you get the feeling that Clutch know how good they are, and on Book Of Bad Decisions, they’re simply seeing what they can get away; you wouldn’t include a song on your album that’s literally a recipe for crab cakes if you thought otherwise. This is far from a phoned-in job though, as once again, Clutch continue to prove that they’re one of the most distinct and brilliant hard rock bands around. And once again, so much of that is thanks to Neil Fallon’s writing, spanning an entire gamut of subjects and hitting a breadth that most bands wouldn’t dare to try, spanning from historical allegories on Spirit Of ‘76 and Emily Dickinson and a Deliverance-esque tale of disposing of lawyers in a farmhouse on Ghoul Wrangler, to the aforementioned crab cake recipe on Hot Bottom Feeder and what Fallon would do if he was president on How To Shake Hands. It’s totally ludicrous and devoid of a single moment that isn’t thrown completely over the top, but again, Clutch know this. Thus, they prepare accordingly, cramming as much weird and darkly comic imagery into their lyrics as possible, and leaving Fallon to go wild as the screaming, convulsing preacher at the dead centre.

Of course, none of this is all that new for Clutch. It’s all very much in their comfort zone, as in this is what they’ve been doing for years now, but they’re able to keep it exciting either way, in no small part thanks to how effortlessly these images fit with a rock-solid southern rock foundation. They may only be small details, but the soul-soaked grooves next to the church setting of Sonic Counselor or the combination of rural scapes and galloping boogie-rock on Ghoul Wrangler feel like such natural crossovers that, with Clutch’s natural sense of propulsion and fire, they seem to work even better. Even stripping that away though, Clutch are already masters of enormous, bluesy power, and as long as that fairly general criteria is met, they’re essentially golden. As such, there’s the scorching cosmic-funk of In Walks Barbarella, the explosive blues-rock battering rams of Wierd Times and H.B. Is In Control, and the slower crushing power of the title track and Lorelei, all of which show individual sides of the band and feel totally necessary in this album’s creation. To nitpick on this front, perhaps it could do with a bit of pruning down with regards to the number of tracks, but other than that, Book Of Bad Decisions is pretty difficult to fault.

And that’s even more impressive considering that this is Clutch’s twelfth album and that virtually none of the preceding eleven were even close to bad. This is the sort of creative mojo and drive that’s borderline unprecedented, and while not pushing the boat out, Clutch have honed every single aspect of their craft to the finest possible point. And that’s why Book Of Bad Decisions works the most, because it hits almost every beat of a band who just keep getting better with age. It says a lot about Clutch that a late-period album such as this is in very real contention for the best of the year, and while just shifted from that top (because 2018 is just looking like that kind of year), it would be comfortably at almost any other time.

8/10

For fans of: Corrosion Of Conformity, Black Label Society, Black Stone Cherry
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Book Of Bad Decisions’ by Clutch is out now on Weathermaker Music.

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