Clockwise: Healthy Manipulation

Healthy Manipulation

On first glance, rockers Clockwise look like the multitude of other polished mod-metal rock bands fighting for prime position in bars and festivals across the country. One look at the band’s press photograph and everything you’d expect is there — spiky, dyed hair, emo-wear, and deadly serious glares from all five band members. It’s enough to make you smirk, mouthing “here we go again” as the disc drops into the hard drive.

This kind of nu-metal “look” generally gives me the chills. The Slipknots, Limp Bizkits, Korns, System of a Downs have all done it. While the chart releases from those bands might be enough to nod along to now and again, their collective repertoires are too often filled with screaming-bloody-murder vocals littered with religious damning and way-cool curse words, and accompaniment too loud to really even mean something. To me, anyway. Music might be better loud, but noise is still noise. And these kinds of bands make tons of it.

Accompanying Clockwise’s photograph is the suitably weird album cover featuring a spread-eagled, nearly naked cyber babe bound with wires. She looks to be floating inside a bloodied womb, or maybe it’s just a really big bed with a red throw. Whatever the case, she’s a gloomy mascot for the band — eye-catching, yet still none-too-original. Didn’t Tool have that guy blowing himself on their album cover? And some other band recently featured a chick slapping her own ass? Hell, even Loverboy did something like that back in the day, so, sexually stimulating images on record covers is anything but new.

Odd, then, that all this obviousness encases one of the most beautiful rock albums in recent memory.

Wow. Clockwise singer Austin Leduc is the kind of skinny-ass punk doll you’d expect to see hustled between his freakish friends at Denny’s on a Saturday night, not the blistering, simmering rock star he is on his band’s major-label debut, Healthy Manipulation. Spitting out power-metal with a voice somewhere between James Hetfield, Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley, and Freddie Mercury, Leduc’s booming vocal is as melodic as it is harsh. He’s extremely textured and deliberate with his singing, rarely resorting to the angry screaming or guttural wailing of his contemporaries.

The excellent “Lay Her Down” opens this explosive collection, managing in just three minutes to showcase the different styles of music the band is equally capable of. The song starts out a thrashing anthem of aggression with Leduc raging on about some fucked-up relationship or other. It breaks towards the end, though, slowing to a veritable walk as the singer drops his tempo way down, demonstrating, as well, his pop and soft-rock competencies.

He continues this exploration on the silky-smooth “Aware”, “When I Lie”, and “Paranoid”, each taking the tempo down even further. Leduc gives his voice a real workout on these songs, hitting almost Broadway-pitch (reminiscent of Flickerstick vocalist, Brandin Lea), as easily hitting the high notes as it does the low. In just about every song, though, Leduc will pull some giant wail out of nowhere, proving just how layered his voice is.

More than just a great vocal, Clockwise have created an album of well-crafted, tasteful songs. There is so much substance here, with not a single throwaway piece. Band members Alfonso Bernal (bass), Dave McMahan (drums), Justin Pasquale (guitar), and Scott Beare (guitar) demonstrate freewheeling musicianship (the guitar work on “Leverage” needs to be heard to be believed) yet remain expertly tight, never outshining their leading man and seeking only to elevate him further.

Clockwise might look like every other new hard-rockin’ punks on the block, they might follow the rules of riotousness to the letter, but don’t be fooled — this is a band far more talented than they have any right to be.