The Return of the Gangsta, Thanksta…The Gorge, Seven)Suns and Cleric (Live Review)

After an extended break due to graduate school, teaching and writing academic things (woo!), I have decided to return to the game…of unpaid, thankless blogging.  Such competition.  Much fun.  Okay, bad meme and misconstrued references aside, I’m glad to be back.  These past couple years have been filled with concerts and various musical adventures, so strap in! It’s going to be…a ride.

Skateboarder

Because apparently we’re about to go punk.  And that means skateboarding images! Because I’m one of those “damn millennials.”

I’m going to call these past couple years, at least from my super relevant perspective, the United States era of sludgy, grimy and depressing as shit doom, funeral doom, and stoner metal.  Pallbearer, Bell Witch (Mirror Reaper is album of the decade, change my mind), Mastodon, Sleep (new tour!) and all those masturbatory Black Sabbath startups…each have pulled, or continue to pull, the boundaries of metaldom back to its slow, riff driven blues and stoner roots.  Specifically, in St. Louis, there is an interesting development of punk attitude and grungy, working class, almost Birmingham-esque live trend, providing a widening space for road warriors Weedeater, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, Black Label Society and, most recently, Pallbearer.  Because, when the levee breaks…

Okay, so, in this scene, where does the jazz, the technicality, the Djent! belong?  Apparently in the St. Louis, Cherokee coffee house, Foam.

“What a transition!” — Nobody

I had the pleasure of attending the Cleric headlining tour, opened by tech metallers, The Gorge, and string quartet, Seven) Suns, at the Foam coffee house in St. Louis.  That’s right,  a coffee house.  Metal and hipsters.  Fuck yeah!  The venue is intimate — I couldn’t think of a better word for small — and run by some fabulous baristas/bartenders.  I only wish I got their names.  Poor journalism on my part, but oh well.  What’s important is the beers were cheap, the coffee hot, and the atmosphere warm, inviting.  Perfect for some twisted, weird ass metal.

Disclaimer: A major label needs to sign The Gorge.  Seriously.  If some Nuclear Blast intern is looking for some mobility, here’s a tip: put The Gorge on the executive’s table and drop that fucking mic in your new office space.

coffee-cup-working-happy.jpg

Did I mention this was at a coffee house? Look at that face…

I’ve been following The Gorge for about a year now.  I saw them open for Weedeater back in, I believe, August 2017.  I’m too lazy to look so just take my word for it.  The Gorge adds some melody to the djenty meshuggah framework, all the while maintaining a jazz-conscious feel for groove.  Their live performance is cathartic, culminated in politically-driven and emotionally jarring lyrics.  I mean, their album art for Thousand Year Fire is a drawing of the Cahokia Mounds!  How else to bring attention to the voices of a colonized and destroyed culture than through some djenty, emotionally jarring metal? So, in a postcolonial perspective, besides the album being written and performed by a juxtaposed personality of bearded and clean cut white dudes, The Gorge brings some cultural and political significance to the table.  Told ya I’ve been in academia for a hot minute.  Don’t be surprised when I go there, metal bros.

String quartet, Seven)Suns, added discomfort to this cathartic atmosphere.  One of my biggest complaints regarding the venue is the layout.  There is no “stage,” but who can blame em? It’s a coffee house. However, it’s kinda hard to see the performers, especially when the audience, including myself, are mostly around or over six feet tall.

A toast for the short folks and those who would rather sit at the bar! 

String quartet, Seven)Suns has worked with Dillinger Escape Plan, and have an energetic live presence, breaking dissonant and melodic runs with passionate grunts that do not feel out of place or forced.  Each string could be heard, and I’m not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for the cello.  Its sound is just too damn beautiful for its own good.  If I were to describe Seven)Suns’ stage presence, it would be creepy.  Beautifully unsettling.  A nice transition from The Gorge’s brutality into Cleric’s…I don’t even know.

I’m not gonna lie, I only started listening to Cleric earlier in the day.  I heard their name cast around in internet forums of the most obscure and pretentious sort, but, as usual, I cast them into a general, maybe later part of my brain.  But, Fuck, was I blown away.  As soon as Larry Kawartowitz set up his fucking obnoxiously large china symbol, I knew the room was in for an experience.  Drum lord, Lars Ulrich, would faint at the sight of that behemoth.

