without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
For the longest time, I've counted Caress of Steel among my favourite albums of Rush. It's far from being their best or most inspired (take your pick from any of the five albums that followed this for that accolade), but I'll never let up thinking that this was Rush at their most daring and risky. Even with two solid albums and an already-distinctive sound under their belts, underwhelming sales made their future look pretty bleak. The answer to this problem, of course, was to write music that would attract mass appeal. "Working Man" was a great rock anthem, even songs like "Fly By Night" and "In the Mood" were evidence of radio potential. That Rush decided to work against intuition and pack their third album with prog rock bombast at a time where the genre was falling out of favour is kind of amazing. The two ambitious epics packed into Caress of Steel pull no punches; in the face of commercial extinction, Rush didn't flinch. They stayed true to themselves, and refused to compromise where they wanted to go with their music.
What's more amazing still, is that I'm writing this at a time where Rush stands as one of the most profoundly successful bands in history. Even if they've never sought to strike FM waves and get popular, it happened anyway. Caress of Steel marks the first album where it truly sounds like Rush are getting truly comfortable with themselves. Fly By Night experimented with prog (see: "By-Tor & the Snow Dog") but never surrendered itself to the possibility that the band's future might lie in that approach. Caress of Steel still has some of the pop-oriented rock numbers that defined the first pair of albums, but they're dwarfed in significance by "The Necromancer" and "The Fountain of Lamneth", both of which rank among my favourite early Rush tracks. For the first time in their career (though far from the last), they had crafted a record with no weak links. Even the least impressive offering here, undoubtedly "I Think I'm Going Bald", serves an important role alongside "Lakeside Park" as an upbeat poppy contrast to the harrowing prog rock later on.
Of the three shorter pieces here, there's little doubt that "Bastille Day" is the strongest. It may not have been the nigh-unbeatable opener that "Anthem" was, but the fusion of energetic rock with the aristocratic pomp of its bridge section is particularly clever. "I Think I'm Going Bald" is decidedly less iconic; I can see why the tongue-in-cheek rocker doesn't get discussed much, but it's enjoyable and to-the-point. While there isn't much more than that to be said about the token pop song "Lakeside Park", it does strike me as a really effective use of time. In three minutes, Rush manage to transport the listener to a specific time and place; I've never been to Lakeside Park (and haven't visited Toronto in several years) but I get a crisp mental image of the place through their lyrics. It's a pleasant song for summertime. If the rest of the album were just like that, it probably wouldn't leave much of an impression, but it would be the perfect thing to put on when I needed a pick-me-up.
When it comes to the epics, Rush weren't so experienced with longform composition at this point. Yeah, "The Necromancer" is leisurely, maybe a little self-involved. "The Fountain of Lamneth" is a greater part episodic than naturally cohesive. But both of them are amazing. They're both rare cases of music that provide a gateway into another reality. Rush's vision of high fantasy is Tolkien-inspired to the point of feeling like a cheap knock-off (in a sense, they paved the way for generations of power metal bands) but it doesn't matter. Regardless whether the content isn't original, Rush make you believe in it. The gloomy psychedelic distortions in "The Necromancer" paint a grim picture of a wasteland where nothing grows. "The Fountain of Lamneth" is even more successful in this way; the epic revolves around a young man's search for immortality. The suite not only conveys his physical journey, but his emotional arc as well. When we first meet the hero, he is restless and confident ("In the Valley"). By the reprise, he is world-weary and tired, discouraged with the realization that reality often fails expectation. The music and lyrics work together to create a mental image just as vivid as "Lakeside Park". From a point of technical structure, Rush didn't create the sense of a completely coherent start-to-finish epic until the year after with "2112" (which stands among the most perfect prog epics ever) but the rough edges here are easy to overlook. Rush are all-too eager to take the listener on a journey, and I'm all-too eager to oblige them.
On a personal note, "The Fountain of Lamneth" had a powerful significance to me in my late childhood. I was having a tough time adjusting to my own realization that my dreams seemed made to be broken. I wanted to escape, to find my way beyond the nagging circumstances of my situation and, speaking now in hindsight, have what at the time was hideously implausible. Like the hero of "The Fountain of Lamneth", I struggled with the dissonance between reality and expectation. However, his final consolation struck a heavy note with me. "Still... I am." Instead of finding what he set out for, his quest awarded him the gift of perspective and maturity, to be thankful for the life he has himself. Even if the string of masterpieces reaching from this to Signals in 1982 might make Caress of Steel look primitive in comparison to some of Rush's other work, the album will always hold a special place with me.
