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"All the same we take our chances
Laughed at by time!
Tricked by circumstances!
Plus ça change
Plus c'est la meme chose
The more that things change,
the more they stay the same"
This unrivaled piece of music has captivated me since my first encounter with it. There is nothing like Hemispheres. No piece of art resonates with me on a greater level than this - what I consider the apex of rock music and all of its offshoots. These are words that are no doubt based solely on opinion, but to me there is nothing like this. I know of zero faults with this album in its absolute entirety. There is a select handful of albums that I consider flawless, but there is nothing that keeps this level of musical and lyrical quality for its entire running time quite like Hemispheres does. Frighteningly genius lyricism, musical dexterity that is unrivaled, and songwriting that is the definition of pure talent. Do you want to know what I consider the best? This right here - Rush's 1978 masterwork: Hemispheres.
All joyous, fanboyish enthusiasm aside, this is utter brilliance in its most spectacular form. The album is built upon a foundation that is immortal, marble white and purest gold. The prodigious talent that blossomed on 2112 and the artistic mastery that showed up on A Farewell To Kings all come together on this album. Neil's lyricism is undoubtedly at its apex, while the band's musical prowess is at a level untouched by any others. Neil's drumming on this album is hailed as some of the greatest of all time, and drummers of all walks of life cherish the day that they could finally drum along to this album, just ask them. Geddy's bass playing here is some of the greatest ever recorded; this album has massive influence on my bass playing, and I owe it at least a quarter of my technique.
Alex's guitar playing is at its apex as well. All of his influences and styles swirl together in sheer beauty on this record. His classic rock upbringings combine with his bluesy, abstract twists to make for an undeniably adept and unique force. His classical explorations bring a lot to the table as well; who can forget the legendary intro to "The Trees" or the sheer brilliance of "La Villa Strangiato"? As Alex's string wizardry hit its true level of mastery, Geddy tapped into his edgy yet strikingly melodic vocal cords to find that perfect balance between beautiful highs mixed with a frightful aggression to propel the music along. All of the musicianship present is undeniably brilliant. If anyone shall have fault with this, it is with the composition, not the musical prowess.
The songwriting on Hemispheres is downright befuddling. The album's recurring them is balance, and there is balance not only lyrically, but musically. A common finger pointed at progressive rock is the finger claiming it to be pretentious and too self-indulgent. The term "wankery" is often used. I am a massive fan of the progressive rock genre, and let me tell you - it can get pretentious as hell. This said, there is no such "wankery" present. Every passage is used to its maximum potential while never overextending itself; the flow of this is just fabulous. Even during the riskiest part of the entire album, which is during the title track in part V, the soft, keyboard driven interlude is used to its maximum effect and helps propel the song into its outstanding finale.
Unless someone told you otherwise, you would not think that this album was recorded in a remote countryside of Wales. This is one of Rush's absolute best albums when it comes to production. Everything is clear and crisp while retaining that classy timbre that is associated with prog rock. Alex's guitar shimmers and glitters when need be, but it offers a thick wall of sound when necessary. Geddy's bass tone on Hemispheres is legendary. The exquisite growl of the Rickenbacker comes alive here, offering one of the best bass tones ever created. The vocals, the drums, and all of the strings are mixed fabulously, and keyboards never interrupt the music; they only add to the atmosphere that the album is going for. Overall, this is one of the best sounding productions that you'll hear. Rush and Terry always did an excellent job, and this album is no exception.
The amount of talent that is poured into this legendary record is almost unbelievable. Each musical passage is just exquisitely crafted yet possessive of a power that shakes you to your core. There are albums out there, of all genres and styles, that will give me the chills and fill me with emotion and energy. Usually it is one song or even two that achieve this, but Hemispheres leaves me in absolute awe for every second of its being. Whether it be the magical interlude of "The Trees" or the riveting aggression of "Circumstances" or the narrative genius of the title track, this is just unrivaled musical mastery of the highest caliber. Never will a simple riff be used, or a simple plodding bass line; every instrument and fill is used to its highest possible potential. Any flashier and it would come across as too much, and more subdued and the true potential is stifled. The album speaks of balance, and it happens to be a record in which musical ability and songwriting excellence are balanced together in a perfect sphere. Coincidence? I think not.