I can hardly describe Cleric’s sound.  A little Gorguts here; a little Frank Zappa there.  And a large helping of general holy shittery that is just Cleric.  Keyboardist, vocalist, second base, guitarist — pretty much everythingist — Nick Schellenberger took full advantage of the space.  His dual microphone rig and passionate stage presence brought even the sound guy (mustachio’d, dressed, roller bladed, and fuzzy hat guy, you the best) to the front, headbanging and bouncing.  This band is tight, folks.  Think of a metaphor for tight and Cleric will shatter it with two synchronized doom chords.  The bass (Daniel Kennedy) and lead/rhythm guitarist (Matt Hollenberg) were synched perfectly with the drums, casting aside count downs in favor of good ol’ fashioned, felt nonverbal communication.  And, punctuating the evening, Cleric played an extremely emotive rendition of, I believe, “The Treme,” a nine minute piece transitioning from technical what the fuckery to an existential sense of doom.  Incredible work from everyone involved.

Again, this venue creates and maintains community.  The openers, the staff, the small, but passionate crowd, were caught in Cleric’s strange, chaotic apocalypse.  Check out their groundbreaking underground album, Regressions sometime for a general feel before the record goes out of print.  Also, make a trip to Foam if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Next week:  Weedeater (Round Two)

Final Verdict:  I’m done assessing shit.  Just take what you want from the review.  The venue was accommodating.  The show was kick ass.  

 

 

 

 

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Review: Symphony X – Underworld

With their latest LP, Underworld, Symphony X taps into their neoclassical roots to create one of the more entertaining listens of 2015.

Yep, I’m doing a 180 here. When a band does what they do best, it’s hard not to appreciate their effort.  Because, let’s face it, Symphony X lays it all down on their latest studio album, combining past and present influence into one of their more consistent records.

Now, before you get all “Make up your damn mind!” on me, know that this is a record burdened by familiarity, pushing more of an Iconoclast sound over, say, their coined The Divine Wings of Tragedy’s Gregorian, neoclassical epic approach. However, where Iconoclast felt pointlessly heavy, Underworld amplifies that heaviness, all the while grounding listeners with the complex, beautiful, and might I say “cleaner” songwriting of their past.  There’s reason to Romeo, Allen, Pinnella, and Rullo’s style again. This is a testament to Romeo’s obsession with Christian mythology.  Look at it this way, when a prog metal album’s concept is loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, how can you not make the material heavy as shit?

“Underworld,” with its punchy, galloping chorus, accented by Russel Allen’s binary vocal style, complements this sound realization, reminiscent to Paradise Lost’s symphonic numbers.   Now, with that in mind, you won’t get anything new on this album.  That’s where this album suffers most.  Underworld feels more like a continuation of Symphony X’s newfound appreciation for metaldom, rather than a musical progression.  At this point, you must ask:  What else do these guys have to prove?  They rode Dream Theater’s wake, producing an organic combination of power, prog, and neoclassical metal, then darkened the progressive genre further, incorporating harsher vocals, blast beats, and heavier riffs.   And, hell, the blast beats in “Underworld” will most definitely take the casual prog listener out of the equation. But, to say Underworld is uninspired is an insult to the band’s legacy and meticulous effort to separate itself from dreaded Dream Theater imitation.

symphonyxwithoutsingle

Credit: Blabbermouth

Does the album feel Nuclear Blast-esque?  Metal heads will understand that statement.  The LP, as feared, suffers from the band’s overwhelming metal obsession,  “Without You,” condemned as more of a sellout, derivative “Paradise Lost” clone, contains some of Russell Allen’s most passionate vocals.  So, power prog Symphony X fans listen up.  The clean voice has returned! That’s enough to give Underworld a star in itself.

“Without You,” brings back the band’s classical influence to the forefront, replacing complexity with good ol’ fashioned emotional songwriting.  Same with “To Hell and Back.” The track’s introduction adds atmosphere to the LP, then leads to guitar, vocal, and rhythm excellence, courtesy to each band member’s famous precision.  Again, “To Hell and Back,” is more of a listenable track — oh God, not melody! Melody doesn’t belong in metal! — but the band was known for melody, never brutality. “Swan Song,” continues this trek into melodic territory, alluding to “The Accolade.”  Atmospheric, complex, melodic, beautiful, heavy in an ideological sense, rather than in a “smash your face” sense. That’s something I thought I would never hear after Iconoclast.

