Live Review: Ghost – Black to the Future Tour 2015

Smoke, costumes, and Satan. What else can you ask from Swedish phenom, Ghost?

Okay, picture this:  you get tickets for this little band called Ghost or Ghost B.C., whatever the hell the United States music industry uses to sabotage the band’s namesake.  You don’t exactly know much about them besides the fact they make kickass shirts and walk around in costumes.  After wading through an explosive, psychedelic attack from English mind burners, Pursun, you think, “Hey, this might be an interesting show, an acid rock meets Halloween-type stunt with theatrics.”  Yet, then you notice that, for the first time in a long time, the concert venue is freezing cold.  Incense burns at the stage corners, gregorian chants echo from the speakers, and soon, the Nameless Ghouls start ripping at their instruments.  The crowd swells as Papa Emeritus — the anti-pope — cues set opener, Spirit, with Satanic madness.  This is a metal show, through and through.

I was converted.

It was obvious, as soon as the doors opened, that this was going to be an interesting spectacle.  Cosplayers — yes, you read that right — were scattered throughout the venue, inside and out.  Shit, I don’t even know why I’m writing like that’s a bad thing.  I even took some photos with a Nameless Ghoul before his inspiration started their set.  Near the end of the performance, Papa himself acknowledged a well done imitation, so every other viewpoint is void.  If Papa Emeritus says it is good. It is so.  And so it is.

“And don’t you forget it.”

But, that’s besides the point.  The crowd, for a medium sized venue, was passionate and loud, contributing to the experience with chants and sing-alongs.  For instance, with little guidance, every voice echoed from the rafters during, “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and it was obvious the band fed from the atmosphere, especially the guitarists, who, despite being masked, produced an electrifying, but dark stage presence. It was obvious these were no ordinary, rookie musicians trying to make it big.  They knew what the fuck they’re doing. Yet, we’ll probably never know their identity.  Once the haze surrounding Ghost’s lore disappears, and the world decides to pick on Slipknot again, we’ll ultimately learn that Jackson Browne and Dave Grohl decided to pursue that metal career they always wanted.  Don’t believe me?  The latter is actually probable.

So, enough about stage presence.  Who wants to read about atmosphere in a live review anyways?  Let’s talk about the goddamn music! I like to think of Ghost’s sound as if 70’s pop/hard rock took a stage dive into hell.  It’s odd. It’s enchanting.  It’s evil as hell. The setlist moved between the band’s three LP’s, providing a nice balance between heavy, balls to the wall metal anthems, courtesy of their debut record, to mid-tempo, atmospheric movements, and Abba-esque balladry. Oh, them Swedes…You Ghost fans know what track I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, “He Is,” is a damn great pop song, complete with moving melodies and beautiful harmonies.  Yet, it’s absolutely hilarious to see five musicians perform such an uplifting song about Satan.

WP_20151006_005

There was plenty of chaos to go around, from the explosive rendition of the band’s breakout track, “Ritual,” to their closing anthem, “The Monstrance Clock.”  Yes, at times the band sounded almost too good, all thanks to the playback guy doing what playback guys do.  Or, is it the sound guy? There’s so many “guys” in a production.  However, playback was expected.  The band utilizes multiple vocal layers in tracks like, “The Monstrance Clock,” and, “Deus Culpa,” not to mention bombastic, wall of sound production in tracks like “Infestissumam.”  God, I wished they performed that song. “Per Aspera Ad Infeni” didn’t feel the same without its over-the-top introduction.  Anyways, you guys get the point.  Ghost can’t be at fault for adding layers to the live production.

Overall, Ghost showed St. Louis why they are one of the leading modern metal/hard rock acts.  They brought theatrics in a hyperbolic sense, never quite taking themselves too seriously, but pushing boundaries enough to hike up the creepy factor.  It was all in good fun, a night punctuated by a classic hard rock sound, which, along with Pursun’s psychedelic introduction, provided audience members a nostalgic experience.  These guys can fucking play.  Go see them and bow for Lucifer’s Son!

