Rush - Hemispheres

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Mercury
Catalog Number: 534629
Format: CD
Total Time: 36:11:00

My tastes in music, my expectations of music, are firmly rooted in the 1970s. Honestly, I pity people who did not have the privilege of experiencing the evolution of rock music that took place throughout this magical decade. The influences and direction that led to the genre of progressive rock had a basis in the wider world of seventies rock music in general. One of the most exciting elements of seventies rock was the expectation, and in fact the realization, of growth, of progression in the music of many bands and artists. It was just expected that from one year to the next, one album or tour to the next, a band would mature and grow and that the next release would show improvement and expansion of that band's songwriting and musicianship. Greater achievements were always just around the corner and music seemed to have a direction. New discoveries, new territories, were there to be found and explored. Bands had the freedom to grow and the time to explore the possibilities available to them. Record companies may have had more money than they knew what to do with, or they may have been under the control of executives, patrons of the arts really, who understood that an artist needed time and freedom to develop a sound, a character, and an audience.

One of the clearest examples of this developmental trend in the seventies was the evolution of the Canadian trio Rush. Rush grew up, awkwardly at times, in front of our eyes and ears. They began in the late sixties, and released their debut album in 1974. This debut, and the next three albums, displayed a band that was on the move, on a move from being a Zeppelin and The Who knockoff band to becoming what might arguably be called the first real progressive metal band.

In my opinion, and that of many other writers as well, Rush's recorded output (at least for the first fifteen albums that I am mostly familiar with) has tended to go through major changes of style after groups of four albums, which are then followed with live releases. Following the bands fifth release, and first live album, All The Worlds A Stage, the band underwent a huge evolutionary leap with the release of their seminal album A Farewell To Kings. This album continued the trend hinted at with their breakthrough release 2112, that being a headlong dive into progressive rock proper, with ever increasing use of synthesizers, complex, long form compositions, difficult meter and the continued flowering of drummer Neil Peart's high minded, objectivist, sci-fi lyrics. The follow up to A Farewell To Kings, and the subject of this review, Hemispheres (1978 (SRM-1-3743)), was the second release of this second group of four albums and it was a stronger and more musically impressive work than anything that had preceded it. This release is, in my opinion, Rush's finest hour, and one that will better stand the test of time than any album of progressive metal that I know of.

The work of the band members on this release goes far beyond the limitations of their instrumental line up and far beyond the self imposed restrictions of most "progressive metal" bands. Hemispheres allowed guitarist Alex Lifeson to further expand his mainly Zeppelin-ish guitar style into a more symphonic keyboard like style while maintaining the crunch and punch of more traditional metal guitar playing. His rhythm guitar playing, especially on the opening track, "Cygnus X-1, Book II", goes subtly toward the style and texture of the Mellotron used so commonly by more keyboard based groups, showing a more lush and seamless sound than that of the vast majority of guitarists of the time, or now for that matter. Both Geddy Lee's bass and synthesizer work achieved greater depth and more complexity, while his lead vocals continued to travel away from the screechy sound of their earlier albums. Peart's drumming climbed to its greatest heights and this release contains the bulk of his most memorable work, though this pronouncement on my part will surely be argued against by a number of Peart fanatics. His lyrics continued on the path laid out by 2112 and A Farewell To Kings, but with less emphasis on the Randian philosophy and more exploration of his own intellect and imagination. His efforts at a sort of neo-mythological text for "Cygnus X-1, Book II" is very imaginative and quite palatable. The lyrics to "The Trees," for example, are one of the most satisfying (and clever) works he has ever produced, working well on a number of levels.

The album consists of only four songs, the two lengthy pieces "Cygnus X-1, Book II," and the jaw-dropping instrumental "La Villa Strangiato," as well as the two shorter songs, "Circumstances" and "The Trees." All the pieces on this release are very impressive, and even though the epic "Cygnus" and the amazing "La Villa" will most occupy the mind of the listener, neither of the two shorter songs are without their own grand status and all are deserving of a place of honor in the lexicon of Rush's music. "Cygnus X-1, Book II" begins in decidedly progressive fashion, with a reversed tape guitar chord rising out of the ether, and continues with Lifeson's trademark suspended 4th chords leading to a melodic line of harmonics, joined by Lee's intricate bass line and Peart's fascinating drumming. Lifeson's arppeggiated chord progressions in the verses are more like keyboards than guitar, and he maintains a very substantial and smooth sound throughout this eighteen plus minute epic. The constantly changing backbeat provided by Peart's drumming will keep the listener (and the music itself) in a constant state of flux. The lyrics are interesting in themselves, as they challenge the strict objectivism of 1976's 2112 and what some might see as Peart's own philosophy. It might be wise at this point to state the obvious, that being the courage shown by Peart in the mere act of examining the wisdom of any doctrinaire life philosophy. But, on the other hand, it may be foolish to ascribe any deep meaning to the perhaps pseudo-intellectual lyrics of Rush. After all, it's just rock n' roll isn't it? At any rate, in my opinion, "Cygnus X-1, Book II" is the best, most fully realized of Rush's epic songs and, while I might be out on a limb here, I see this tune as quite Yes like in its construction and presentation.