*On a side note, has anyone ever wondered how chaotic it is when someone asks for Michael in the band?

Meanwhile, Romeo, with his blistering fretboard control, continues to wow listeners in tracks like “Nevermore” and “Charon.” Now, I’m on the fence with these two tracks.  Remember that little “Nevermore” single review that Reviews From the Other Side composed a month or so ago?  Obviously, Symphony X wanted to continue their “guitar first” philosophy, sacrificing chorus and general appeal in the process.  This leads to disenchantment from the source material.  I appreciate a kick ass guitar performance, but when everything around that guitar performance is, well, for lack of a better word, boring, then it’s easy to forget said tracks. Disenchantment and boredom is the bane to progressive metal. Even as a fan, I can admit that. Michael Romeo and Michael Pinnella tend to noodle, it’s a known fact!  “Nevermore” is a studio single, for crying out loud! For an album that promises a collage of influences, “Nevermore” fails in that the track sounds like nothing more than a Iconoclast bonus track.  That’s what is so frustrating with this album.  It tries to move past the heaviness of Paradise Lost and Iconoclast, but for every melodic, neoclassical passage, there’s ten overwhelming, “What the fuck? Should I bang my head or air guitar?” metal wanks.

It’s in these metal passages, however, that the band’s rhythm section pulls through. Michael Romeo and Russell Allen are awesome! Who in metaldom doesn’t know that? Pinnella is a little too Rudess for me, but does his part nonetheless.  Hell, the guy even has a couple credits to his name, so kudos, good key meister. In previous recordings — especially their rendition of The Odyssey — Jason Rullo’s drums came across as flat, even mediocre at times, but Underworld brings the best out of our little mountain mover.  It’s an understatement to say Rullo was made for explosive passages, complemented by Michael Lepond’s, as-always, moving rumble.

Symphony X, with their 11th studio album, Underworld, force listeners to gaze into the looking glass of their discography, exploring their descent from neoclassical, power prog to straight forward, kick ass metal. Fans, indulge. Casual listeners, think of this album as a focused, greatest hits record.

Credit:  Skullsnbones

Credit: Skullsnbones

P.S. That album art…

Ugh.

RATING:  4/5

All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner.  Image found at https://fanart.tv/artist/b669c53e-5a1f-4adc-80be-755e64e8115e/symphony-x/.  All rights, content, and properties of body image one belongs to its owner. Image found at http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/symphony-xs-michael-romeo-says-underworld-album-has-a-little-bit-of-everything/.  All rights, content, and properties of body image two belongs to its owner. Image found http://skullsnbones.com/symphony-x-is-releasing-underworld-in-july/.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit.

Review: Symphony X – Nevermore (single)

Why, hello again, “Dance of Death,” cover art.  Symphony X’s newly released single, “Nevermore” brings the only thing left in the band’s tank:  an excellent guitar performance.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it.  I won’t lie and say I didn’t expect another uninspired track from the tenured prog metallers.  This is, by all accounts, a follow up tune to 2011’s Iconoclast. In that regard, the band’s X has taken over its symphony.  Neoclassical Symphony X fans better turn around now.  After Paradise Lost — which is a respectable album in its own right — the band drifted into heavier territory, all but abandoning their neoclassical prog roots.  Now, you know me, I’m all about direction changes and musical progression.  But in Symphony X’s case, the transition is forced, punctuated by the killer “heavy just to be heavy” metal cliche.  The problem?  Symphony X never quite discovered how to make heaviness work.  Take the single, “End of Innocence,” for example.  The song reaches into its creator’s back catalogue for riffs, relying on its chorus for inspiration.  Good God that chorus…that’s when Allen had some power left in the socket. So, I hate to say it, but let’s face it, the guys are getting older.  Neo-classical metal is out the door and the band has now reached into Helloween territory.

And don’t get me started on their upcoming LP, Underworld[‘s], cover artwork.