RATING:  5/5

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R40 Tour, A Fitting (unofficial) Farewell to Rush

On Thursday, May 14, I had to fight through bums, transportation “technical difficulties,” and nosebleed woes to see Rush’s R40 tour stop in St. Louis.  Man, was it worth it.

There’s a certain vibe you get during the pre-show hype of a concert.  Questions quickly take over.  From, “What songs will they play?” to “Do they still have it?” to “$9.00 for a beer? Are you shitting me?”  As my nose wrinkled to the skunky smells with hints of body odor, I knew, I just knew Rush was going to succeed in all three categories.  Well, maybe the first two.  The third is just an unfortunate circumstance.  Somehow, in the back of my head, I never dwelt on the fact that Rush would most likely never be back, that, after the show, classic rock stations would bow down, then move on to the next “big” thing, like fucking Sammy Hagar coming back for the millionth time.  God, if I had a dollar for every time St. Louis praised Sammy Hagar…That’s besides the point.

Rush 2Soon after taking this photo, a pair of drunk fans asked if I was lost (like a child), while a bum inquired for a couple of ‘doobies.’  

Then, Neil Peart opened “The Anarchist.” I felt connected, all questions, all hype, all expectations diminished in those first few seconds.  And I realized, that was going to be it.  It was a bittersweet moment, really.  As expected, Rush came out with the stage presence they trademarked: quirky production pieces, well timed audience interaction, flashy solos and tasteful improvisations.  The entire production was showy, as you’d expect from a band as successful as Rush, but never felt like a distraction. The last time Rush came to St. Louis, they had a similar stage setup to R40, in that the design focused on a steam punk, industrial theme. However, the band removed the more showy elements to create a more intimate, retrospective design.

Each part of the stage fit into the show in one way or another.  Of course, Geddy’s traditional stage filler was a mix of jokes only he and the other band members understood.  It’s well known that Lee prefers venues’ PA systems over traditional amplifiers, favoring overwhelming over isolated sound.  To cover up the space, Lee throws in some ‘add-ins,’ such as washing machines or — I think I saw in the Rush in Rio DVD — rotisserie chickens.  For the R40 tour, the thunder god displayed a popcorn maker, phonograph, and some chemical tanks or something or another, I couldn’t tell.

Don’t worry, there’s a point to this overblown description of set pieces.  As I said, each piece had meaning.  The show moved through each era of the band, and in the background, the moving men from Moving Pictures slowly converted the stage props to objects representing their respective time period.  Once we reached the halfway point, the stage drop revealed classic production values, complete with old school amplifiers, light setups — which, in turn, were slowly taken away as the band reached their humbler days — and Neil Peart’s retro, 2112 drum kit.  A beautiful, cohesive effort from all associated with the Rush brand.  Notice, I said brand, not band.  The other guys deserve credit too, you know!

SETLIST SPOILER ALERT!

Loo at that. 500 words in and I’m just now getting into the actual performance.  Silly me.  Rush, as they’ve done for years, split their R40 show into two sets.  Starting with Clockwork Angels and going backwards, the band covered years of music with attention to detail and respect for their fans.  Both casual listeners and hardcore fans were pleased, hits and epics aplenty.  There were two main highlights of the show.  The first, at least for me, was the band’s rendition of “Headlong Flight.”  The live version, thanks in part to Peart and Lifeson’s solos, blew the studio version out of the water.

On the vocals side, Geddy’s voice shaped up well since his last St. Louis appearance, as evident in his consistent wail during “Flight[‘s]” higher moments.  The man sure can sing for his age.  He even powered through “Closer to the Heart,” and if you know that song — which you should. If not, why are you even reading this? — you surely know the ability required to sing it.  Performance wise, Geddy and Alex moved about the stage constantly, adding in solos here and there to get the crowd going.  Meanwhile, Neil Peart worked his magic behind his more elaborate kit, the larger, more expansive monster used in his later years.  The fills, the precision, the power, the groove, Neil Peart hit the opening set with a mission.