Never mind the silly song titles, the unintelligible low-pitched narrator, or the contrived attempts at drama. The big problem with Caress of Steel is that it's just boring. I've given it a lot of attempts over the past 20 years, and, no matter how fresh my ears are, the album consistently fails on almost every level. In the context of Rush's career, the story of how this came about seems clear (even if it's all conjecture):
Young trio from Canada has a breakout hit with album #1, earn themselves a big record deal, replace their drummer. Album #2 is more ambitious, shows more promise, hints at greatness. New drummer is into sci-fi / fantasy in a big way, takes over the writing chores, which is fine with his geeky bandmates. They're all pretty young, smoke lots of pot, have read Tolkien a hundred times, listen to Yes and King Crimson over and over. "We can do shit like that!" they exclaim. Result: Caress of Steel, their most ambitious album yet, and an epic fail both critically and commercially.
The opener, Bastille Day, is basically the only song on the album worth listening to, a big tease since the album just goes downhill from there. The first three tracks mark the end of their classic rock era, which is odd for an LP- they basically switch from Zepplin-wannabes to bad Genesis clones halfway through the first side, but whatever. It's what comes next that's the issue, as Side A closes with the best evidence punk music would need in their case against the pretensions of prog rock: The Necromancer, which is actually three D&D-style songs glued together by a narrator who's voice has been pitched down so low, it's impossible to understand a damn thing he's saying. Spinal Tap couldn't have written a better gag. Part 3 (or should I say, Return of the Prince) is even more egregious as it steals the main guitar riff from the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane outright- but uses it to create the exact kind of thing the Velvets hated. Take that, Lou Reed!
The Fountain of Lamneth takes up all of Side B. I have no idea who Lamneth is, let alone what Narpets are, or what Panacea and Bacchus have to do with the narrative, but it's all in there, apparently. Which would be fine, if the music was strong- that's the problem. Yes was equally ridiculous in their lyrics and imagery, but Close to the Edge (which is just as long as this plodding mess) is musically brilliant- even today, it's beyond what most bands have ever achieved. Clearly, Rush wanted to create a gigantic, epic masterpiece, but they had no idea how. Just going from loud to soft to loud again doesn't cut it; neither does throwing in a bunch of syncopated guitar riffs that bounce between two notes and contribute nothing to your ear. People who claim that this was the first progressive metal album have no idea what they're talking about- just one year earlier, King Crimson had released their dark masterpiece, Red, an influential record that remains one of the heaviest albums of all time- and they're not even a "metal" band. Next to that, Caress of Steel is like three 10-year-olds playing "grown up". It's a cute try, but you just can't take its sound or compositions seriously.
The Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage gives the impression that this was a misunderstood artistic achievement ahead of its time which almost killed the band off. I'm sure the latter half of that statement is true, and if it was the stumble they needed to get to that next level, then great. They've certainly proven their abilities, and everyone has to start somewhere. But on its own, Caress of Steel is pretty awful, and useful only as a vital piece to a historical musical puzzle. Listen to it as a history student and you'll be fine.
Rush dip their fingers into the holy water of prog and come out with a often misunderstood slab of rock. Everything you would come to know of Rush peeps out for the first time and shows its potential. Though this isn't the Rush we would all later know and love this record is definitely worth hearing to see where it all began.
The album kicks off with a great rock/bluesy riff in "Bastille Day" which all in all is a pretty good song. Some good riffs present themselves with Geddy Lee's supportive bass playing along with Neils precise drumming makes this song worth hearing.Throwing in some odd times here and there for prog's sake. This track has some nice cheerful energy and keeps the song moving without tiring itself out. A nice solo ends the song for a good wrapping and makes the song seem somewhat complete.
Following is the more "retro Rush" song, "I Think I'm Going Bald". This is easily the weakest song on the whole album. The whole blues set up and ridiculous lyrics makes it hard for me to take seriously. The riffs are okay i guess, typical blues stuff that you've probably heard before. Towards a middle there is strange solo that seems kinds of out of place. It doesn't necessarily fit the song too well or really sound good at all. All of this combined make a really weak track.
"Lakeside Park" makes up for the previous track by giving a great ballad like structure that is very chill. Lee also shows some cool independent bass lines here that make the whole laid-back feel even better. Peart's drumming is very laid-back as well. Making a tight pocket for a great chorus and verse. Peart also throws out some nice rolls in this track that fit well. Overall great track, best one on the first side in fact.
