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A somewhat awkward title with this being Rush’s second release, but the title is in the content; for while the actual self-titled debut was a worthy album in its own right, it is not the style of muse that would become these godfathers of prog. This release is the first full step in that direction, with Fly by Night the unfurling of new drummer Neil Peart and the music that would define the band, and eventually a whole genre of metal.
Neil Peart’s introduction is seen in the sound of the drums and the content of the lyrics. Peart’s vast literary background being quickly noticed and appreciated by both Lee and Lifeson who cared little for the job of lyricist. And the impact on content is noticeable, for the typical Zeppelin rock of the debut has been replaced by tales of Middle Earth, classic tales of good versus evil, and homage to the literary classic Anthem of Ayn Rand. The percussion is technical in a manner that emphasizes intricate precision versus simple beats or needless execution. The man would become known as “The Professor” for justifiable reasons.
The music has also advanced from the debut, and while it is still hard rock, the style is steeped in the burgeoning form of progressive. At the time, this was represented by such bands as Yes or old Gabriel era Genesis, both group’s inspirations of complexity to the band, but transformed herein into something heavier. Lifeson chops are on and his solo’s strong and Lee continues to be a great bassist whose presence is not an after thought or plays second string to his vocal duties.
“Anthem” begins and the guitar’s crunch combined with the percussive precision heralds the new era of music. This song represents side one well with good chops, hard solos, and Lee’s patented early shrieks. The name itself representing the short novel by Rand and in content a clarion call of individualism versus collective, charitable atrophy; the lyrics, “Live for yourself - There's no one else more worth living for. Begging hands and bleeding hearts will only cry out for more” is a long distance from “Baby I’m coming to get you.”
“Fly by Night” headlines side two and is the better known song herein, a classic that still smuggles its way onto the airwaves to date. “Making Memories” is an acoustic jam that was literally written while the trio was lost on the back roads of Indiana, and seems out of pace with latter material, but is a solid track and nicely changes up the albums tempo. Finally, “In the End” threatens to continue the softer second side’s persona into the finish but blisters open into anthems of catchy guitar riffs, the sum being a total of several guitar textures and fine
Seemingly the odd man out, “Rivendell” is a dreamy acoustic ballad of all things Tolkien. It is slow, and would probably work better with the same level of smoke inhaled by the artists performing it. More of a mood song and I sometimes hit the skip button. Same can be said of “Best I Can”, a holdover from the previous tour that falls short in moments. Neither is a bad song, just average.
But the true master piece and blue print of metal prog is self contained within “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”. As “Working Man” represented the self-titled debut’s look at the future of Rush so does this masterpiece predict the groups direction to many signature classics to come, all while arguably being the first truly metal progressive piece to hit vinyl. Its 8:39 minutes are even broken into movements as if to slam the point home. Further, the song just kicks ass through all nine of Dente’s cursed layers. “By-Tor” is the story of an epic battle between good and evil in verse with the actual battle represented by instrumental axe work. This song does a rare feat in music and ends without seeming as long as it is, for it does not possess a dull or repetitive moment - It succeeds in captivating the listener and holding their interest. This is the ability of the lyrics, but more importantly the music itself to project a story from beginning to end, and makes Fly by Night worth picking up for this track alone.
Collectors Factoid: For those who have the vinyl version, the chimes at the end of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” are actually imprinted into the groves at the end of side one, after the actual track and not the record proper. On older record players that don’t automatically pick up the needle, this causes the chimes to continue forever until the record is manually stopped.
This album, while Rush’s second release, is in reality the debut of Rush the progressive band and the first album to carry the modern line-up. It is a solid album with enough outstanding moments to call it a classic and a worthy addition to your collection.