The other highlight — this is kind of a cheat, but oh well — is the entire second set.  It was a Rush fan’s dream, spanning epics and hits from the 70’s.  And you know how much RFTOS loves 70’s Rush.  Leading in with a fun little video, punctuated by a classic South Park scene, the opening of “Tom Sawyer” shook the venue.  You might’ve thought the whole crowd shit their pants. What a moment. The band was electric, Geddy and Lifeson leading the musical charge towards Peart’s cathartic, and might I say classic, drum solo.  But that meant nothing to the scale of Peart’s official solo closing “Cygnus X-1.” Prepare for some pretension. Ready? Let’s go!

The axemen cleared and Peart worked his kit at center stage.  Now, let’s put this into perspective.  This is not Neil’s 1,000 piece behemoth.  This is his 70’s-style drum set, enclosed with a few toms, a snare, a couple kicks, some symbols, chimes, and a gong. But the sound, the sound he emoted during his “Cygnus” solo was enormous.  A rainbow of lights combined on his set, making his presence almost spiritual, meditative.  Yes, at that moment, Neil Peart, you were a drumming god.  Okay, take your finger out of your mouth.  My fanboy moment is over.

The double neck guitar and bass came out for “Xanadu.” Yes, I’ll repeat that. The double neck guitar and bass came out!  Not to mention they played “Xanadu.”  The whole damn song! Geddy’s mature voice meshed well with the rendition, and Lifeson’s guitar came across cleanly, which was an issue during the earlier set, well, at least up in the sections the sound engineer says, “who cares” to.  I don’t know if the sound guys turned Geddy down, but for some reason the production’s mix was much cleaner after the intermission.  “2112” followed with the intensity you’d expect from “2112.”  For the encore, Rush came out with a minimal stage setup and pleased older fans with four songs from their earliest records, “Lakeside Park” from Caress of Steel, and “Anthem,” “What You’re Doing,” and the fitting “Working Man” from the band’s debut.

As “Working Man” hit its closing notes, the room exploded with chants, cheers, and thanks.  R40 is the way an anniversary tour should be composed.  Through its extensive, era-spanning setlist and clever stage production, the band said goodbye in the best way possible.  Who knows, maybe they’ll come around one more time.  From St. Louis, thank you, Rush, for your dedication to fans and contributions to the progressive rock genre.

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.

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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.

5 Days of Rush! Day 3

3.  Permanent Waves

Transitional albums. Most of the time overlooked, other times viewed as simply an excuse, a “hey, let’s cover the single with nonsensical, experimental tracks because we can” desperate attempt for direction.  Rush’s seventh LP, Permanent Waves, is an exception to this stigma, combining all of the bombast of Hemispheres and 2112 with the sentimental foreshadowing of their follow up monster, Moving Pictures.  The band, at this point, were at the peak of their epic phase, and with Permanent Waves, they reach further into the progressive genre, plugging in synthesizers and effects to magnify their already gigantic sound. With top notch musicianship, ambition, and energy, Lee, Lifeson, and Peart’s performance on the 1980 album stamped their place in progressive rock history.  Oh, and Permanent Waves earned the number 3 spot on 5 Days of Rush! Which, of course, is a more prestigious award!

I’ve always had a soft spot for this record.  Hell, my favorite Rush song, “Spirit of Radio” (yes, I know) is on the record and that automatically boosts its overall score a point or so. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, pacing is never an issue, complete with a balanced experience with both shorter, single-style tunes and longer, epic suites.  With such little time, the band creates enough complexity to make even the most hardcore prog fan flinch. “Jacob’s Ladder,” plods along — in a good way, of course — with complex fills (Peart never disappoints), melodic chords, and Geddy’s typical, multi-limb output.  Rush’s exploration with electronic influences start to emerge during the track’s midsection, complementing Lifeson’s staccato guitar nicely before exploding into the opening notes of “Entre Nous.”

