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Rush can be said to have had a bit of a rough start, at least in terms of being progressive. However, in the matter of a few years they went from a blues-rock Led Zeppelin clone to a more musically intelligent body. Although 'Fly By Night' isn't amazing, it's a definite step forward in terms of complexity and is a sharp improvement from their eponymous debut effort.
This new approach to rock music can be attributed to the arrival of their then-new drummer, Neil Peart. It was his lyrics that drove Rush from being rather typical in their content (the majority of Rush's 'love songs' are on their debut, which Geddy and Alex wrote the lyrics for). Now instead of typical classic rock lyrics, we see ballads about Mileaus from the Lord Of The Rings and commentaries on the work of Ayn Rand. It is this intelligence that upgrades 'Fly By Night' from its predecessor.
'By-Tor & The Snow Dog' could even be considered the band's first 'epic.' Although compared to their other epics, it's rather short, yet it still shows an appreciation for the extended song length, a characteristic typical of progressive rock. While it's still not stellar, it set the stage for future epics that would be found in no short supply in this album's excellent successor, 'Caress of Steel'.
While a lot of the songs on this album would still fit into the classic rock category, it's still a better brand of classic rock then was found on the debut. Songs like 'Fly By Night' and 'Anthem' are Rush classics, however there isn't any material on the album that really shines. It's because of this that 'Fly By Night' is non-essential. Still worth picking up if you're a fan of Rush, though.