When I listen to rock music, I generally will give lackluster or cliche lyrics a pass, as they usually won't bother me unless it's just childish. Whenever a song or album crosses me with lyrics that are literary gold, I do get excited. As a l am a lover of eloquent lyrical passages and masterful poetry, an album with great lyrics is a splendid bonus to me. Hemispheres is not just good lyrically, it is utterly amazing. The lyrics to this album are worthy to be published and released as a short collection of poetry; and I'd buy it. Heck, the title track was even made into a freaking comic book. It's that good of a narrative. Hemispheres has the consistency and coherence of a concept album, but with each track standing out as a masterpiece. The lyrics of "Circumstances" serve as a song of understanding for any confused and neglected person who dares go up against reality. "The Trees" can serve either as a simple tale of trees feuding, or a deep account of slavery, oppression, rebellion, justice, and what have you.
The title track gives a story that is summed up in its prelude:
"When our weary world was young,
the struggle of the ancients first began
The gods of Love and Reason
sought alone to rule the fate of Man
They battled through the ages,
but still neither force would yield
The people were divided
Every soul a battlefield"
The song goes on to chronicle the tale of how humanity followed each of the god, one of love, and one of reason, and their subsequent battles would render the world "torn asunder into hollow hemispheres". The tale goes on and is resolved at the ending sections, and I urge those who haven't heard this masterpiece to experience it now. For a single man to write this, and for three people to write and play the music within just transcends any other level hit by other bands. I'm sorry, but not even "2112" was this good. That is saying a LOT too. Like I said earlier, the level of musicianship is worthy of the title of perfection, but for this to be on a lyrical and intellectual level as such is a bonus rarely bestowed upon the listener.
The album features three opuses of musical and lyrical radiance, but also an instrumental track deemed so difficult that not even Rush themselves could record it in one take. That alone should tell you how insane this is. The song features a myriad of musical sections, from fast licks and bass lines to some of the most insane percussive mastery that Neil would ever weave. The center section of "La Villa Strangiato", in which the song calms down to allow Alex's sweet guitar work sing is just ethereal. By far one of the greatest guitar-led interludes ever recorded. The song then explodes with a multiple of unique rhythms and licks (including one of the most ridiculous freaking bass solos ever, I swear Geddy put that in there for the sole purpose of keeping me from covering this, sheesh) before covering the familiar sections played at the beginning.
"La Villa Strangiato" finishes the album with a flurry of drums and bass, before it's over and you immediately flip it over and listen again, and again and again, because this does not get old. This album only gets better as you discover more nuances and licks that blow your mind. I eagerly look forward to the day in which I own a 4003 (or 4001) so I can cover this in its entirety. Hemispheres serves as the apex of rock musical achievements, and I've yet to hear something come even close to touching it. If you are a lover of music, no matter what style or genre, this album is a must listen for you. Period. When I first heard this, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Whether Rush knows it or not, they crafted the closest possible thing to musical perfection with this record. There is not a weak moment to be found. I cannot stress just how completely awesome this album is. It brings forth boundless emotion, it's creative, it's memorable, it's just... brilliant. The perfect sphere. Ladies and gentlemen, you can't beat this. If you have not yet heard this, I strongly urge you to do so. Hemispheres is the be all end all for me when it comes to rock music. Nothing resonates with me like this does. I just cannot even come close to describing how ridiculously good this is. This is an absolute freaking masterpiece.