Throughout the album, Lee’s keyboards never indulge, but create atmosphere.  That’s the way keyboards should be.  There’s never a moment where I sat back and rolled my eyes like I would for, say, a Dream Theater instrumental section.  No offense, prog metal gods. For a transional album, that is quite an achievement.  Using just the right amount of experimentation, Geddy Lee’s musicianship takes the wheel.  His bass performance is off the charts, as well.  Take “Free Will,” one of Rush’s more popular singles.  Those of you new to Rush, if you listen closely to the bass — which, I know is so hard to do in the first place, given its reputation — you’ll notice that Lee’s lines almost duel Peart’s grooves.  And if you know anything about Peart, that’s a feat within itself.  Not to mention the guy sings while hitting said lines.  If Geddy had another limb, he’d probably play rhythm guitar.  Just guess what that would sound like.

Credit: TimothyJ @Flikr

Credit: TimothyJ @Flikr

After this photo, Geddy Lee then proceeded to play “YYZ” on each bass/guitar with his toes.

Even after three reviews, I still feel like I’ve given Alex Lifeson the short straw.  It’s not disinterest, but rather an abundance of overwhelming talent across the board.  Again, how three men produce such a sound is awe inspiring.  Yet, it’s without a doubt that Lifeson’s riffs rest on the mantle of Rush’s discography.  So, why neglect such talent? Weird sounds, complex chords, harmonics, staccato, tremolo, punchy solos, his sound screams for more commentary.  On Permanent Waves, Lifeson shows off his more melodic talents, attacking when needed — see the intro riff to “Spirit of Radio” — but mostly sitting back for atmospheric purposes.  Not exactly his most ear splitting work, but the expression in his guitar deserves recognition. “Free Will” shows off his talents nicely.  His main riff travels time changes and chord changes flawlessly, all the while adding that much needed color to Rush’s rhythm section.

As previously stated, Permanent Waves places above Moving Pictures due to its balance.  With added influences, Rush knew exactly where they wanted their sound to go, all the while building on the sound they already established.  For example, “Natural Science,” and “Jacob’s Ladder” never feel like epic tracks, with seamless transitions and instrumental sections that keep the listener interested.  Also, taste.  Each element feels organic  The album discards formula and pushes the agenda, which is exactly what progressive rock stands for.  So, in this regard, Permanent Waves is a quintessential progressive album, a pioneering, and often overlooked production.

Rating: 4.75/5

Disclaimer: All rights, property, and content of the header image belongs to the artist.  Featured image found on http://www.2112.net/powerwindows/main/RushInspirations.htm. All rights, property, and content of the body image belong to TimothyJ on Flikr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/15572047@N00/4681643509. I, in no way, have used said images for profit.  Images shrunk for size.

5 Days of Rush!

Geddy Lee aerokay

Credit: Altalamotox

It’s only fitting that Reviews From the Other Side dedicates the week to one of progressive rock’s finest.  So, I’ve decided to review and discuss five of Rush’s quintessential albums.  At the end of the week, I don’t know, maybe I’ll post a top 10 of something or another.  And there’ll be a show review at some point, so stay tuned!

Either way, May 8 started what will most likely be Rush’s  last major tour, appropriately titled the R40 tour.  40 years of geeky, inspirational prog, played before millions of air drummers.  And then there’ll be me, strumming at my air bass, looking all proud like I’m the only one that notices the bass player.  Who am I kidding? Who doesn’t know what Geddy Lee is known for? Well, besides the mouse voice?  Okay, no more banter with myself. Let’s kick it off!