Michael Romeo continues to show why he’s one of prog’s most underrated guitarists.  Again, I probably need to make another top 10 follow up guitarists list because this guy shreds like a…you know.  Jokes aside, the guitarist pumps out a beefy, fret destroying riff throughout “Nevermore.” Catchy, complex, driving, the guitars move the track along, not even remotely reminiscent of previous Symphony X works, but still promoting Romeo’s talents, both as a lead and rhythm axeman.  The drums, as usual, gallop along with Jason Rullo’s simple, but expressive style.  I’m a sucker for strong drum sounds, and “Nevermore” does not disappoint in that category.  The track continues Paradise Lost’s clear drum and guitar production value, a definite highlight in comparison to the muddy sound of the neoclassical years.  However, where the hell are the keyboards?! There are glimmers throughout, but a definitive keyboard track is nonexistent.  Maybe that’s a production issue, maybe they’re heading deeper into classic metal, we’ll just have to see with Nevermore[‘s’] release.

As in “End of Innocence,” one element (the guitar) saves the single.  Russel Allen’s vocal performance, especially during the chorus, is mediocre, and that disappointed me the most.  I don’t care if the band is straight heavy now, I still want a classic, Symphony X power/prog chorus in all of its raise-your-fist, eagle soaring glory. The “Nevermore” chorus feels thrown in, burdened by awkward phrasing and odd vocal transitions.  I still don’t get the macho-guttural choice made by Allen.  Perhaps he’ll pull a Dickinson and return to his patented baritone — or tenor? I don’t know — wail.  Look at that, two Iron Maiden references in one post! I can forgive Symphony X’s generic lyrics and uninspired songwriting, but when Allen’s voice goes, my little ears are going to struggle to keep up.

I know there’s more to Underworld. Even with its mediocre vocals and uninspired songwriting, the album’s lead single, “Nevermore,” promises excellent musicianship.  Fans of the band’s later output will enjoy this track, while fans looking for more will turn away.

Check it out:

Rating: 2.75/5

Disclaimer:  All content, rights, and properties of the “Nevermore” video belong to the artist.  I have, in no way, used said video for profit.  If the owner is offended, please contact me and I will remove the video immediately. 

Review: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase

A continuation of Steven Wilson’s prog trip, with the accessibility of Stupid Dream.

I’ve been avoiding this album for some reason.  I knew it was coming out, and once it hit the shelves, I let it sit there, almost like a punishment.  You see, I’m a Porcupine Tree fan.  I’ll admit it.  So, again, there’s going to be some bias.  Shoot me. Okay, back to business.  Even though Wilson is the band’s main songwriter — which means his solo albums shouldn’t stray too far away from that overarching sound — the barefooted Brit’s solo work has, so far, left something to be desired.  Grace for Drowning succeeded with its throwback to 70’s progressive rock, but fell victim to its own structure, a derivative collaboration of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Camel.

The Raven That Refused To Sing had its moments, but continued Wilson’s regression to derivative territory, influenced even more by King Crimson.  Yes, Steven Wilson became an oxymoron of the progressive genre.  Overall, there was something Porcupine Tree had that Wilson’s solo work didn’t, but defining that difference was a challenge all in itself. Gavin Harrison, perhaps? I don’t know. His 2015 album, Hand. Cannot. Erase, however, brings back Steven Wilson’s trademark pop/prog sensibilities.  The album introduces more personal sounds without becoming overburdened by influences, and that’s a welcome return to style.

There’s a lot going on here.  Musically, the album explores multiple genres, from Rush-inspired bass licks — ha, what a coincidence — in “First Regret/Three Years Older” to straightford pop in “Hand Cannot Erase.”  If you’re an avid Porcupine Tree listener, spin the instrumental “Home Invasion/Regret #9” and tell me you don’t hear those polyrhythms that made the Porcupine Tree metal phase so successful.  Oh, there’s even a Rick Wright-esque keyboard solo thrown in there, which leads Guthrie’s climactic guitar wail.  So, Wilson’s got that working for him.  Which is nice. And then the track concludes with a banjo! Fucking banjo! You gotta love variety.  “Home Invasion” stands as one of Wilson’s better instrumentals, which contains sound changes so abrupt that I could hear Kristoffer Ryggs’ knees buckle.  A definite highlight.  There are even some electronica influences in “Perfect Life.”  Although this particular track, and second single, lacks the inspiration of the first two tracks, the electronic layers and conceptual lyrics are a breath of fresh air, complete with a climactic conclusion.  Atop beautiful, electronic layers, Wilson croons:

We have/We have a perfect life.

