Song Review: Northlane, ‘Clockwork, and the pressure to create

A (hopefully in-depth) analysis of Northlane’s ‘Clockwork.’ 

Clockwork‘ may or may not appear on the sixth Northlane album, which the band have wrapped up and are likely planning for a 2022 release. No, this 2021 single was released to best capitalise on it being included in this year’s Rainbow Six: Siege Oceanic Nationals season. (You can hear it being used in the season’s trailer.) Acting as their first new release that’s not attached to ‘Alien‘ – so not including the ‘5G‘ remix EP, the recent ‘2D‘ acoustic release, or the wicked ‘Enemy Of The Night‘ single – the ever trippy ‘Clockwork‘ is the next logical step for Northlane’s intensive genre-bending future. If you thought that ‘Alien‘ was a one-off, then boy have I got a bridge to sell ya. Their first release from out under UNFD’s thumb and on new distributor Believe, and first as a four-piece with bassist Brendon Padjasek leaving, there’s a lot happening underneath the hood of ‘Clockwork.’

First off, the sick analogue-synth patches from guitarist/programmer Jon Deiley really add a broader sonic range to this new era of Northlane, more so than ever before. Boding well for what kinds of insane electro-prog soundscapes the band have coded since 2019 altered their career’s trajectory for the better. This pulsating, acid-techno ostinato heard over the course of ‘Clockwok‘ is really cool but also extremely repetitive. I don’t think there’s any getting around that aspect of ‘Clockwork,’ as it’s the core musical element of the entire song, even helping to kick things off after Marcus’s first line. Though it lends everything a frantic dancefloor pace that’s so much fun. So too does it give the song a weirder sense of groove when placed under Marcus Bridge’s stellar sing-scream takes, as well as the hyper-polished prog-metalcore instrumentals that Jon, guitarist Josh Smith and drummer Nic Pettersen all perform.

After a few listens, you start to click with the track’s inner pulse, moving with its odd but intriguing ebb and flow, kinda like clockwork. (There’s the sole pun for this article.) Taking the jumpy breakdown, harmonic crunching halt-time outro, hammering down-picked Meshuggah-like riffs, frequent but BIG choruses, and that lead synth line at face value, it’s a considered harder push by the Sydney band to take their newfound style as far as they can with it. One that’s head-scratching but in a good way.

Secondly, there’s the theme behind ‘Clockwork.’ This is the most meta song Northlane have ever released. A real commentary on Marcus and the band having to finish a new song during lockdown; a timeline with no deadline. That pressure to create a follow-up to their most daring yet most successful album, in such an uncertain climate ruled by Covid, results in a stream-of-consciousness type-song about expectation, doubt and potential self-sabotage. Direct lyrics from the song’s lurching and heavy-ass verse include “I’ve got nothing to show, but the show must go on” and posing questions like “Am I a saboteur lost in the fear that I’m destined to fail?” For god fucking sake, Marcus literally belts out “I’m running out of time” in the chorus: feeling like he’s running out of actual time to finish this song. So before us is a band and a frontman showing their proud confidence in this new song’s end-product but also the anxious journey that it took them to get there. And that’s a rare perspective to see in metal these days.

While I do enjoy quite ‘Clockwork,’ it doesn’t really top anything off of ‘Alien‘ for me, personally. It throws a lot of weird guitar and electronic ideas at you, often all at once, with an odd structure and delivery, the kind that can take some real time to fully get into and appreciate. However, it’s a seriously interesting, perhaps even inventive, well-made look into the wicked cyberpunk future that we’ll soon receive more of from the Northlane brain trust. In any case, I’m super fucking excited to see what comes next for one of Australia’s biggest and brightest heavy acts.

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