On to the first of two epics, "The Necromancer". This song totally kicks ass. Opening with, "Into the Darkness", a deepened voice over from Peart, and along with a great slow, clean chord progression, set up a good atmosphere for the rest of the song. Lee's scared voice tell the story of journeying on into darkness, which fit perfectly with the music. The song then makes a dramatic change into a dark murky blues riff that fucking rules. The rest of the song follows the same setup and makes this album totally worth your money.
The second epic, "The Fountain of Lamneth", though a truly great epic can kind of seem like five 4 minutes song played one after another with loosely connected lyrics. All in all this is the best track on the album showing Rush's true potential has prog artists. "In the Valley" has a great opening acoustic intro that fits well and the lyrics also tell a great tale of a man traveling to the mountains to visit the Fountain of Lamneth. There are some really enjoyable parts in this 20 minute epic. Like the slow parts on, "In the Valley" and "No One at the Bridge" which have some amazing clean guitar work, and fantastic vocal lines.A very great solo also makes its way into "No One at the Bridge". Not to forget Peart's great drum solo between the two, "Didacts and Narpets". Though it can be underwhelming it shows Peart's ability to roll quick and accurate 16ths and triplet rolls. "Panacea" and "Bacchus Plateau" feel like 2 completely different songs that have almost nothing to do with the epic other than maybe the lyrics. Not to say these are good parts they just feel thrown in and out of place. Following a reprisal of "In the Valley" the song ending feeling awkward and slightly incomplete as if they didn't know how to properly end the song.
In the end this is an experimental record in Rush's career and they seem to miss the mark in a few parts but it doesn't completely take away from this great record. This is a must have for any fan looking to see Rush's transformation into maturity and them trying new things.
Favorite Tracks: The Necromancer, The Fountain of Lamneth
Least Favorite Tracks: I Think I'm Going Bald
Caress of Steel is the album that almost killed Rush. Upon its release it was lambasted by critics, ignored by most fans and drew the ire of record executives. There are some legitimate reasons why Caress of Steel received such a negative response. It is musically inconsistent, has an awkward flow and lacks an overarching vision. It starts with three straight-forward rock songs and ends with two massive prog rock epics. The first three songs tackle pragmatic and worldly subjects, while the later two tracks delve into fantastical and allegorical stories. The short songs are musically direct and emotionally simple while the latter two tracks are demanding in every sense of the word.
Thus, Caress of Steel is an album that simply cannot be looked at as a whole, because it’s two elements are so disparate. This is somewhat true of Rush’s next album, 2112, whose Side A consists of one 20 minute epic and Side B contains five short, catchy rockers. However, on 2112 there is at least stylistic consistency between the two sides (similar style of riffs, lyrical themes etc.), even if the song structures are worlds apart. In contrast, Caress of Steel is all over the place, both musically and thematically. This is especially true of the short songs, which sound totally different from one another. “Bastille Day” is a fast-paced, fiery cut of hard rock that has an inspired sing-along chorus. Geddy Lee’s elaborate bass-lines are prominent, though Alex Lifeson’s regal guitar melody on the chorus is also unforgettable. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is arguably the worst song Rush released prior to 1987. The song is a tongue-in-cheek blues-rock piece that throws the finger up at aging. The music is stale and the witless lyrics are some of Neil Peart’s worst. “Lakeside Park” is a mellow, groovy piece that creates a nostalgic atmosphere through a series gentle guitar melodies and dreamy rhythms. While tracks 1 and 3 are actually very strong, they feel totally out of place standing next to the leviathan tracks that follow them. In all likelihood these songs were tossed on the album for the sake appeasing record company execs with some radio-friendly material.
Caress of Steel is defined by the two epics that make up almost three-fourths of the album. These songs are revolutionary for their interweaving of soft and heavy sounds, and dark and light moods to create labyrinthine emotional journeys. Both the song structures and the individual arrangements are very complex. These are difficult pieces to break into. They are not loaded the glorious hooks of other Rush epics such as “2112” and “Hemispheres.” Nonetheless, these songs will reward the listener who takes the time to become familiar with their intricate terrains.