-Steven Wilson, “Perfect Life,” Hand. Cannot. Erase (2015)

Don’t get the wrong idea.  This is not a happy album.  The lyrics follow typical Wilson-isms of over-the-top sorrow.  Steven Wilson is Melancholy, and he throws the listener off guard by coupling this darkness with inspiring, even happy melodies.  He is perfectly capable of igniting hope with a track like “Perfect Life” and then choking that hope out with “Routine.” I never usually complain about Wilson’s lyrics.  Within his vast discography is everything I want from a melodramatic sad sap: hopelessness, melancholy, and brooding with just enough cheese to make the lyrics delicious.  However, Hand. Cannot. Erase suffers a little on the poetry side.  Maybe I’ve grown up.  Or, maybe it’s just fatigue from the constant barrage of sadness from Wilson, a lack of variety in the most depressing way.  I know I just complemented the album’s musical variety, but when it came to the album’s lyrics, I found myself rolling my eyes at times.  Just look at this line from “Hand Cannot Erase” and tell me the cheese isn’t overwhelmingly funky:

Writing lying e-mails to our friends back home/Feeling guilty if we sometimes wanna be alone.

-Steven Wilson, “Hand Cannot Erase,” Hand. Cannot. Erase (2015)

Okay, that’s enough of lyrics.  Back to the music!

“Routine” is the pinnacle of Steven Wilson’s solo vision. A track dominated by melodramatic riffs, beautiful piano, and a rousing performance by Ninet Tayeb, the track rises and falls with purpose, especially during its dramatic midsection.  At the 6:00 mark — or somewhere in there, I’m too lazy to actually check — Tayeb’s voice pushes forward in the mix…and the rest is history.  A truly beautiful, inspirational track, the lyrics interesting, the music everything you can expect from Mr. Wilson.  The final highlight of the album is also the album’s shortest song, “Transience.”  Very Porcupine Tree-like, the track opens with an acoustic riff, spotted here and there with Hans Zimmer-like blaams.  Then, Steven Wilson’s trademark “ahs” and harmonies take over to create his trademark emotional atmosphere.

Steven Wilson’s 2015 LP, Hand. Cannot. Erase is a return to accessibility without abandoning the technical prog of previous albums.  This evolution not only adds unique quality to the album, but grants Steven Wilson a sound all his own.  Bravo, Mr. Wilson.  Bravo.

Rating: 4/5

All rights, content, and properties of the featured image was found in lassehoile’s post on Blogspot:  http://lassehoile.blogspot.com/2015/03/hand-cannot-erase.html.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Review: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Nightwish continue their mesh of symphonic and gothic metal, but this time with more bagpipes.  Oh, and a new singer.

Okay, I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way now.  When a new Nightwish review hits the interwebs, the first attached comment will always be one of two options:

1. Old Nightwish good, new Nightwish bad.

2.  Tarja good, new singer bad.

So, I’m gonna play the part of the father in Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Lancelot skit.  Let’s not argue about who killed who and worry about the output currently before us.  After a four year stint of touring, Nightwish finally released their eighth studio album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful.  It is a bombastic collaboration of punchy, melodic metal songs and beautiful ballads, flavored with new influences here and there.  And that means featured vocalist, Floor Jansen, whose voice is a growing entity in the metal community.  With the range, power of Tarja Turunen and playfulness of Anette Olsen, Jansen fits well into the Nightwish machine.  If you need proof, just watch her rendition of “Ghost Love Score” during their set at Wacken Open Air, 2013.  Can you say goosebumps?

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

After twenty years, Tuomas Holopainen  continues to show his songwriting chops, and although he’s facing a wall in regards to progression, the catchiness and darkness that is Nightwish continues in Endless. The album is everything a Nightwish fan can expect, from symphonic passages and chugging riffs, to just that epic fucking explosion of sound, so I’m sure that demographic is pleased with the release.  Well, besides the spammers I just called out, of course.

