Review & Full Album Premiere: Clamfight, III

clamfight iii

[Click play above to stream Clamfight’s III in its entirety. Album is out Jan. 19 on Argonauta Records.]

I’d like to say a few words about Clamfight. As bands go, the South Jersey/Philadelphia four-piece are probably the group of musicians I’ve been closest to personally and known the longest in my life. They are, to a man, beyond quality individuals and I think of myself lucky to call them friends. When I was in a band, we played shows together. Their last album, early 2013’s I vs. the Glacier (discussed here), was released via what was then this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, and their prior outing, 2010’s Volume I (review here), remains a sentimental joy for me to hear to a degree that’s probably ridiculous considering I had nothing to do with the actual writing of the songs. In terms of album reviews, impartiality is a myth generally, but perhaps never less so than when I’m talking about Clamfight. I don’t think I could not love them if I tried, and to be quite honest, I have no interest in trying.

Between live sets, demos, studio updates from Gradwell House where they recorded with producer/engineer Steve Poponi, rough mixes, unmastered tracks and so on, I’ve likely heard Clamfight III in every stage of its making. That’s not me bragging like I’m Mr. Super-Insider or anything. I’m just trying to give context to the fact that when I put on the finished product of Clamfight‘s Argonauta Records debut and listen to its five-track/44-minute entirety — the thing: done — I remain blown away each time by its level of accomplishment. It’s not that I thought drummer/vocalist Andy Martin, guitarists Sean McKee and Joel Harris and bassist Louis Koble didn’t have it in them to do what they do in these tracks; it’s that it would have been unfair to expect a work so progressive to come from a band whose primary drive has always been their intensity.

Although, and of this one can rest duly assured, that intensity remains well intact — as one can certainly hear in the post-Leviathan crashes and shouts of “Selkie” and sundry moments of heads-down chugging and/or righteous bellows such as the beginning of centerpiece “Echoes in Stone” throughout — it’s simply being used as part of an approach that’s grown in new, exciting and dynamic ways. Anchored by its extended opener “Whale Road” (11:14) and closer “History of the Earls of Orkney,” Clamfight III finds its conceptual or at very least lyrically-thematic framing in ongoing archaeological work in Scotland by a team that includes Martin and benefits greatly from this purposefulness of its expression, as it brings solid footing beneath the expansive and progressive structures in the songwriting, which is very much driven by McKee‘s lead guitar.

That element is given more space to flesh out than it’s ever had in Clamfight before, and McKee‘s performance lives up to its spotlight, but groove very much remains central to the band, and while the thudding tom runs under speak immediately to something bound in the earth, it’s the airy intro guitar lines of “Whale Road” that signal Clamfight III‘s defining ambitiousness, not to mention the patience with which they build toward the first verse over the opener’s initial two-plus minutes. Roaring and bombast ensue, to be sure, but as Harris and Koble lock in the core rhythm, it leaves Martin free to explore a range of vocal styles only previously hinted at in their recorded output and McKee to follow suit in showcasing greater reach in the style and substance of his craft. It is telling that of the five tracks, only “History of the Earls of Orkney” and the penultimate “Eynhallow” don’t end with a guitar solo — and “Eynhallow” is a five-minute, mostly-guitar instrumental lead-in for the finale. More often than not, McKee gets the last word.

clamfight photo useless rebel

Nonetheless, it would be inappropriate to think of Clamfight III simply as a showcase for McKee or any other single member. Rather, it is a whole album, and a whole group work. This is underscored as “History of the Earls of Orkney” answers the intro of “Whale Road” with its own leadoff airy meandering as much as in the stomp that emerges in “Selkie” earlier. And not only are Clamfight reaching within to find and manifest aspects of their sound in ways they never have before, they’re also reaching outside themselves, as shown by the guest appearances from Kings Destroy guitarist Chris Skowronski on “Whale Road,” ex-Wizard Eye/current-Thunderbird Divine guitarist/vocalist Erik Caplan, who lends theremin to that opener and “Echoes in Stone,” and vocals from Shroud Eater bassist Janette Valentine and guitarist Jean Saiz on the same song. The latter performances are of course standouts, bringing both melody and further shouting harshness in tow, and after a due throttling from the finish of “Selkie” beforehand and the rolling, growling start of the “Echoes in Stone” itself, their arrival serves to add variety and an unexpected twist to what becomes a crucial moment on the record.

In a way, it’s a shame she couldn’t return even for a few lines on “History of the Earls of Orkney,” as it would allow the closer to truly summarize the breadth of the album’s entirety, but after the subdued contemplation in “Eynhallow,” it’s clear the gears have shifted, and even without that flourish of added symmetry, Clamfight III‘s finishing move serves as a singular moment of triumph for the band. In its sprawl, they not only reaffirm the progressive achievements of the songs before, but continue to build on them. The push forward at the midpoint seems to speak to the ethic of the track as a whole, and the tumult that ensues is underpinned by a control that only makes it more enthralling — the four members of Clamfight all charging in the same direction, straight ahead through two solo sections toward an adrenaline-drenched ending that’s snap-tight and a brutally-earned, cut-cold payoff, as sharp as it is bludgeoning.

Look. I love this band, and I don’t mind telling you that. If that means you need to take this review with the proverbial grain of salt, cool. I don’t really care. The fact remains that when I listen to Clamfight III, I’m proud as hell and deeply appreciative that I even know these guys at all, and whether you ever heard I vs. the Glacier or Volume I or not, it doesn’t matter, because what they’ve done here has thoroughly put them on a new level of execution. It is a special moment of arrival for them as a unit, when a maturity of craft has so clearly taken hold — one that means at very least they’ve outgrown their moniker if they hadn’t before — amid the pummel that’s always been their fuel, and when a resulting effort can strike as much with its scope as its brute force. Even putting aside as much as I possibly can the high esteem in which I hold them as people, I consider myself lucky every time I put this album on, and I plan to put it on for a long time to come. If you don’t, it’s your loss.

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3 Responses to “Review & Full Album Premiere: Clamfight, III

  1. […] Domani gli americani CLAMFIGHT pubblicheranno il terzo album, III, su Argonauta Records. In esclusiva su The Obelisk è disponibile l’intero album in streaming. http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2018/01/17/clamfight-iii-review-stream/ […]

  2. […] your loss.”   Tune in and crank CLAMFIGHT’s III up via The Obelisk RIGHT HERE.   III will see CD and digital release through Argonauta Records this Friday, January […]

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