As one of the most beloved acts in the American-rock underground for nearly three decades, it's fascinating how Maryland distortion lord CLUTCH can still go the extra mile to impress its fans. The group's 12th album, "Book of Bad Decisions", was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Vance Powell (WHITE STRIPES/ARCTIC MONKEYS/Chris Stapleton). Powell traveled with CLUTCH on the road for a few days to get a feel for its ops, bringing to the table vintage amps and a back-to-basics slush. Powell sought a more organic texture for "Book of Bad Decisions", and he assuredly turns out one of the loudest and filthiest recordings in CLUTCH's amp-worshipping career.
CLUTCH rides its own wave of nostalgia, "playing for children of corn" on the gristly opener, "Gimme the Keys". This is the dirtiest CLUTCH has sounded in quite some time and the knotty vibe rolls into the swollen distortion lurching throughout "Spirit of '76" and the grubby funk of the title cut. Dan Maines's bass on the latter is especially nasty, along with Tim Sult's mud-bombed guitar solos. By the time you reach "Hot Bottom Feeder", toward the rear of the album, if your ear canals aren't feeling violated by these guys, they'll scream rapture.
Picking up the pace on the politically roasted "How to Shake Hands", Neil Fallon has to outright holler overtop the rowdy amplification. You don't want to miss what he's saying, though. Ever the sludge laureate (tipping his cap to Emily Dickinson midway through the album), he'll leave you in stitches by yowling "I'm gonna kiss all the babies, maybe all their mothers too." Fallon's proposition to plant "Jimi Hendrix on a 20-dollar bill and Bill Hicks on a five note" strikes a happy chord with any pure rocker, while the straightforward declaration of "I'm ready to give the people what they want and all the people want is straight talk and no jive" hits true, period.
"Sonic Counselor" is CLUTCH's slicked-up love letter to the group's loyal Gearhead tribe, while the Iommi-toting "A Good Fire" reminisces about hearing BLACK SABBATH for the first time, a pivotal moment just about any heavy music aficionado will trip on.
CLUTCH cleans up the air around it to escort a scorching brass section on the funked-out thump of "In Walks Barbarella", one of the album's best-plotted tunes, while hitting a piano-banged boogie trail on "Vision Quest". They jump back into the muck like sprung-free kids to the time of Jean-Paul Gaster's shit-kicking whumps on "Weird Times". Keep a keen ear dialed for mandolin on the album, since it's delivered by none other than Gaster himself.
Even mindful of catching the ringing echoes of Gaster's round-up cymbal clashes, Vance Powell manages to turn CLUTCH inside out by redefining its sound, exploiting its biggest riff flexes since 2004's "Blast Tyrant". This is one of the dingiest yet catchiest slabs of bunghole-tearing riff rock you've heard in the past few years, ATOMIC BITCHWAX notwithstanding.