With that, here is the most beautiful finale ever recorded: '"The Sphere" A Kind of Dream"'
"We can walk our road together
if our goals are all the same
We can run alone and free
if we pursue a different aim
Let the Truth of Love be lighted
Let the Love of Truth shine clear
Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty
With the Heart and Mind united in a single... perfect... sphere"
This is Rush's sixth album, and this is also the last of their pure prog albums. Frankly, It's also the last I would really consider arguing as metal. This album, and it's predecessor, were rather laid-back, but could still bring the old fire back from time to time. After this, that really didn't happen too often. This is the third album of what I consider Rush's prime, and It's also right in the qualitative middle.
Peart's drumming is legendary. He was really past anything of his age, mid to late 70's. Most of the time when I'm discussing rock musicians, I leave out comparing them to jazz and even prog musicians. The latter two styles really emphasize virtuosity, and it shows. With Peart, I don't have to do that. There was not a recording or performing drummer until Hoglan that really outdid his performance here, by my tastes. For me, this always seemed like Peart's best album. The drum fills and rolls on the opening epic are awesome, and he never really backs off.
As far as his lyrics go on this one, their what was typical of Peart around this time and a little of the future. I have rather mixed feelings about how they bridged the previous epic into the new. It seems rather convoluted, and I would have preferred them separate. The battle of the gods is essentially interrupted by a voiceless spirit who screams and reveals himself as the previous protagonist. This is how they bridge it, and I don't much care for it. The Trees is often debated as to it's meaning, but I've always interpreted it as simply being against wealth redistribution, due to the equality by violent means at the end of the song. Circumstances really reminds me of some of their lyrics that they would use in the next decade, especially Red Barchetta. It is a simple song about a boy learning about an aspect of life, in this case, the randomness of it.
Geddy Lee's bass playing isn't as legendary as Butler or Harris, but he essentially functions as a bridge between them. I believe he claimed that John Paul Jones was a major influence on him, but the way Geddy sounds is quite different. Jones functioned as this murky rumble that added groove underneath, and could throw in separate fills and lines without messing anything up. Geddy serves almost as a second guitar and has a rather melodic style, most similar to Harris in those respects. Geddy could make basically the same claim that Peart can, but I think Geddy didn't dominate rock to the same extent. He is great, but more top ten all time than competing for first. His singing is rather infamous. Geddy is a naturally high-pitched singer, and he utilized this register on the early albums. I don't see this as a problem for two reasons. The first is that most 70's vocalists did the same thing, so if you can't tolerate Geddy then 70's rock as a whole will be hard for you. The second is that as his register goes down, the nasality goes up, and I much prefer a banshee shrieking to a Bob Dylan. The epic of this album has some great lines for Geddy to sing. It's most likely the catchiest he had been up until this point, particularly the first two-thirds of Armageddon. It has a certain bounce, and his lines will stick with you.
I always feel bad for Alex Lifeson. He was a great guitar player. He just didn't stick out as much in his time as they did. Peart tends to overshadow Geddy, let alone Alex. Now Rolling Stones ranks him 98 on a guitar list, and act like they're doing him a favor. Alex has several styles of playing, and this album leans heavily to his more melodic bend. I personally prefer his more aggressive style, but this is better than what he did a decade later. The solo on the instrumental is as great as people claim. It's one of the three or so best he ever did, and that is saying something. Apparently, the song is based on a dream he had. I don't understand that concept, but I suppose there could be some music theory at play that allows music to be based off a dream. It seems rather poetic though, and it is probably their best instrumental.
This album is short, but it shouldn't be a problem. This doesn't have a poor ballad eating three or four minutes, so you have to account for that. Also the weakest song on here, Circumstances, is a pretty good one. It has a fun feel to it, and I believe it makes their compilations every so often. Another thing I've noticed, is that Rush often get accused of pretentiousness. This word means to act as though you are or are entitled to more than you are in order to impress. Judging from all their interviews and such, I don't imagine people are referring to the members themselves, no they're referring to the music. It really bothers people that musicians should attempt to borrow from classical. I mention this to say that people who often see this criticism attached to them would be best served to just ignore it, most criticisms Rolling Stones leveled in the 70's have been dismissed, so should this one.