“The Necromancer” is a twelve-minute, three part suite. It tells the story of a land where people have lost their freedom and will power under the reign of the evil Necromancer. In Part I, three travelers hunt for the Necromancer in his forest, hoping to defeat him and regain their freedom. The music is gentle but dreary and spooky, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of a dark, foreboding forest. Lee’s vocals are full of a fatalistic sorrow and Lifeson’s bluesy solo provides a palpable sense of impending doom. In Part II, the travelers are captured by the Necromancer and taken to his torture chamber. This section is exceptionally dark and heavy for 1975, rivaling Black Sabbath’s most evil moments. The bass and drums provide a low, doomy foundation over which Lifeson delivers a series wicked, menacing leads that bite at the listener like the various whips and chains of the torture chamber. Lee’s vocals are harsh and grating; at times he flirts with abandoning himself to sheer screams. Part II begins at the pace of a funeral procession, but eventually reaches a blistering tempo with all three musicians executing slashing, technical progressions with riveting precision. Part II is ground breaking: the harsh vocals, evil atmosphere and combination of speed and technicality provide the blueprint for much of the metal that emerged during the following decades. In Part III, By-Tor, the antagonist from Fly by Night’s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” returns, this time as the hero, and expels the Necromancer from the land, allowing the citizens regain their freedom and will power. The music is pure psych-folk bliss, full of sweet and joyous vocals and guitar solos.
“The Fountain of Lamneth” is even longer and more structurally complex. It is a six part, twenty minute suite that tells the story of a man’s lifelong journey to the fountain of youth. The song is heavily allegorical and explores humanity’s insatiable desire for immortality and the ultimate isolation of the individual in the journey through life, especially in the face of death. In his pursuit of immortality, the protagonist must endure social ostracism, abandonment by friends, the loss of love and the exhaustion that comes with old age. The hand of death looms large throughout the composition, sprinkling even the most upbeat moments of the composition with a sense of morbidity.
Though “The Fountain of Lamneth” is an engrossing journey, it is not as consistent as “The Necromancer”. Part II, which is essentially a drum solo accompanied by a few harsh screams and heavy riffs is kind of cool when taken in isolation, but is disruptive to the overall flow of the composition. Part IV explores themes of love, sensuality and romance. As usual, things get ugly when Rush touch on the subject of women. The music is overly saccharine and Lee’s vocals sound like a sorry excuse for a medieval madrigal. Still, the brilliant moments heavily outweigh the weaker ones. Part III weaves back and forth between dark, jazzy, prog rock and crunching heavy metal (a section that Opeth has replicated ad infinitum). Part V creates a wonderful tension by accompanying joyous psychedelic rock with exhausted and depressing lyrics, creating the aura of a final Bacchic celebration before death. The opening and closing acoustic passages contain some of Lee’s most moving vocals, combing a sense of awe and wonder with profound pain. Overall, “The Fountain of Lamneth” might not be as accessible as Rush’s other sidelong tracks but once you break through, it's theme of mortality will resonate deeply.
It’s impossible to call Caress of Steel a great album because the songs are so distant from each other, both musically and conceptually. However, “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth” are groundbreaking compositions that set the bar for countless progressive rock and metal bands. Beyond influence, they are intrinsically powerful works of art that might have been too experimental for the majority in 1975, but sound surprisingly fresh today. Even if you ignore tracks 1-3, the final two tracks are essential listening for fans of progressive rock and metal.
Originally written for deinoslogos.wordpress.com
Rush had abandoned their unbridled Led Zeppelin worship and plunged into uncharted prog metal waters on Fly By Night, so when the first song on Caress of Steel - Bastille Day - is yet another Zep tribute, it bodes ill for the rest of the album. Sure enough, Caress of Steel represents an awkward compromise between commercial rockin' out and progressive metal excess. Both aspects of the album are critically flawed;; the band don't really seem interested in the shorter songs, whilst the prog epics suffer from Rush's compositional chops not quite keeping pace with their ambition.
Of the shorter songs, Bastille Day is the Zep imitator as mentioned, I Think I'm Going Bald is an equally unoriginal and uninspired riff on Goin' Blind by Kiss, and Lakeside Park is entirely forgettable. As for the prog pieces, the Necromancer pads out its running time with an overlong narration at the beginning, takes too long to build up steam, and isn't that impressive what it does. The Fountain of Lamneth, similarly, pads out its runtime with far too much filler and compares poorly to the sidelong epic on the next album, 2112, which it occasionally sounds like working sketches for.
Ultimately, Caress of Steel is what's called a "transitional" album, that being music reviewer code for an album which tries to go for two different sounds at once and fails to accomplish either of them. Probably worth a listen if you're a major Rush fan, but don't expect it to supplant 2112 or its successors in your collection any time soon.
