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It's rare that a band makes a comeback on the scale that Rush has. Only Overkill and Aerosmith can match them in this regard. The music found on this album ranks among Rush's best works ever, and that already is a quite impressive body of work. Their last album, 2007's very good Snakes and Arrows, it seemed that Rush was going to be next in the line of classic rockers ready to make an album on the level of their classic works, but no one could have predicted a success on this scale.
Clockwork Angels follows the story of a boy following his dreams, against the wishes of the authoritarian ruler that goes by the name of "Watchmaker". This story is somewhat similar to the story found on 2112, a person fighting against their authoritarian rulers. Here however, the whole album tells the story, not just a single song. The story here is interesting, but I found myself forgetting it just enjoying the music, so don't expect this to be deep and engaging as on albums such as "The Wall" from Pink Floyd. Still, if you want, the story IS good enough, and worthy to be paid attention to if you wish.
The real star here is the music, and oh boy is it the STAR. The music is a combination of their blues rock beginnings and their progressive rock 70's. This is a style that is quite rare, and never ever done this well. It walks the fine line between hard rock and heavy metal. Songs such as the opener, Carvan, are very riff centered. There are acoustic moments present on this album, but for the large majority of the record Alex Lifeson's electric guitar roars and the album has a very metallic feel to it, although I wouldn't quite call it metal.
The songs work awesomely both as a part of the album and on their own, something many songs from concept albums don't do. This makes this a body of work, you'll return to both in your home for a dedicated music session, and equally as often when on the train on your way to your job.
There are many good songs, but "Clockwork Angels", "Seven Cities of Gold", and "The Garden" stick out to me as real highlights. On an album so thoroughly good, don't take that lightly, these are songs on the level of their classics, such as Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions. There are also numerous songs that break the musical pattern and keep the listener on their toes so to speak. It is one of the few albums that I can listen to over and over all the way through and not get bored with. It is a true modern classic in every sense of the term. If this album had come out back in 1980 along with Moving Pictures and the lot, this still would stick out as a true quality album. Hard rockers and prog rockers alike will love it, and I couldn't recommend an album more than I do this truly genius record.
Rush's lineup has held fast for nearly 40 years, through tribulations and timeless albums, to make an album that presents a distinctly 'Rush' sound and great quality. They broadly defined their sound across several eras, from explorative 70s prog rock to radio-friendly 80s rock to sour synth-rock, even to darker territories with "Counterparts" - aside from the kindly neglected keyboard era, this album shows Rush seasoned by all of them, yet unphased by time. As the next generation of prog, like Dream Theater - debuting in the same year as Rush's 13th album - has grown stagnant and begun to shamelessly repeat themselves, Rush display their mastery by refining their music rather than rehashing it. There is no stagnation here, only a Rush that have learned from both their mistakes and successes - there's no aging synth rock, but they learned from their timeless half-album 70s prog rock epics.
Rush understand how to blend and balance their three-man show. Geddy Lee's distinct, melodic vocals shine on every song, and his hard-driving bass playing shows through like it did on "Counterparts" as well as balancing Lifeson's guitar work as it did earlier. Lifeson's guitar playing feels natural, seamlessly transitioning through clean and dirty prog rock parts, even some very heavy hard rock riffs. Their style? Well, they sound like Alex Lifeson. It's hard to talk about this album without rhetorically mentioning that it sounds like Rush - icons and masters of the style. They have excellent control of their songs, flowing from melodic vocal-driven parts reminiscent of "Moving Pictures" to elegantly condensed versions of their 70s epics without the notoriously awful Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics that Neal penned as an immature objectivist. Peart's name is a sufficient testament to his drumming at this point, and his lyrics have matured and been refined through collaboration with a sci-fi novelist (Kevin Anderson) to form the album's concept.
It took a long stride for Rush to reach this album, and it stands up to their greatest works. Bands aren't supposed to be this good 44 years into their career, but Rush eclipse even the other legends.
Even though Rush has only released a small handful of albums since they came back from their tragic hiatus a decade ago, the beloved power trio has been pretty busy. This particular album was announced in 2010 and originally slated for a 2011 release, but constant touring and the Beyond The Lighted Stage documentary pushed it back a couple years. Fortunately there is no such thing as a bad Rush album and their 19th in the line is certainly no exception.