In conclusion, this is an excellent slab of early prog metal. Rush had more good albums, but not many. They began moving in a, "proggy, but not prog," direction on the subsequent release. On the epic note, Rush's average song length didn't change much. They went from an epic and some short surrounding rockers, to all medium length. The next album still averaged a little over six minutes, once you removed the ballad. I don't see this as quite as good as 2112 or Moving Pictures, but that's about all it's short of. There isn't much prog metal that I would honestly put ahead of this. If you like prog of any kind, early metal, or hard-rock this does come recommended.
From the moment Neil Peart joined Rush, the group constantly pushed itself to ever greater levels of musical and conceptual complexity. This ascent reaches its apex with 1978′s Hemispheres. Hemispheres builds upon the already absurdly intricate showcase of A Farewell to Kings by delivering even more complex compositions within a more cohesive and unified framework.
Hemispheres is not a concept album per se, but it is highly thematic. Each song deals with the struggle to find balance between seemingly irreconcilable dichotomies: emotion and reason, change and stability, individualism and egalitarianism. The theme is fodder for some of Neil Peart’s most creative, imaginative and stylistically diversified lyrics. Musically, Hemispheres maintains the pastoral aesthetic of A Farewell to Kings, (like its predecessor, Hemispheres was recorded in Rockfield Studios, in the Welch countryside) but eschews the distinctly British sensibilities of the former album for a more Mediterranean feel. The complexity of the compositions and the precision of the performance are extreme. According to the members of Rush, “La Villa Strangiato” alone took three times as long to record as the entire Fly by Night record. Despite the severe intricacy of the record, Hemispheres is loaded with excellent hooks and melodies. The harmony between intellectual and sensual stimulation makes Hemispheres not only one of the peaks of Rush’s prestigious discography, but also one of the highlights of the progressive rock genre as a whole.
The album opens with the 18 minute sidelong track, “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres,” which stands as Peart’s most daring lyrical effort. “Hemispheres” combines the structure and themes of a Grecian tragedy (minus the tragic ending) with elements of sci-fi writing. Peart follows the Grecian model carefully, offering a prelude, several central plot-driven chapters (which contain both monologues and choruses) and an epilogue. “Hemispheres” tells the story of a world in which humanity is trapped in a battle between Apollo, the god of reason, and Dionysus, god of love. Humanity is first drawn to Apollo; under his watch they create brilliant cities and indulge in intellectual contemplation. Yet, this intellectual life leaves the people feeling emotionally unfulfilled; thus Dionysus seduces humanity away from Apollo and convinces them to return to the wild and live off the bountiful land. The people revel in joy and pleasure until they are struck by a harsh winter and are left naked and exposed to an unforgiving environment. With both gods having left humanity dissatisfied, the people split into opposing sects of rationalists and romantics who engage in a futile battle for supremacy. In a strange twist, the protagonist from “Cygnus X-1 Book I,” the captain of the Rocinante spaceship, brings balance to the world. Apparently, when he sent his ship through a black hole at the end of Book I, he ended up in this alternate universe. The gods are so impressed by his appeal for balance that they offer him a seat in Olympus, and he becomes Cyngus, the god of balance. Harmony between emotion and reason is brought to humanity and everyone lives happily ever after. Thus, the moral of The Cygnus Series is that if you take a chance on the unknown, you might destroy yourself, but you also might become divine.
