Here’s a fun game I’d recommend playing with Vol. 1, the debut full-length from Westmont, New Jersey, metallers Clamfight. You take the main riff to album opener “Fuck Bulldozers” (which you can hear on their MySpace; you’ll know the riff I’m talking about when it comes on), and in time with it’s monstrously-proportioned groove, you say the word “bananas.” It works out to something like, “Ba-nanas, ba-na-nas, ba-nanas, ba-na-nas, ba-nanas, ba-na-nas, BA-NA-NAS.” Good fucking times, my friend.
Clamfight are my favorite unsigned, non-pedigreed American band. I say this with zero pretense of impartiality. I know them, consider them friends, and am glad to say I’ve seen them perform on more occasions than I can count. Sound-wise, I put them in a similar category as Oklahoma City rockers Bloodcow, but the more abrasive shouts of Clamfight drummer/vocalist Andy Martin, peppered on “Ghosts I Have Known” with deathly growling, add a dimension of metallic heaviness that offsets the stonerly riffs and lead work of guitarists Joel Harris and Sean McKee. Captured on Vol. 1 by engineer Steve Poponi of NJ’s Gradwell House studio, all the elements that make up Clamfight sound clear and professional without sacrificing the immediacy or hunger in the material.
The band credits Poponi with much of the album’s outcome, but there’s no denying that the Southern shuffle of “Swordfishing is an Ancient and Noble Art” comes from the players themselves. The nautical fascinations of Martin play out across several of Vol. 1’s tracks, informing the lyrics to “Sowrdfishing,” the aforementioned “Ghosts I Have Known,” and more loosely, closer “Viking Funeral.” “Ghosts I Have Known” is my personal pick of the record, as the tempo slows a bit, Martin successfully attempts a cleaner vocal approach for the verses than on the track previous (the chorus being where the growling happens), and the songwriting feels tightest and shows the band has more to offer than the pounding grooves they’ve so far offered. Though, for most acts, said pounding grooves would be enough. But as Clamfight kicks into the thrashy last two minutes of the song, the ease with which they transition speaks to a sonic diversity still just developing among Harris, McKee, Martin and bassist Louis Koble.
Koble’s work on Vol. 1 would be easy to lose among the more glamorous guitar leads and heavy drumming, but there’s no way a song like “Rabbit,” ostensibly the heaviest on the album, would be as crushing without his contributions. Though “Rabbit” tends to wander and momentarily get lost before pulling itself back together and the instrumental that follows, “Tower of the Elephant,” despite being the most stoner of the riffs on the album, could probably have been cut some without suffering any loss of impact, all is made well again by “Viking Funeral.” The careful construction of the song — not giving it away all at once, but letting you know there’s something huge about to happen — earns high marks and shows a maturity of approach that I’m sure no one in Clamfight would ever cop to but nonetheless exploit to its fullest.
“Viking Funeral,” the second longest track at 7:33 (only “Ghosts I Have Known” is longer at 7:57), feels nowhere near as long as it is and ends Vol. 1 on the strongest note possible. A lyrical paean to pillage and mayhem, lines like “Burn down the watchtower and rush to the shore/Slaughter in beds their blood paints the wall” are well-suited to the musical chaos on which they rest. What Clamfight aren’t, however, is out of control, and that might be the greatest accomplishment of “Viking Funeral.” Even when you could reasonably expect them to lose their grasp and send a song into a heavy abyss, they maintain their hold and close the album with a sense of destructive poise.
If you’ve never experienced Clamfight, and probably you haven’t since they’ve had zero promotion behind them and this is their first album, Vol. 1 is going to surprise the hell out of you — even those who might not be interested right off the bat in playing the “ba-na-nas” game with “Fuck Bulldozers.” It’s not without its blemishes, but the crisp production and tight performances more than make up for any straying off the mark. It is among the heaviest albums I’ve heard that is still somehow definitively stoner metal (even “Ole Gravy Leg,” which relies on the central progression to the chorus of Pantera’s “I’m Broken” for its verses, does so in a way as to make it its own), and pushes the boundaries of lethal groove without spilling into cliché or turning the wrong way and finding itself up its own ass. My affection for the band reaffirmed, it’s with a hearty sense of self-satisfaction that I end this review with the words “highly recommended.”
Tags: ClamFight, New Jersey, Unsigned bands, Westmont