For all the gaps between Rush’s recent records, it is interesting to note that their overall sound hasn’t changed that dramatically since the early 90s. This particular release does manage to set itself apart thanks to a dry yet exotic tone that suggests a grandiose desert setting. In addition, it also builds off the rawness of 2002’s Vapor Trails and may actually be their heaviest effort since 1993’s Counterparts though some may try to make connections to A Farewell To Kings or Fly By Night.
The shift back to aggressive territory (by Rush’s standards) does mean the band members are as intense as ever. Guitarist Alex Lifeson gets an extra boost of heaviness and drives several songs while drummer Neil Peart never disappoints. Of course, Geddy Lee still manages to be the most standout member thanks to his overwhelming bass lines and signature vocal performance. He even brings the occasional keyboard back in with “The Garden” in particular offering a graceful piano melody just before the climax.
Even with all of the musical modifications, the lyrical theme is what seems to be the largest point of hype for Clockwork Angels as it has the band returning to a conceptual format for the first time since the 70s. That time period certainly had its share of suites with occasionally linked continuities, but this is the band’s first true concept album. All twelve songs on here tell the story of a boy finding his way in a world of carnivals, watchmakers, and good ol’ fashioned steampunk…
Like any good concept album, the lyrics never get in the way of the music and there is little in the way of atmospheric filler. While the lead singles “Caravan” and “BU2B” do an excellent job of setting a mystical stage lyrically and sonically, the songs themselves are nicely written and pack in some memorable hooks. There are plenty of other highlights as “Carnies” and “Seven Cities Of Gold” put out a heavy swagger while “Wish Them Well” shows off some memorable vocal lines.
The album also stands out for bringing in song lengths that are slightly longer than the few releases. Fans hoping for another twenty-minute opus will have to keep waiting but these songs are excellently executed. “The Garden” does make for a great closing ballad with some surprisingly emotional moments while “Headlong Flight” is the fastest track and somehow recalls songs like “Anthem” and “Bastille Day” with its heavy approach.
Clockwork Angels is at an odd spot in Rush’s discography; it aims for a grander approach exemplified by their 70s releases but also stays close to the course set by their most recent efforts. The resulting album is one that manages to be pretty accessible yet seems to develop even more with repeated listens. The diminished keyboards may keep Rush from releasing another Moving Pictures but this definitely works. Let’s just hope the next one comes out a little quicker…
Originally published at http://suite101.com
In my one-man religion, I have several precepts that I try to rigorously follow. One says, “thou shalt love Rush above everything else”. Well, maybe not above Priest, Maiden or Pink Floyd, but almost. I also believe that if you don’t like Rush, you have 99% more probabilities of being a douche bag. I mean, how could anyone dislike a band that has stayed true throughout four decades of existence and is composed of three of the most talented and influential musicians to ever walk the Earth? A band that has pushed the boundaries of musicianship while at the same time covering humane and universal themes in their profound and brilliantly written lyrics. A band whose music is unique, awe-inspiring and challenging in the majority of their albums. I’m sure all this sounds as fanboy rambling but respect must be given where respect is due. And to add to their enormous list of accolades the band just released their 18th full-length in this great year of 2012, proving to the world that they’re still relevant and in good shape.
It is my opinion that Rush’s best works where released during that amazing streak of ’77-’84, with the exception of the outstanding Counterparts and that they’ve never reached that level of awesomeness since, save for a few songs here and there. And as it happens with other bands, some fans tend to overreact whenever these Canadians release new material. Therefore, I was initially reluctant to the hype surrounding Clockwork Angels, but after repeated listens I finally gave in and had to happily admit it’s status as one of the band’s finest albums of their entire career. It just blows most of the progressive records (metal or else) produced this year. It is a more cohesive record than 2007’s Snakes & Arrows, superior though less varied. It is in fact, their best 21st Century album so far, and it demonstrates they’ve been escalating in quality again. It’s no flawless masterpiece, especially not when measured against their back catalogue, but it’s excitingly close.