Unlike Rush’s other sidelong tracks, “The Fountain of Lamneth” and “2112,” which simply flow from one distinct passage to another, “Hemispheres” actually interweaves numerous progressions, hooks and themes throughout its eighteen minutes, resulting in a surprisingly unified composition. Numerous motifs are scattered throughout (i.e. the hammering noise that introduces each god or the spacy theme borrowed from Book I to reintroduce Cyngus). Other progressions are only used once to accentuate a specific dimension of the lyrics. Lee sings with a lot of different intonations throughout the song. He presents Apollo and Dionysus as cool and detached, and Cyngus as heartfelt and impassioned. Both the vocals and the music mime the numerous shifts within the story. “Hemispheres” is certainly a tough song to break into, but is well worth the time. The interweaving of the various feelings and themes brilliantly reflects the harmony and balance the composition praises.
After the massive title-track, Rush offer “Circumstances” as a palate-cleanser. It’s a short, direct and energetic rocker; but don’t mistake it for filler. The riffs are sharp and heavy and Lee offers some killer high-pitched wails. Even on this more “conventional” track, Rush still offer a quirky duet between synth and xylophone during the bridge. “The Trees” is a sardonic folk song about a political battle between maple and oak trees, which stand as caricatures of socialist and capitalist ideologues. The maples argue that the oaks are greedily taking all the light while the oaks argue that they shouldn’t be punished for being born in the sunlight—“and they wonder why the maples/ can’t be happy in their shade.” The maples respond by creating a union, which passes a “noble” law that all trees should have their branches cut so that everyone receives the same amount of light. There has been a lot of debate about whether or not the ending of the song is meant in jest or earnestness, but considering Peart’s affinity Ayn Rand and Objectivism, it’s likely that the ending is meant in jest. The song is grounded in a dainty little folk melody that by the second verse is beefed up with distortion but nonetheless maintains the playful spirit any that good fairytale should possess.
The album closes with the instrumental “La Villa Strangiato,” Rush’s most complex composition. Rush were obsessed with recording the track in a single take, but eventually accepted that the song had to recorded it in three parts. As a result of recording so many takes, the recording has a bit of hiss, which is especially evident during the quieter passages. It’s a somewhat endearing remnant of Rush’s drive for perfection. Despite the fact that this song is an instrumental, it still loosely retells a dream guitarist Alex Lifeson had. The song is split into twelve parts, each with its own subheading. From there, the listener can let their imagination and Rush’s stunning musicianship fill in the blanks. Like “Hemispheres,” “La Villa Strangiato” achieves a brilliant balance of complexity and accessibility. The melodies are highly emotive while the endless array of changes in tempo, timbre and rhythm is totally dizzying. The full-throttle final four minutes are especially staggering. Just as impressive—though for totally different reasons—is Lifeson’s beautiful and soulful guitar solo during the calm middle passage of the song.
Hemispheres displays the perfect balance of precision and passion. Every note, every lyric has a purpose and each musician is pushed to his limit. Yet, their strife is not endured in the pursuit of some austere sound but rather in the aim of creating a work of art that is emotive, visceral and compelling. Intellectual precision leads to emotional clarity and visa versa. The title track ends by lauding the ideal of “the Heart and Mind united in a single, perfect, sphere.” To hear what that perfect union sounds like, look no further than the record itself.
Originally written for deinoslogos.wordpress.com
And what's worst, if you have exactly between this album two of Rush's majors ('A Farewell to Kings' and 'Permanent Waves') the only result will be, most probably, to become a "kvlt" favourite or recieve the shades of the forgotten-ness.
Anyway, in the beginning, there was 'Cygnus X-1 Book I: Prologue' in the aforementioned album "AFTK". And here the things are very clear, clever and correctly prepared. The touch remains classy, refined, well purposed and driven. Feeling can be felt, the instrumentation works perfectly for the matter and leaves the expectator with desire of knowing how it continues. Then, when starting this record, you get there with the top of the emotions. But slowly, these are replaced with a bit of dissapointment. Specially because in the second part, 'Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres' the heavy hitting effect is lost. Everything gets shadowed by the attempt of doing something extremely big, extremely experimental, extremely kinda philosophical. I mean, being nerdies and lovers of Ayn Rand's literature is alright for me, but an excess in the attempt of make sounds on that behalf can finish in this pretentious and unworthy descendant of the previous Cygnus episode. Too much arrangements, too much synthetizers and non-pure sounds, too much mix and almost no blood, no nerves, no Rush's spirit.