Following the epic are the two shorter pieces, "Circumstances" and "The Trees." "Circumstances" is a quite interesting song, with a more typical hard rock construction, yet it provides an opportunity for Peart to display the well conceived drum parts he is known for, and for the band to display some of their progressive influences on their sleeves. The center instrumental section owes a debt to Genesis and Steve Hackett's chiming guitar patterns, and all of these elements gel and work quite well together. "The Trees" is interesting both lyrically and musically, with Peart's analogy of conflicting civil rights played out through the story of the trees of the forest, and their competing claims to sunlight. This song again owes much to Genesis, and Lifeson's rhythm work and his memorable guitar solo are beautifully done. The entire band functions remarkably well as a well oiled machine, and the difficulty of the song is belied by the immense talent that the group brings to their work.

The albums final track is the fine instrumental "La Villa Strangiato," one of the most impressive and technically astounding pieces ever delivered by any band, anywhere, anytime. It is exquisitely constructed and performed, and contains the best playing ever by the band members. Each of the three musicians gets their chance to dazzle and amaze on this nearly ten minute long opus. Peart's drumming is ever changing, with endless subtle changes of time and tempo, and is, again in my opinion, the epitome of fine drumming. Lifeson plays his two most ripping, yet sensitive solos in this piece and Lee's bass playing is incomparable. The entire song is filled with brilliantly played passages and it even pays homage to Benny Goodman, strangely enough, with a short appropriation of one of his great swing numbers. I cannot think of any number that so well captures the fire and intensity of Rush's instrumental virtuosity, yet does so in such a well controlled and smooth fashion.

This release is a frankly astounding work, one that has never been matched by Rush, and one that nearly every musician I know regards as one of the best displays of sheer musical brilliance ever recorded. This is a must have for Rush fans, and one that will expand the idea of what progressive rock is to any music lover not familiar with Rush's discography.

Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres: I. Prelude - II. Apollo Bringer Of Wisdom - III: Dionysus Bringer Of Love - IV: Armaggedon The Battle Of The Heart And Mind -V: Cygnus Bringer Of Balance -VI: The Sphere A Kind Of Dream (18:07) / Circumstances (3:42) / The Trees (4:46) / La Villa Strangiato (9:36)

Alex Lifeson - six and twelve string electric and acoustic guitars, classical guitar, Roland Guitar Synthesizers, Taurus Pedals
Neil Peart - drums, orchestral bells, bell tree, tympani, gong, temple blocks, wind chimes, crotales
Geddy Lee - bass guitar, mini-Moog, Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer, Taurus Pedals, vocals

Rush (1974)
Fly By Night (1975)
Caress Of Steel (1975)
2112 (1976)
All The World's A Stage (1976)
A Farewell To Kings (1977)
Hemispheres (1978)
Archives (1978)
Permanent Waves (1980)
Moving Pictures (1981)
Exit ... Stage Left (1981)
Signals (1982)
Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Power Windows (1985)
Hold Your Fire (1987)
A Show Of Hands (1989)
Presto (1989)
Chronicles (1990)
Roll The Bones (1991)
Counterparts (1993)
Test For Echo (1996)
Different Stages (1998)
Vapor Trails (2003)
Rush In Rio (2003)
Feedback (2004)
R30 (2005)
Gold (2006)
Snakes And Arrows (2007)
Snakes And Arrows Live (2008)
Retrospective III (2009)
Working Men (2009)
Grace Under Pressure: 1984 Tour (2009)
Icon (2010)
Time Stand Still: The Collection (2010)
Icon 2 (2011)
Rush ABC 1974: The First American Broadcast (2011)
Sector 1 (2011)
Sector 2 (2011)
Sector 3 (2011)
Moving Pictures: Live 2011 (2011)
Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels (2012)
The Studio Albums 1989-2007 (2013) (boxset) Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)

Exit-Stage Left (VHS) (1982)
Through The Camera Eye (VHS) (1984)
Grace Under Pressure Tour 1984 (VHS) (1986)
A Show Of Hands (VHS) (1988)
Chronicles (VHS/DVD) (1990/2001)
Rush In Rio (DVD/VID) (2003)
R30 (DVD) (2005)
Music In Review 1974-1981 (2006)
Replay X3 (DVD) (2006)
Snakes And Arrows Live (DVD) (2008)
Working Men (DVD) (2009)
Beyond The Lighted Stage (DVD) (2010)
Classic Albums: 2012 - Moving Pictures (2010)
Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin CA

Added: May 16th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 959
Language: english


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