You definitely can’t go wrong in picking this one up. IT’S A RUSH ALBUM. Excellence is guaranteed. It’s only a matter of how much of that you’ll get. And the answer is: plenty of it. I haven’t delved much into the album’s story and lyrics yet, that I’m sure are interesting on themselves, but the music alone is fulfilling enough to check it out. Throbbing bass-lines and a heartfelt performance by Geddy Lee, uplifting guitars by the ever underrated Alex Lifeson and Neil’s trademark extremely tasteful percussion, all blended and distilled to produce a work of finesse that rocks as if these gentlemen were in their mid-twenties. An equilibrium of the three forces that empower this band. Though if my life depended on it, and I had to choose but one instrument as the ultimate ass-kicker from this album, it would be Geddy’s bass. Damn! It’s plain gorgeous. But none of the three gods ever abuse their dexterity. Forget about pointless exercises in self-indulgence. We’re long past those. And the production work is just superb, I’ve no complains in this area. It’s crystal-clear, meaty, perfectly balanced.
So, standout tracks? My first choice has to be third single “Headlong Flight”, which screams ‘PROG!’ during its whole seven minutes of bliss. It is indeed a return of sorts to their golden age style and a treat for fans of said period. This is a mandatory new addition to that hypothetic “best of” setlist of the band. I imagine it will become a recurring number during their shows from now onwards. But make no mistake, this song has been carefully crafted and is no wank-fest nor show-off. It is a brilliant SONG, and deserves that title all the way. And so does “The Anarchist”, which grabbed my attention at first listen, unlike the three preceding songs in album order. To fully enjoy those, I’ve required further listens. Now I can safely state that there aren’t filler tracks at all here, each and every one offering something worthy of your attention, which is a needed feat as five of them break the 6 minute mark. Another favs of mine are “Carnies”, which after 26 seconds starts with a Pantera-ish riff (WTF!? But yes, that’s right, and it works marvelous) and carries on in extreme catchiness fashion; “Seven Cities of Gold” also displaying an extra catchy chorus; and the climatic closer, “The Garden”, easily among their best ballads, majestic and delightful.
Rush again has provided us with a masterful collection of riffs, solos, rhythms and verses that invites us to dream and wonder. This album is deep, mysterious and while never stops rocking hard it requires multiple listens to fully appreciate. And remember this is coming from a Rush fanboy. Some parts and some songs may ensnare you at first listen, but the more you experience Clockwork Angels the more you’ll be enthralled by it’s brilliance and mystique. Keep on exploring and you’ll discover more and more goodies. Yep, this is one of those albums. This is a pretentious-free prog rock crafted by the seasoned masters, and no prog-head should miss it. If you prefer tech death brutality or DragonForce sheer speed and note abuse this might not be for you. In that case I’d say you’ve no real taste, but hey, this is a Free World.
Twentieth record by a band that has been around for four decades, survived all the changes in musical scene with a ghusto, experimented wisely at times yet never quite straying away from their basic sound. Rush in many ways symbolizes perfection for a rock band. This twentieth record is a full fledged concept album based on organised religion. A novel based on the same is planned a friend of Neil Peart.
Technically the band is in monstrous form. The vocals are great; no not jaw dropping technically but deliver perfectly in terms of control and emotional captivity. His bass work is excellent. Let us say it aloud for once folks, Geddy Lee is the best bass player in the world. The mix highlights his bass very well and it is very delightful to hear great bass lines so clearly in these times where the engineers probably have forgotten about a certain instrument called the bass guitar. Need I say anything about Neil Peart's drum work? The drum work may have simplified from the days of Hemispheres but not one beat in this record is out of place. The guitar work is great and is just like what was in the band's prime years. The production packs much of a punch, and I would say that this according to me is the most perfectly balanced production I have heard. The drum sound is perfect, the rhythm guitar is crunchy, the bass lines are not drowned.