After this dissapointment, is hard to get it right again and the rest of the record fails to deliver, as well. 'Circumstances' and 'Trees', both look alike, they are almost throwaways, made in the outside, for the outside and without a point in here. Maybe 'Trees', with a more raw and heavy-like approach can do something for washing the face of the tracklist, but remains short, without enough testosterone, without that thing that amazed us in "A Farewell to Kings" or even "2112". Is the same feeling of the whole album, resumed in one particular and not-long-lasting-epic song.
Only with the arrival of 'La Villa Stangiato' (which almost correctly sentences as a secondary name 'An Exercise of Self Indulgence' as it is a premonition of what's happening in the album itself) we can remember why Rush is Rush. The bass-lines are quite heavy and tasty for any metalhead and the guitar returns where it belongs: the center of the tale. The guitar intro deserves some attention, as well. It was like a return to some roots, not all of them, only some, but with a futuristic vision. Here, we can find some of the ideas that shall rule in the modern stage of Rush, say, the beatboxing duo of guitar/drums in a cooperative rythmic fashion with the chromatic lead of some glowing and free-willed bass lines. To me, the best instrumental by Rush.
Finally, yes, the album is too short, repeats itself over and over and, if you are not a huge fan of the band, like me, you will get bored and probably, you will leave it right away. If you do that, let me advise you, this thing deserves a little bit of your listening efforts, as many great ideas can be found here. And if you are a die-hard fan, well, let's admit altogether ('cause I'm a die-hard fan as well) that this one is not one of the finest by Rush and they can do much better. They did, actually!
The followup to Farewell to Kings takes the approach of that album, cranks it up to eleven, and also sees Rush experimenting with an increased presence of synthesisers and keyboards in their work. Whilst these experiments would yield the sound of albums like Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures - foreshadowings of which can be heard here and there on this album - Hemispheres itself is a rather muddled beast.
Side one is dominated by the title track, the sequel to Cygnus X-1 on the previous album - although both thematically and musically, it couldn't be more different. Cygnus X-1 is a spacey number about a guy who deliberately steers his spaceship into a black hole out of his burning curiosity to see what was on the other side. It was tight, cohesive, had different sections seamlessly melded together through tight changes of time signature, and it rocked like you wouldn't believe.
Hemispheres, conversely, is a bit more of a mess. It's a fantasy story about the conflict between the gods of reason and emotion and how eventually they install a mortal to adjudicate the balance between them. So far, so prog. The problem is that it's yet another Rush epic that, like the bad old days of Caress of Steel, just doesn't have sufficient ideas to fill its running time. What's more, the different sections feel hastily pasted together, almost as though they are separate songs that happen to run together. The same was true to an extent of 2112 of course, but 2112 both rocked harder and kept the listerner's interest far more than Hemispheres, and didn't repeat itself nearly so often.
On the second side we have two throwaway tracks - Circumstances, which sounds like a reject from side two of 2112, and the heavy-handed political allegory of The Trees. But at least we also have the album's saving grace - La Villa Strangiato, a 9 minute instrumental track which both acts as the culmination of their prog-above-all period and as the transition to the next phase of their career. Ducking and weaving at a breakneck pace through a range of different moods, juggling time signatures without breaking a sweat with each band member soloing like their lives depend on it, it's everything that the title track should have been but wasn't.
Still, one really awesome track isn't enough to save an album that is otherwise rather inessential. Harsh, maybe, but there's no getting away from the fact that this is a very transitional album which would have got a significantly lower rating were it not for the wonders of La Villa.