Now, since the music is everything that is expected, that unfortunately means Endless Forms inherits familiarity with little regard to direction.  More of the same. Tuomas Holopainen shows he still has his Disney-inspired bombast — see the epic “The Greatest Show on Earth” — but strays into his back catalogue for inspiration, often rehashing melodies and riffs.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying the songwriting has become lazy, but the album, like Imaginaerium and Dark Passion Play, sounds like Once.  He’s comfortable.  Every leading songwriter faces that moment, where “using what works” leads his or her direction over past ambition.  And, who’s to blame Tuomas? During the late 90’s, Oceanborn, Wishmaster, and Century Child redefined power and gothic metal, and Once brought the band into the mainstream as a full form symphonic metal outfit.  With that formula, they became one of Finland’s most successful bands. Their current sound works.  But brassy, Zimmer-like blaaams here, derivative chugging there, and random, folky tunes get tiring after the hearing them for the fourth and fifth time.

“Shudder Before the Beautiful,” although rehashing riffs and melodies from “Dark Chest of Wonders,” is a by-the-books Nightwish opener. Scientist Richard Dawkins leads a voice over — pretension aside, a solid choice by the band —  before the song explodes in true Nightwish form.  Moving melodies, Floor’s powerful, belting voice, choirs, you name it.  Not the most refreshing piece of music.  Yet, the track introduces the album’s approach and style like a good opener should, thus succeeding. I didn’t think I’d notice Jukka’s absence that much. There is a distinct sound difference with Kai Hahto (Wintersun) behind the kit.  Whereas Jukka pounded away, Kai tends to rely on simplistic measures.  I mean, sure, Nightwish isn’t exactly known for its complex drum patterns, but Jukka added flair and power to the band’s sound.  Maybe it’s Endless’ mixing, with the drums muddled deeper in the master track, rather than Kai’s ability.  He holds his own, but fails to capture Nightwish’s classic barrage.

“Elan,” the band’s leading single is taken straight out of Dark Passion Play[‘s] playbook.  On this track, Floor adopts Annette’s more poppy register, leading the melody forward.  At this point, I started to realize how underused her voice is on Endless Forms Most Beautiful.  Like Annette’s Passion Playthis album stands as a “getting the hang of it” experience for the new singer.  You get one warm up, Floor, and then it’s game time!  I want to hear the climax of “Ghost Love Score,” not the safe territories of “Alpenglow.”  That’s not to say she stays under the radar.  Not at all.  Her voice shines on “Edema Ruh,” and the album’s closer, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” but is mostly restrained where it could be brought out to the forefront.  For some reason, when Floor reaches out, her voice falls deeper into the mix, overshadowed by classical composition or bagpipes.  Ugh, the bagpipes.  Even bassist Marco Heitala seems restrained, the duality of the male-female trope all but an afterthought.  Shit, the whole band sounds restrained on this album, come to think of it.

I’m not going to sit here and talk shit about Nightwish’s 2015 LP the whole time.  “The Greatest Show on Earth” is an astonishing piece of Disney-style, smack-your-ears-and-make-you-cry songwriting, and is one of Tuomas Holopainen’s best productions, with its soaring melodies, genre bending epicness, and wonderful vocal performance by Floor.  There’s even a weird safari passage, which successfully immerses the listener by creating paranoia.  This paranoia is then punctuated by a well-timed barrage of riffs and symphonic goodness.  Meanwhile, “My Walden” features a tasteful — notice I said tasteful — folk direction, thanks to the band’s rhythm section and guitarist Empuu Vuorinen’s creative riffing. Immersive, that’s what I enjoy about Nightwish’s patented sound. Each song fits together.  Yes, the album sounds like its predecessors, but like those predecessors, the album feels like a complete experience, or more to the point, a film soundtrack.

This is an album for prog heads and power metal enthusiasts.  But, for someone who has followed the Nightwish for years, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by its self-derivative nature.  Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a solid continuation of their symphonic sound, however hindered by stagnant songwriting and iffy production values.

Rating: 3.5/5

Disclaimer:  All content, rights, and properties of the featured image belongs to vladcoreanu on Deviantart at http://vladcoroeanu.deviantart.com/art/Nightwish-Endless-Forms-Most-Beautiful-QHD-509809922.  All content, rights, and properties of the body image belongs to rjforster on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rjforster/1359290822/. I, in no way, have used said images for profit or intend to use the photos for profit.