Among the songs, Clockwork Angels features 12 beautifuly composed songs, each no less triumphant than the last one. The songwriting is quite diverse and maintains the album's consistency perfectly. This album does not tread any new waters, but whatever music they present here is of the highest caliber I have heard. The songs are catchy and entertaining in themselves yet at the same time presenting subtle yet definite complexity throughout. The song length is perfectly balanced, and the songs are given complete room to breathe and grow. The song lenght is utilised perfectly in every song, and never do we hear anything sloppy or dragging. There is no song which I can claim to be a highlight. Oh well, a couple of songs say BU2B or Caravan maybe more catchy than the rest, but the album presents sharp consistency throughout. At the most by third listen every listener should be able to appreciate this album. Flaws, there are none; not on this record.
It is not always that you find a twentieth album to be so good that in fact it may be the band's one of the best. In an age where bands find it hard to come up with good ideas after ten records, these three young men who are just shy of sixty still push on and have great world tours. This record is must listen for any fan of progressive rock in general. Listening this album and looking at their recent tour, it does not seem that the band is ready to retire and it seems that they still have quite something much in them yet. But if they plan to retire, this will be the biggest send-off album that any band has made till date.
Despite being the most influential prog rock / protometal band of all time and holding a solid place in the Olympus of music gods, Rush have, for most of their career followed, or at least tried to follow, contemporary trends. They went aesthetically bonkers with kimonos and whatnot in the 70's, fell in love with synthesizers in the 80's, and embraced alt-rock in the 90's. But after Neil Peart's personal tragedies forced the bands first hiatus at the turn of the 21st century, they dispensed with these attempts to be cool and just decided to do things their own way 100%, starting with their comeback album Vapor Trails. The rest, as Rush's massive following will attest to, is history. Now, after two albums of "modern" Rush music, their long anticipated steampunk rock opera has arrived. And it is a thing to behold.
First of all, you'd be hard pressed to find a rock band that's gotten legitimately HEAVIER as time went on, while maintaining their consistently high level of musicianship. Save for orchestral additions on some songs, long gone are the window dressings they've utilized to great effect in the past. The album sounds big, bold, organic, straightforward, and intensely focused. From the monolithically metallic anthems BU2B and Headlong Flight to the ballad-esque The Wreckers and The Garden, the sound is always powerful without falling into the notorious loudness traps that Vapor Trails fell into. The mixing/mastering isn't absolutely perfect, but it's probably some of the best they've had. The only possible complaint is that it isn't as overtly flashy as some of their more famous albums and songs; nary a big, ear-catching moment from Alex or huge drum interlude from Neil, and Geddy's voice is much, MUCH warmer and more subdued compared to decades ago, but every song is still nonetheless perfect in its execution, showing the kind of cohesion almost 40 years of collaboration and touring will bring to a band.
As far as the lyrical concept, it's almost too soon to talk about it, as the tie-in novel won't be on sale for another few months. But from the song intro snippets in the CD Booklet along with the lyrics themselves, it paints a vivid picture of a world ruled by a clockwork point of view, a steampunk concept of predestination determined by an unseen watchmaker and his Angelic artifice servants. It's a journey for something of true meaning in a world where no one questions their existence. It's not always a pretty journey, but as the protagonist puts it, it's the best he could and that's good enough.
As a whole, Clockwork Angels is everything I wished for. I don't need another La Villa Strangiato composition or glass-shattering vocal lesson; this album does everything right anyway. Rush has produced something that shows their age, but their wisdom along with it. The trio have said they're far from retiring, but this album is pretty easy to visualize as an ultimate culmination of everything they've ever done. Things like Geddy's falsetto are gone forever, but what they can hearken back to is ruminated on and looked upon with fondness. Headlong Flight can easily be seen as their self-thesis on their career, Wish Them Well is pretty plainly their response to all the criticism they've ever faced, and The Garden...well...if they retired now, that would be the greatest epilogue to a band's history ever recorded. How they could ever top this one remains to be seen, but they were able to keep up the good work after 2112, so I won't doubt their drive for a second.
If this turns out to be their last album, it's a towering monster of a send-off. But if they've still got more gas in the tank, I can only imagine what they have in store next.