Upon purchasing this album, I didn't really know what to expect. I had already heard much of Rush's 80's material, from Permanent Waves to Hold Your Fire. I was starting to get into prog at this time, hearing much of Dream Theater and Pink Floyd (some consider them prog, including myself). So I purchased this, eager to hear what Rush could bring in terms of Progressive Rock/metal. Boy did I make a make smart decision.
Hemispheres is simply incredible. We start off with my favorite song that I've ever heard, lyrically that is: Cygnus X-1 - Book II. We have a man who has been sucked into a black hole and emerges into Mount Olympus (with his body destroyed) and witnessess a fight between Greek god's Apollo (god of sun, wisdom and light) and Dionysus (god of wine and theater) and their fight to control the people involved to side with what they represent. Apollo promises to shelter the people and show them how to build cities, while Dionysus asks the people to embrace nature and indulge in your emotions. This causes the two Olympians to fight, splitting the "single, perfect sphere" into the double hemispheres. Our protagonist sees this and lets out a scream which causes everything to stop, and bring the hemispheres back together. He is then crowned Cygnus, the god of balance. This song surpassed Under a Glass Moon (Dream Theater), as my favorite song lyrically, and i thought that could never be done.
Musiclly, the song is amazing also. At 18 minutes, it's truly a wonderful, sprawling epic. It has multiple time signature changes, three decent solos, and Geddy Lee gives one of the greatest vocal performances of his career. Music-wise, I think 2112 (the song) is a better epic, but lyrically this song is superior. It doesn't dissapoint.
We now come to Circumstances, which seems to be about a man who wishes he could change his situation to how he would want it, stating "The more things change, the more they stay the same". It does have a short instrumental section, but i was hoping for a solo or two. Oh well, still a great, catchy track.
After that is The Trees, which is apparently about two types of trees bickering at each other, with maple trees wanting more sunlight while the oak trees are hogging too much of it. Interesting concept, and they made it work into a damn good song, along with a slow section which later speeds up to finish strong.
We now end with a 9 minute astonishing (it is Rush after all) instrumental called La Villa Strangiato. This is really great, easily comparable with another monumental instrumental called YYZ. Features some of my favorite fretwork I've heard on guitar, and heavy emphasis on bass. It also arguably the best extended solo the band has to offer during it's slower section. I was hooked by upon listening to it. These guys really are virtuosos, bravo boys.
All in all, this a very strong album. But it's also quite short: there's only 4 songs on it, equaling 36 minutes, wit the first and last song making over half that album. However that's not to say it disappointed me at all or left me wanting for more. I give it 90 points, minus 5 for shortness of two of the songs, and minus 5 for quantity of songs. Other than that, I highly recommend it.
Hemispheres is one of those albums that embodies everything great about its constituent genre. With the exception of a couple of other notable bands, Rush stood at the top of the progressive rock obelisk, a result of the remarkable efforts of this and their previous albums sans Caress of Steel. It was here that Rush finally found the perfect balance between multilayered epics and concise but equally majestic compositions.
The titular opening track stands as the indisputable champion of Rush’s career – and yes, that does include “2112.” It’s unlikely that there will ever be a more engrossing depiction of Greek mythology in the realm of music – their pinning the gods of love and reason against each other was a stroke of genius. As Dionysus and Apollo fight over the fate of mortals, the world plunges into chaos and war from a lack of balance between emotion and intellect. In the midst of Armageddon, a group of neutral men travel into the black hole of Cygnus X-1, where the spirit within calms the hearts and minds of humanity and brings peace, thereby reuniting the “splintered hemispheres.” Rush’s ingenious implementation of program music draws the listener into the story. For instance, both Apollo’s and Dionysus’s sections use the same principal riff, thus evoking a feeling of mental war. Meanwhile, the final section employs acoustic guitars and mellow vocals to signify the calm after the chaos (which was represented through aggressive electric guitars and Lee’s louder, more involved singing). Every different section sparks a distinct reaction in the listener, such as the opening sense of foreboding. When the story becomes violent, so does the resulting feeling. Likewise, when things calm down, the listener feels at peace. While “2112” only flirted with the idea of program music, “Hemispheres” uses it to its full advantage.