5.  Clockwork Angels

You’re probably thinking, “Why start with their newest album? Aged bands rarely ever drop average, let alone excellent albums!”  Sorry to bust your hypothetical bubble, but 2012’s Clockwork Angels highlights not only Rush’s maturity, but the band’s ability to adapt.  Within lies a heavy edge, an opportunity to follow the classic Rush formula, all the while pushing progressive rock and metal to their limit.  Speaking of which, I’ve always been mystified by metal’s immortalization of Rush.  Yes, they’re heavy — see “BU2B” on Clockwork Angels — and deal with more thought provoking lyrical themes, but the band never exactly emitted the metal attitude in their music. What’s the metal attitude? Well, it’s like obscenity.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Rush were always more of a hard rock turned progressive rock in lieu of Yes than a prog metal juggernaut. Clockwork Angels, however, changes that opinion drastically.  The albums melts faces, pummels chests, and waters eyes all at the same time.

Oh, and Neil Peart’s still got it.  Just look at his kit set up for the 2013 Clockwork Angels Tour.

Is that not the definition of nerdy, steam punk badassness?

The band meant business this time around.  Clockwork Angels opens with “Caravan,” a prelude of sorts to the concept of the album, courtesy of Neil Peart’s storytelling.  I don’t want to get too deep into the concept, but basically the album is a steam punk epic, following a high minded dreamer as he faces perils during his long travels. Kevin J. Anderson adapted the concept into a  novel if you’re interested in the full story.  “Caravan” does well as an introduction musically, highlighting strings and Geddy Lee’s still impressive vocals.

The musicianship is astonishing for three guys in their 60’s.  Alex Lifeson, for example, really comes through during “Carvan[‘s]” instrumental section, in which his guitar distorts an already weird soundscape.  Lifeson never really got the respect he deserved.  Sure, he’s won awards and is the guitarist of Rush, but talent-wise, he’s overlooked.  Hell, Reviews From the Other Side overlooked him in its  Top Ten Guitarists list.  Here, he comes out and drives the music onward.  Geddy provides some interesting bass lines, his fingers still throwing fire across his fret board.  The title track, “Seven Cities of Gold,” and “Headlong Flight” feature some of his best bass work.

And Peart, well, just look at that picture again.

After just a few seconds, it’s already apparent that Clockwork Angels suffers from average production.  The overall sound is notably compressed, which takes away from the general feel. I’m all for bass being brought forward, but at times, that’s all I can hear.  As a three piece, Rush is known for its larger than life sound.  Although instrumentally brilliant, the album sounds like three musicians playing together, taking away from their trademark blare.

That’s not to take away from the songwriting, however.  There isn’t a dull moment on the record.  Pushing and pulling at all the right places, listeners experience epics, hard rockers, power ballads.  There’s even a doomy track, “The Wreckers.” Experience can be looked at either as a breath of fresh air or a final exhale.  Luckily, Rush’s output on Clockwork Angels feels inspired by their experience rather than held down.  The aforementioned track, for example, highlights Peart’s heart wrenching, but reflective lyrics:

All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary of a miracle too good to be true/All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary everything in life you thought you knew/All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary, ’cause sometimes the target is you.

– Neil Peart, “The Wreckers,” Rush

Imagine those lyrics on Fly By Night.  Peart, throughout his lyrical career, laid down philosophy, fantasy, science fiction, but when it came to more emotional subjects, his writing bordered on preachy.  “The Wreckers” feels honest and relatable, abandoning fantasy for humanity.  Also, if Rush had a swansong, “The Garden” fits the bill perfectly with its beautiful message, lyrics, and melody.  During the bridge, Alex Lifeson cranks out his own High Hopes”-esque solo, which leads the album to a tearjerking finish.  “The Garden” may even be Rush’s most beautiful ballad, but that’s up to you guys.

So, what separates this album from the rest of Rush’s discography? How is such an averagely produced album ranked higher than, say, Subdivisions, Fly By Night, and A Farewell to Kings? Oh, spoiler alert!  Clockwork Angels is a statement, that the band lasts creatively in their post-maturity stage.  It embodies progressive rock, throwing convention — you know, the let’s write an acoustic album phase — out the door and embraces its audience wholeheartedly, defying expectations.  Maybe their last album, maybe not, but either way it accomplishes what it was made for.  And that has to be respected, especially from three guys who have worked creatively together their whole lives.

Rating: 4.5/5

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