When I first started writing I wasn’t lucky enough to have anyone come and ask for reviews of their music, so I wrote about albums and artists that I loved no matter how old or new. I just wanted to share good music with people, and I still do. That’s why, today, I’d like to share with you a musician who receives far less attention than he deserves. For more than 20 years, he has been involved in a variety of projects spanning a number of genres, but there is great material to be heard from all of them. His name is David Judson Clemmons.
Following the release of “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?,” lead guitarist Chris Poland was kicked out of the thrash metal band Megadeth. After taking a moment to explore a solo career, he joined forces with his brother, Mark, as well as bassist David Randi, and guitarist/vocalist David Clemmons to form a progressive metal band called Damn The Machine in the early 90s. Clemmons had previously been a member of Ministers Of Anger, an extremely politically charged metal group whose subject matter found a welcome home on the self-titled Damn The Machine record. Following the album’s release, they went on tour with Dream Theater, Flotsam & Jetsam, and Voivod in Europe. However, in the mid-1990s their record label dropped them, as well as a handful of other acts, and the group disbanded and went their separate ways.
Check out: Damn The Machine’s “On With The Dream”
After the split, David Judson Clemmons enlisted the help of bassist Steve Cordrey and drummer Hoss Wright to form JUD. Their first album, Something Better, produced by Ross Robinson (KoRn, Sepultura), was released in 1996. JUD was much different than Damn The Machine, fluctuating between bass intensive, aggressive songs filled with crunchy guitar riffs to atmospheric songs with almost spoken word lyrics. It was more like a bastard child of Prong, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana than Dream Theater.
In addition to Something Better, JUD went on to release three more albums: Chasing California (1998), The Perfect Life (2000), and Sufferboy (2008). Over time the band members changed, and with them came a more refined sound. The latter two are my personal favorites, containing some fantastic melodies and heartfelt confessions. Clemmons described the last release as “songs of mental torture and the most energetic, aggressive record I’ve ever made.”
Check out: JUD’s “Drained”
At about the same time that JUD’s Something Better was released, Clemmons connected with several other musicians and demoed out some songs that didn’t fit the mold of JUD. These tunes would go on to form solo releases, as well as tracks for a group David calls The Fullbliss. These albums included Fools and Their Splendor (2000), This Temple Is Haunted (2001), Life In The Kingdom Of Agreement (2004), Yes Sir (2006), and most recently Cold White Earth (2011). In comparison with JUD, The Fullbliss and Clemmons’ solo releases are generally less aggressive, but retain their introspection. They also have a tendency to include a wider variety of instrumentation, such as violin and even horn sections. The last release, Cold White Earth, centers on an acoustic environment that allows the lyrics to become the focal point of the album.
To me there’s something very special about the music that Clemmons creates. I find myself as captivated by Damn The Machine now as when I first heard the music, and his other groups have stood the test of time for me as well. Despite the different styles of each ensemble, there is an allure to be discovered in each. There is a transcendent quality to “The Shores” from Clemmons’ solo catalog, for instance, and you can’t help but be swept away. JUD’s track “Drained” equally lifts you from your feet, but by a means that is more akin to a tornado. And I’d be remiss not to mention The Fullbliss tune, “Our Houses,” which remains one of my all-time favorites of any of Clemmons’ works, as it paints the struggles of his life with a backdrop of remarkable positivity. Maybe that’s the appeal of David’s work: it’s very honest. The world that David Judson Clemmons paints in his songs is painful and difficult, but not without slivers of hope. That portrait of reality is what keeps him moving forward and what keeps me coming back.