Queens of the Stone Age, former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme's fluidly-personelled Stoner Rock outfit, feels surprisingly yet refreshingly backward-looking a mere 15 years into its existence. It's all right there in the name. "Stone Age" denotes the adherence to the crunchy, riff-heavy stuff that barely any act with talent attempts these days while "Queens" is a deliberate subversion of the lunk-headed machismo that Glam was never able to fully extinguish from album-oriented Guitar Rock. Pair those attributes with a clever, often filthy smirkiness which works to deflate the inherent pomposity of those monster riffs and what you've got is a band making wholly modern, darkly sexy Hard Rock.
On ...Like Clockwork, the band's sixth LP, Queens' latest lineup, not to mention a slew of subtly integrated guest musicians, curb their winking, self-effacing tendencies just enough to deliver a deadly serious record that never feels oppressive or overwrought. Though it careens from restrained beauty to all out shredding (often within the same song, as on the twinkly, spacey "Kalopsia") there's a palpable fear tangled up in the weariness and buttressed by a frankly inspiring sense of awe. The record and the preceding promotional rollout (no to mention the lovingly detailed vinyl packaging) leaned heavily on the craggy, herky-jerky illustrations and animation of artist Boneface. His images depict a hellish, post-apocalyptic dreamscape, populated by characters both monstrous and despairing with those lucky enough to survive hardened to the point of inhumanity. The art is, at its best, effective and evocative (check out the 15 minute sampler video to see how satisfyingly the art interacts with the songs) even though the album surrounding these nightmares doesn't always read so overwhelmingly bleak. By turns gorgeous and grim, ...Like Clockwork is probably best encapsulated by its cover art: an innocent, suffused by the embrace of a gaunt spectre, is comfortably lulled into unconsciousness by the hope that behind the grotesquerie lives a compassionate soul.