Here it is, folks. The first ever "progressive metal" record, and consequently, one of the greatest. Listening to this album is like being granted a free passport to boob land, finding a 100 dollar bill in the parking lot of your local Wendy's, smoking crack cocaine, fucking Jocelin Donahue (star of "House of the Devil", if you were wondering), and listening to Pestilence's "Testimony of the Ancients" all in the same night. Yeah, and it's still not their best album!
If you've ever listened to Rush's first two albums (1974's "Rush" and 1975's "Fly By Night"), then you'll probably be aware of how they were oozing with a strong, happy, confident spirit still unmatched in the progressive rock genre (the band 3 came very close with "The End is Begun" in 2007, but still, close but no cigar). Well, "Caress of Steel", also released in '75, features this spirit as well, but featuring elements which perfectly foreshadow what was to come with the band's legandary opus, "2112" (released in 1976). The music could best be described as a fusion of speed metal and prog rock, with influence from punk, jazz, ambient, blues, and who knows what else shining through.
The opening three numbers serve as the first "half" of the album, all being more upbeat, happier tracks in the vein of the previous albums, and all three are absolutly stunningly awesome. Alex Lifeson's riffs and solos are generally the focus of these tracks, and because of this, some of his greatest ideas are to be heard (the solo 1:35 into "Lakeside Park", for instance is extremly memorable and adds alot to the overall atmosphere of the track). This is not to say, though, that Geddy Lee and Neil Peart don't shine. Geddy's vocals are amazing as always, while his bass playing is more technical than in the past. Neil Peart, as one of the best drummers out there, will obviously shine in any instance, but I'll refrain from really talking about him very much until I cover his well, his thing...Anyway, the aforementioned "spirit" plays a bigger part during this part, with "I Think I'm Going Bald" appearing (on the outside, at least ;D) like a perfect fit for their debut, with some chunkier, heavier riffs showing through, though there is a stronger progressive influence at play than before. As well, let's not forget the speed metal number found in "Bastille Day", which remains to this day one of (but not the) greatest tracks on the album. This is often considered one of the band's signature songs, and there's no question why. It's the perfect opener for the album, featuring a fuckload of energy and some of Geddy Lee's best basslines (seriously, that chorus has some killer bass)!
The second half consists of two epic tracks, "The Necromancer" and "The Fountain of Lamneth". This is where the whole band really begins to shine, with each member working together to create some of the best music imaginable. "The Necromancer" is certainly darker and more ominous than anything the band had created up to this point, and it really shows how strongly the band has matured. Neil and Geddy provide the rhythm much more often here, while Alex Lifeson shreds away some of the best solos of his career (that I'm aware of). I mean, just listen to that solo about 10:28 in...holy fuck, that's how it's done folks. That's all I have to say about that.
Now we're onto the greatest song on the album, and likely one of Rush's best tracks, "The Fountain of Lamneth", which lasts 19:58. Were Rush normal human beings, this song would normally be the result of a band creating a time machine and going into the future, stealing the best ideas they would ever make, then coming back and recording what they find. But we all know that this is not the case, so the most I can say is that it's truly magnificent. The emphasis on contributions from all members is emphasised even moreso here than on "The Necromancer", with Alex Lifeson delivering some truly magnificent riffs (i.e. 13:42), Geddy Lee supplying the killer basslines and some amazing vocals, and Neil Peart being, well, Neil Peart, and giving us one of the most insane drum solos he's ever done about four minutes in (and considering how good of a drummer he is, that's saying alot!!). I don't want to ruin anything for you, but please realize that while the length may seem a bit excessive, every second is essential and just as important as the last (even the little bits of silence between the parts add alot of suspense for someone like me). If you're a fan of "Rivendell" from "Fly By Night", you'll find there's a little treat waiting for you about halfway through.
Well, I probably shouldn't go any deeper into how great this album truly is, I'll leave that to you. I'd suggest this to fans of Rush in general, especially people who dig the first two albums the most! Buy it today or miss out on some of the best progressive metal ever released.
Caress of Steel is probably the most panned album in Rush’s discography. Nestled in between the classic Fly by Night and the absolute masterpiece that is 2112, Caress is often seen as underdeveloped and overextended, an album the band were not yet experienced enough to pull off properly. In many ways, this is absolutely true: Rush could have made this magnificent. But it’s not terrible for what it is, that being a perplexing amalgam of 70’s rock, prog, psychedelic, and folk that might just pleasantly surprise the hardcore fan of old-school Floyd, Tull, and Yes.