Rush have been around for over four decades now and are still out there to fascinate several generations of progressive rock fans with new world tours and charismatic outputs. Many other heroes have gone a long time ago like Genesis or Pink Floyd, others have gone through weirdest changes and live from their past status such as King Crimson or Yes and a couple of great bands like Pendragon or Spock's Beard have never gone beyond the status of underground heroes that have more recently influenced progressive rock bands but never reached out for a wide spread commercial success. RUSH simply are the kings of progressive metal and have not written amazing records throughout their whole career and always tried out new things. Any cultivated rock or metal music fan should know Rush without the glimpse of a doubt. One can cite the epic conceptual masterpieces “2112” from 1976 as well as the critically acclaimed “Moving Pictures” in 1981 but also more recent stuff like the last output “Snakes & Arrows” from 2007. The brand new “Clockwork Angels” must not hide behind these records and is another highlight in the band’s brilliant discography. I would even go as far to say that it’s among my very favourite Rush outputs ever right now but of course it hasn’t passed the test of time yet.
Even though I really adore this band, I must admit that their earlier works are not always easy to digest. The album structures are generally complex and often mix catchy, commercial and memorable short tracks on one side with rather experimental epics with a focus on instrumental passages on the other side. Many changes of style from hard rock beginnings over progressive experiments to shorter mainstream attempts divide the band’s discography into different eras that are not always adored by every fan. The high pitched and somewhat feminine vocals of Geddy Lee have always been charismatic but kept the band from gaining a definite mainstream status and I must admit that I couldn’t listen to them all day long.
“Clockwork Angels” is in my opinion the band’s most accessible record and I mean this in a good way. The record feels so effortless, honest and powerful that it always outs a smile upon my face. The band perfectly mixes complex structures and diversified fresh song ideas with loads of catchy parts and addicting melodies you won’t get out of your mind from the first try on. I immediately fell in love with this record and it hit very quickly. On the other side, each song offers many perfectly arranged details to discover over and over again and the somewhat autobiographic, emotional and philosophical lyrics of this conceptual masterpiece are more than ever worth to be examined a little bit closer. The lovely booklet may help you to take some time and get into the excellent lyrical attempts on this stunning record. I have also to underline that Geddy Lee’s vocals on this record are simply amazing. They sound not as strained as they were in the past but surprisingly down to earth, mature and warm without losing their uniqueness. Usually, vocalists get worse as time passes by but with his fifty-eight years, he is at the definite zenith of his career and sounds better than ever to my ears. For all those that have somehow disliked his vocals, you should definitely give this record a spin as they are much easier to approach as they were in the past days. Not only the vocals have improved but also the already excellent msuical skills of the band. Add a top notch production to this and you might realize that there’s not much left to criticize on this album.
Musically, the short three minute tracks are as detailed, harmonic and precise as the seven minute epics. The band varies from amazing calm souns with space elements, decently soft sring passages, chilling acoustic guitar tones, peacefully pumping bass guitar lines and a varied kit of drum techniques in one single perfect song such as “Halo Effect” on one side to one of the heaviest songs ever written by this band with “Headlong Flight”, a nostalgic anthem with a wild middle part where evry instrument has its time to shine even though the whole things remains coherently connected by a killer chorus that other progressive rock bands wouldn’t write in their whole career. This album really offers anything you’ve ever liked about the band. There are highly experimental middle parts in complex masterpieces such as the diversified title track “Clockwork Angels” or the heavier pumping “Seven Cities Of Gold”. New things as the circus ambiance in the beginning of the diversified grower “Carnies” can be heard every now and then if you listen this record attentionally with your headphones on. There are also many potential hit singles that remind me of intelligent rock and pop music from the seventies and eighties as in the airy “The Wreckers” or the very warm “Wish Them Well” that has a melodramatic but also very positive message. T hese songs sound not nostalgic but so fresh as if they were done by some thirty year old musicians. RUSH are definitely still hungry and have a lot to say. In their whole career, they haven’t written a twisted and emotionally driven top notch ballad as the closing “The Garden” that sends shivers down my spine and almost brings me to tears each time I listen to it.
In the end, Rush deliver once again another highlight of their career on this intense record that iis already on a close run to become my favourite record of the year. Anybody who likes progressive music should call this record his own. It might one day be as essential as a “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, “Darkside Of The Moon” or “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” and should be seen as a modern classic of progressive rock that underlines in the best manners that this genre isn’t dead yet at all.