It's possible the musicians of Washington, D.C.-area punky, metally, bluesy hard rock quintet Clutch do not know how to take a break. They blasted out of the gate in 1991 with a seven-inch single, "Passive Restraint"; snagged a deal with EastWest Records; and hit the road. Since then, across 12 albums, they've often forgotten to come home. And they've built an almost mythical reputation for explosive live shows.
Led by the slightly gruff but doggedly determined Neil Fallon, the band has touched the near-mainstream a few times, most notably in the earlier part of this decade with the albums Pure Rock Fury and Blast Tyrant. However, its unpredictable music evolution from stoner rock to hardcore to blues has kept Clutch firmly in cult territory. "We don't have any illusions about us becoming a platinum band or having huge radio hits," Fallon says. "We know who listens to us." Indeed the band is distributing its latest live DVD/CD combo, Full Fathom Five, through its own website.
The Sword, meanwhile, is a hard-hitting, sludgy, but epic quartet from Austin, Texas, that's preoccupied with very metally subjects such as Norse mythology and the science-fiction writings of George R. R. Martin. "It's not a joke at all," says the colorfully named drummer, Trivett C. Wingo. "You could say, like, how serious was Led Zeppelin when they recorded 'Immigrant Song'? They were pretty damn serious."
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Combining the dirt-sifting textures of doom metal with an amphetamine kick, the band's second and latest album, Gods of the Earth, seems somehow crushed by gravity but about to break free from its grasp. For various reasons — perhaps its alt-heavy hometown, its relative good looks, its penchant for properly fitting clothing — the group has been occasionally tagged as "hipster metal." Yet one of the band's biggest fans is Lars Ulrich of Metallica. He's just taken The Sword on tour with his band in Europe, and will take them through Metallica's high-profile U.S. tour this fall. Who's laughing now?