The first hurdle one has to clear to get into this album properly is the production. It’s immediately evident after a few seconds that this is not as crisp and clear as the previous two albums were, but it does a nice job in making this thing sound absolutely ancient. There’s something about a mustier sound that really adds to the fantasy element presented in the lyrics. But anyway, once you get used to it, you’ll find that the band still sounds really good. Alex Lifeson does rip into some fantastic leads on here, but much of his playing on here is acoustic, which is where the folk influence really starts to show. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of hard rocking riffage, with his great pre-synth-era guitar tone. Also as expected, Getty Lee’s voice is sublime through most of this, with maybe one or two high wails that he sounds like he’s struggling to reach, and his bass playing is as superb as ever. And of course Neal Peart provides the ultimate rhythm section to every song on here, with a little screwing around in “Didacts and Narpets.” But the band’s quality of performance is to be expected, as it’s the songwriting that is the problem here, not the players.
The album starts off quite well, the first three songs of standard length and not sounding too far removed from Fly by Night material. “Bastille Day” is a fantastic rocker with a marvelously catchy chorus, definitely one of the highlights for any Rush fan. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is the last song to carry the spirit of their debut, rocking just as hard as any of those songs did. “Lakeside Park” is refreshing and mellow and an easy shoe-in for second best song on here, with some of the album’s more thoughtful lyrics. The album starts to unravel a bit with the epics that follow these. “The Necromancer” has a lot of cool ideas rhythmically, but Peart’s lyrical accompaniment is somewhat corny, especially the narration before each of the three parts. This detracts a bit from the song, which is a shame, as there are some pretty heavy passages. Album closer “The Fountain of Lamneth” is even more epic, clocking in at over twenty minutes. Rush fans be wary: just because you love the 2112 Suite doesn’t mean you’ll be quick to embrace this metaphorical tale. This is the half of the album that will take the longest to grow on you, especially if you’re not much for the brunt of 70’s progressive music. I won’t attempt to provide any lyrical interpretation, but the song itself is very dynamic, sweeping from soothing acoustic passages to Rush’s traditional heavier soundscapes and everything in between. This is very Floydian at times relying heavily on mood and tone as the various parts flow through one another. But again, this is no 2112: the lyrics are a lot denser and deeply bathed in symbolism, while the transitions between chapters aren’t nearly as fluid. Also notable: on the cassette version I have, “Didacts and Narpets” and “I Think I’m Going Bald” are switched in the tracklist, showcasing the awkwardness of the former very early in the album and effectively destroying the complete flow of the final epic by the addition of the latter. This is almost exclusively fodder for the truest of prog fans, those that think Tales from Topographic Oceans is far more breathtaking than pretentious and/or those that think the Atom Heart Mother Suite is among that band’s finest works.
In conclusion, my first impression of Caress of Steel, coming off a steady diet of Hemispheres, was decidedly negative, but the album has fast grown on me. Most of its problems are superficial, as the album is still effective in engrossing the listener in its symbolist realm. It’s not necessarily a casual listen, but most rewarding albums tend not to be anyway.
Third time out and now Rush is out to complete the creative head dive into progressive rock. A hard working band at this point with Caress of Steel quickly following on the heels of Fly by Night in the same year, and overall their third album in only two years.
Some of the Zeppelin influences can still be heard, but this release sees the real stretching of muse for the young band. Not only does this album contain another story piece in “The Necromancer”, but a second such piece in “The Fountain of Lamneth” that clocks in just shy of 20 minutes to become the first of three Rush epics to comprise an entire side of vinyl.
This release is a hit or miss affair that takes a number of spins to warm to, but still is not saved from the skip button at times. This is an album by prog lovers, for prog lovers, that loses everyone else within its metaphors and complexity; the band embracing their passion of progressive music, but at the cost of passion at times. Complexity and composition trumping some of the live hard rocking felt on the previous two releases. Notably the darkest album of the bands discography, the tone is deep with textures of cerebral engagement – Hookah not included. Simply put, if you like to band your head, there is only one track to even contemplate it on, the rest more suited to a mystics smoking room where stories of yore and metaphysics abound.
That being said, there is still much to find for the patient listener. The drumming is, of course, top notch and the guitars range from acoustics to heavy, while the lyrics run the gauntlet of philosophic to even a bit silly.