5 Days of Rush! Day 5

1.  2112

Now, for the number one pick.  As one of the hardest lists I’ve created, this pick did not come easy.  I’ll admit, I was torn between Hemispheres and 2112.  Both albums emit the best of Rush, showcasing versatility, drive, and genre bending kickassness.  Lord, I never thought I’d say this, but I almost wish the band’s heyday was shorter.  Lee, Lifeson, and Peart produced so many consistent records and worthy performances that a top five list serves as an injustice to their catalog.  Early Rush was rough, but not without hits such as “Fly By Night” and the classic, “Working Man.”  Once they found their sound, however, Rush exploded onto the market with middle fingers held high.

You see, Caress of Steel, is what we, at Reviews From the Other Side, call a colossal failure.  A solid effort, with memorable short tracks and allusions to future epics, but the record suffered financially.  When it comes down to it, that’s what matters when you want to continue making music.  The band needed life, and that meant — and I hate saying this — “selling out” or rolling up their sleeves and letting their sound evolve organically. 2112 was that “fuck you” moment that changed the industry.

Credit:  Edtech

Credit: Edtech

Now, look at those assholes.

So, here it is, the album that put Rush on the progressive map.  Yes, Caress of Steel tapped into the well of prog, but 1976’s 2112 hits the genre with a closed fist.  The musicianship is revolutionary, the concept creative and mysterious.  For three young chaps — do they say that in Canada? — just coming off their third album, that’s quite an accomplishment.  This was the first Rush album I listened to, and when I heard the first notes to the epic title track, I knew I was on to something.  Never had I heard a band make a 20 plus minute track sound so engaging.  Shit, the title “Temples of Syrinx” just looked awesome on the sleeve.

The gigantic title track immediately draws the listener in with an accented introduction.  Then, Lee, Lifeson, and Peart gallop into “Syrinx,” complete with Geddy’s trademark shriek.  I don’t want to go into the full song, because that would tire your little eyes out, but as a whole, the song is a cohesive piece of art, pushing and pulling to catch the listener off guard, all the while showing off each member’s growing talents.  With such a large spectrum of music, it wouldn’t be surprising if the piece scattered into a jumbled mess, but 2112 holds onto its structure, always alluding to the main melody. How they came up with those transitions, I’ll never know.

One side done.  Yes, 2112’s title track takes up a whole fucking side, that’s how big it is.  The other side, many fans and critics claim, is inconsistent and irrelevant in regards to the former monster.  Scope and ambition-wise, I’d say “of course,” but there are worthy moments within each piece.  “Train to Bangkok” is a by-the-books Rush number, a guitar driven, fun. hard rock tune with a catchy melody.  Not exactly the best the holy trinity has to offer, but is a breather after 2112’s explosiveness.  “Tears,” meanwhile, is one of the band’s more beautiful tracks.  Geddy Lee lowers his register for this tune, creating a soothing, lullaby vibe.  Technical noodling takes a back seat for this track. The musicians use more of a subtle approach, accented by mellotron and Lifeson’s expressive acoustics.

2112 is the most important album in Rush’s discography, not only in terms of influence, but the band’s longevity. Rush’s fourth output is the culmination of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart’s refusal to follow industry standards.  With one song, they evolved from a so-so hard rock band to a legendary progressive rock outfit.

Rating: 4.75

What’s next? Why, Reviews From the Other Side Rush R40 concert review, of course!  Say that ten times, really fast.  Check the review out, Saturday, May 16.

Disclaimer:  Featured image found on http://s101.photobucket.com/user/conversationpc/media/2112back.jpg.html.  Body image found on http://edtech.mcc.edu/~spainter/comw100/project2a/alex.html.  All rights and content of the images belong to the artist. No profits have been made from said images.  If the owner finds such usage offensive, feel free to contact me and I will take down the image immediately.

5 Days of Rush! Day 4

2. Hemispheres

Is that not the most prog album art ever conceived? I mean, you got a naked guy pointing longingly at another guy in a suit and cane, both standing on a brain. Deserts, brains, and an Eastern-style logo. What else could you ask for from prog pioneers, Rush?