The album opens up in the opposite extreme from all such criticism however with the speed driven “Bastille Day”, a great song with solid riffs, great percussive hammering, and lyrics wonderfully set to the French Revolution. In fact this classic would open many live shows for several tours. From here things downturn a bit to “I Think I’m going Bald” and “Lakeside Park”. Mid paced tunes that are decent but somewhat forgettable; “Bald” being more of a band inside joke on guitarist Lifeson for his concern over his hair. Side one ends with the three part Necromancer, actually a bit of an adaptation of Lord of the Rings with creative literary license filing off the serial numbers. The necromancer in the tale is another name of Sauron, the travelers are the hobbits, while the hero is the return of By-Tor from the previous album to save the day. I do not know why he is a hero now. Its odd and I have yet to hear a reason or figure out why. The narration is oddly monotone requiring a bit of getting use to, but the song overall is good as the music succeeds in being deep and dark. Nice solo work in the second part shows Rush stretching their chops successfully, and the acoustic work in the final part works well to denote the hero winning. “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” it is not, but still good stuff all around.
But the epic song pieces don’t end there, as “The Fountain of Lamneth” goes coast to coast on side two. Lyrically, the song is a deep philosophic journey of a man’s life through the metaphor of him searching for the fountain of youth. This one comes in six parts. The whole affair falls short at times with some parts being better than others, as if the craft of writing the lyrics bogs down the music, stifling it under its weight. Not a bad piece of muse, but not great either, and at the end of the day a 20 minute epic that dominates half of a release needs to pull its weight better than that.
The odd man out for a great early discography, Caress of Steel requires a few spins to appreciate. You can see the growing pains and the direction the band is going. Despite some solid moments it fails as a follow up to the excellent Fly by Night. It is really an album for progressive fans; leaving non-believers a bit, dare I say it - Bored. If you like progressive rock, and can get a good price on it, test its murky waters yourself. You’ll find some good songs worthy of making it part of your collection. If you don’t like progressive, then you’re better off moving past this release to clearer waters, and at some point a Rush compilation CD with Bastille Day on it.
Very, very nearly there. Rush's prog flirtings would soon properly come to fruitition but they still had a hurdle or two to get over. This is one of the least popular 70s albums, and admittedly probably is one of the weakest, but that's not saying much seeing as at this time Rush were still owning left, right and centre.
These ones get slated by prog fans for their unwillingness to let go their hard rock roots, but this kicks off in fine fashion. "Bastille Day" was used to open their live shows with for years after this album was released and it's not hard to see why. It's an uptempo rocker that makes full use of the band's synergy and developing songwriting abilities. It maximises the turbulence of revolution into an almost epic structure with stellar instrumentation throughout.
"I Think I'm Going Bald" is the last gasp of the first album's heavy Zeppelin inspiration and as such isn't bad. It's Rush after all and it's funny to see this laid back and simple structure get set upon by Neil Peart, who brings strange OTT moments to it. "Lakeside Park" is really relaxed and breezy with it's gentle acoustic guitar lines and Geddy's carefree vocals. This one moves about the place in complicated Rush fashion but it's subtle and the feel is never lost within the changes.
"The Necromancer", in three parts, is probably their most flaccid attempt at an epic. Each section is musically fine but shockingly unmemorable as a whole. It's underwhelming placed next to the might of "2112" and the cheesy narration really kills it off. "The Fountain of Lamneth" follows with twice as many parts and being almost twice as long (very nearly a whooping 20 minutes!) to boot. It's much better than the previous but lacks the natural flow from one part to the next that "2112" perfected. Now, both really were in essence 6 and 7 little songs plastered together, but "2112" just felt right in it's moves from one to the next and even felt, if abstractly, like it was a perfect whole. They explore their British symphonic prog fixations a bit further here, and the Yes-isms are loud and proud. They never forget to break out the hard rocking groove and I can't fault any of the performance. It's just very tame in comparison to what they'd let loose in the next few years. That said, "Panacea" and "Bacchus Plateau" are the highlights of 6 parts that move between light and dark moments very often.
Geddy once said of this period: "You could just smell the hash oil coming off us" or something like that. Well I don't know if they were taking too much or too little but this album could might have benefitted one way or the other.
Most bands do their best work within their earliest recordings, when the passion burns hottest and the music flows most freely. Most bands, however, are not tinkering away in isolation on a type of music never (or only circuitously) heard previously. Rush did not really manage to capture the elusive essence of their sound until their fourth record and even then took an additional two records to inch their way to the creative zenith of the early 80’s. No, Rush has no Sad Wings of Destiny or Ride the Lightning to shake the collective consciousness of the music world and even their first convincing testament to progressive metal (2112) is often a shaky affair. But in spite of the lack of a real lightning rod, watershed album it is still worthwhile to take a look at the murky meanderings on Rush’s first three platters and specifically here on A Caress of Steel.