Okay!  Now, as I stayed up last night thinking of which Rush album deserved first place, I came to a crossroads between my two picks.  Not spoiling the top selection — you’ve probably already guessed it, anyways  — I threw out standards because, let’s face it, reviews aren’t about standards.  Reviews are about how much you like the damn thing!  So, to be the most unprofessional as I possibly can, Rush’s 1978 LP, Hemispheres, ranks above Permanent Waves because I just like it more as a cohesive whole.  The album is a progressive masterwork, hinting towards future projects, but, overall, reflecting the peak of Rush’s ambition.  Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart kick off on all cylinders from the get go, and conclude with one of the best instrumentals ever recorded.  Yes, I went there.  Let’s go!

“Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” explodes with guitar chords before entering a complex march.  Lee’s bass dominates this track, complementing Neil Peart’s accents nicely. This, behind 2112, is the album that defined the prog epic, where we get not one, but two tracks surpassing the 8 minute mark.  If I had one complaint for the progressive genre, I’d bang my head over the never ending noodlery.  I’d say wankery, but that’s been overused on RFTOS.  Many bands, especially modern prog bands, suffer from too much freedom.  Instead of composing songs, they craft dueling solos and nonsensical, extended passages, sacrificing direction for vanity.  A little guidance would help, along with a little “hey, we need to get this moving” attitude, but that’s not the case with Hemispheres.  The band members utilized their ambition, but never deviated from the songwriting process in favor of glorified jam sessions.  “Cygnus” is the culmination of this process.  And it’s a hell of a track, displaying the band at its best, with spacey keyboards, complex guitar chords, and adventurous lyrics.

The next two tracks, “Circumstances,” and “The Trees” add accessibility to the album.  I’ve always thought “Circumstances” as under-appreciated.  I don’t blame the fans and critics.  It’s easy to forget a hard rocker when said track is surrounded by three musical juggernauts.  Fans of Geddy’s higher, mouse-like voice should jump for joy during the track’s chorus, with its stand-up-and-shout chorus.  It’s just a catchy song, a breath of fresh air from the complexity of the previous number.  Meanwhile, “The Trees” bends genres, adding folk elements to the band’s repertoire.  Now, I’ll admit, I cringe every time at  “The Trees” lyrics, which is a commentary on social status, all told through a grand metaphor of oaks and maples.  Maybe it’s Geddy’s delivery; maybe it’s the metaphor.  Either way, the vocals walk the line of ridiculousness.  It’s so Canadian, it makes me want to cry maple syrup and apologize for the mess.  The music, however, is absolutely outstanding.  Peart smashes his drums on this song and shows he’s not only precise, but powerful.  During the midsection, he even explores more percussive avenues.  I’ll admit it, when I heard those wood blocks, I smiled like an idiot. You can tell he’s really passionate about those poor maples.

The band reached its absolute peak, songwriting-wise, with the album’s closer, “La Villa Strangiato.” A micro and macro instrumental accomplishment, the track challenges each member’s creativity.  This is Alex Lifeson’s song. Opening with Spanish-style guitar, the guitarist throws down some of his most thoughtful licks and riffs. “La Villa” then descends into a moody section, and it is here where Rush’s guitar reaches its absolute peak.   Lifeson builds from a Gilmour-esque moan to a bombastic, heart wrenching climax. This is, without a doubt, the guitarist’s greatest achievement.  Subtle, expressive, but technical all the same. What a sneaky bastard, you are! The track moves quickly, transitioning between sections flawlessly, and never feels nine minutes long.

Hemispheres explores all of the musical avenues and lyrics from Rush’s previous albums.  On the album, you’ll hear 2112, you’ll hear A Farewell To Kings, you’ll even hear some Fly By Night, but what separates this album is the band’s disregard for its own standards.  Peart, Lee, and Lifeson weren’t quite at their most mature, but they were definitely at their most ambitious.  And that solidifies Hemispheres spot at number 2 on 5 Days of Rush.

Rating: 4.75/5

Disclaimer:  Featured image found on http://jestormbringer.blogspot.com/2011/09/rush-cygnus-x-1-duology.html. All rights and content of the image belong to the artist.  No profits have been made from said image.