More so than the bouncier and generally lighter Fly By Night, A Caress of Steel can make a case as the first progressive metal LP. It would be difficult to call an album with one twenty minute track comprising side two anything but progressive and the metal quotient is certainly quite respectable, but this bares little resemblance to the prog metal of today. The album is quite jammy and certainly in a technical headspace, but its more of the pastoral 60’s drenched sound of Jethro Tull or The Moody Blues crossed with the chops of Yes, and perhaps with a touch of Procol Harem’s class and The Who’s wild heart. However, there are certain elements of the core sound that are present here, as well as paths that have since become weed-choked and overgrown from disuse. The acoustic passages on this album are positively ethereal, folksy and often melancholic. The subtle shading here is above and beyond the scope of the great majority of bashers who would follow outside of freak mutations such as Opeth, and here they are allowed to dominate. I’d conservatively estimate that half of Caress is acoustic. Rush would later cultivate these magical musics and integrate it more smoothly with the rest of their sound; here the about-faces seem downright amateurish at times.
The metal here is thumping and enthusiastic, utterly 70’s in sound. You wouldn’t guess that the riffic pyrotechnics of 2112 were immediately forthcoming by listening to Caress because everything here is low-slung and Sabbatherian. “Bastille Day” does brisk business, but lacks the Purple flavour that signifies speed metal heritage, and “I Think I’m Going Bald” is no more (and no less!) than dirty blues played loud, distorted, and half-cocked. But look ye at the second part of “The Necromancer” (“Under the Shadow”) and savour the death-shrouded Zep-improving trick-flipping funk metal, the raw and raspy Geddy vocal, the bass-driven groove riff. When Alex cranks the guitar on that sucker, it’s as mosh worthy as any riff of the early 70’s. The stop-start timing of that tight riffset is impressive, but what follows is more so. Sabbath fastbreak section with a total neoclassical shred solo o’er top around the seven and a half minute mark that leads into a brief neckwrecking riff at 8:30. Pause the CD. Rewind that riff. Hardest riff in metal as of 1975? Were it longer the likes of “Symptom of the Universe” would quake in their boots.
So, why 69/100? Well, quite frankly, Rush just aren’t good enough to get everything right yet. “The Necromancer” which consists of awesome psych-y space rock (“Into the Darkness”), crushing metal (“Under the Shadow”), and uplifting Wishbone Ash-style acoustic rock (“Return of the Prince”) manages to shoot itself right in the foot by including a good two minutes of NARRATION by some guy who sounds like he’s been smoking pot since roughly 1968. This dope is outright gutbusting to people who don’t know the album and the number one cause of strokes for people who try to take this thing seriously. There are three interludes wherein the ‘plot’ is explained for us, completely breaking the flow of the piece and eternally maiming what should have been an evergreen Rush classic. And try not to laugh when Geddy starts yowling about Prince By-Tor. My lord.
The song construction is incredibly bizarre to boot. There are two drum solos here that burst out of nowhere (one is actually titled, “Didacts and Narpets”) and sound like crap because the bass drum sounds totally hollow. And good luck listening to “Fountain of Lamneth” is one sitting. There are a number of good-to-excellent parts such as “In the Valley” and the sublime “No One at the Bridge” which manages to capture a feel not unlike what Priest achieved on much of the Sad Wings LP. And that solo… my God. But while I’m thanking you for that, I must confess God… those long mellow acoustic sections are damnably hard to keep straight. There isn’t enough variation here, and worse, “Lakeside Park” and “The Necromancer” also contain similar acoustic sections. All this adds up to is a lot of déjà vu. It feels like a sin to condemn the music box-like beauty of “Panacea” as I listen to it now, but will I remember it an hour from now? Sadly, the answer is no.
In short, A Caress of Steel is a curiosity for Rush fans, and those few of you here who have an affection for 60’s folk and progressive rock. A beautiful, crafted, and surprisingly farsighted curiosity at times… but a curio nonetheless.
Stand-Outs: “Under the Shadow”, “No One at the Bridge”, “I Think I’m Going Bald”
[Note: Generally I take songs like “Fountain of Lamneth” as one song, but here I’d be recommending more than half of the album with my standard three-song stand-out list, so I went sectional. So there.]
[Note the Second: Check out the liners for the CD reissue. Are those lyrics impossible to read or what? Reprinting the original jacket is fine, but bump up that font-size damn you!]