The other piece to implement differing sections is the twelve-part “La Villa Strangiato.” It opens up with neoclassical minor-key acoustic guitar almost mistakable for Yngwie Malmsteen, before the trademark “Rush-isms” come in – that is, esoteric instruments and melodies – and the song crescendos into its main passage, a swift, invigorating guitar line. This section doesn’t outlast its welcome, as the song soon slides into a slower, atmospheric solo part. As the song continues, many distinct movements take place, the best of which is the rough and spooky “Monsters” piece and its subsequent bass soloing about two-thirds of the way through the track. Each part is short in length, but fleshed-out enough to prevent unfulfilled expectancy. “La Villa Strangiato” ends with a reprise of the “Monsters” section and the theme, before abruptly ending on a strange bass solo and a final, unexpectedly pitched guitar note.
But lengthy, progressive symphonies aren’t all Hemispheres is about. The two other tracks don’t even reach five minutes, which is not to say they lack effectiveness. “Circumstances” tends to employ shorter riffs backed by speedy basslines instead of the unusual ones the long tracks did. There’s also an actual chorus in this song, one that is used sparingly enough that the listener hopefully anticipates its appearance. The lyrics to the chorus include an entertainingly involving French section:
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
The more that things change, the more they stay the same. “
Meanwhile, “The Trees” describes a particularly odd situation: argument between oak and maple trees. Apparently the maples are angry because they can’t reach the sun’s warmth, and decide to keep all trees equal “by hatchet, axe, and saw.” Unfortunately, the delivery of these lyrics as well as the overall instrumentation leaves a bit to be desired, and so “The Trees” is the only disappointing song on Hemispheres. However, it is still pretty good, and so this is a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.
Overall, Rush’s sixth album is a landmark in its genre as well as the band’s discography. It combines long and short songs without the bloated mishaps of Caress of Steel or the imperfect brief parts of 2112. Those into progressive rock or any similar style of music will be doing themselves a major favor by looking into this seminal 1978 offering.
Hemispheres is a majestic yet charming album that features Rush doing what they did best in this era of their creativity; using whatever textures of music were necessary to bring their elaborate stories to life.
The mammoth title track opens with splashes of clean guitar before a menacing march. Some of the musical themes that will be reprised over the course of the song are presented in the prelude as the lyrics set the stage for what you are to witness. The Apollo and Dionysus sections are two halves of the same whole not only in terms of the album's concept, but in the music. The main riff for each section is the same only with different lyrics each presenting a different point of view, thus illustrating a mind at war with itself. The weird time signature of the riff combined with Geddy Lee's mesmerizing vocals pull you into the debate and further make you feel as if you are a part of the story. A heavy galloping riff is the transition into the Armageddon section which is one of the most powerful moments of the album. "Circumstances" begins with a heavy riff that gets modified later in the song to create a memorable chorus. This track is a great example of how Rush could craft a song with a radio-friendly length, but without sacrificing the riffs, time signatures, and experimentation that define the band. This ability would become the foundation of their next era of songwriting beginning with Permanent Waves.
Despite the innocuous title and happy feel of the music, the lyrics of "The Trees" read like the nightmare version of "Hemispheres." In this scenario, the two opposing forces within the same forest were so busy arguing with each other that they were ignorant of any external danger until it was too late. The sensitive instrumental section beginning at 1:50 is one illustration of how Rush create a story using music. Clean guitar, temple blocks, and keyboards evoke images of creatures frolicking in the forest. Hey, there's that monstrous owl from the Fly By Night cover! If this was a movie, this would be the part where the camera pans away from the arguing maples and oaks, across the woods to give the viewer a better idea for the vastness of the landscape as opposed to the narrow view of the two opposing parties. Maybe you would catch a glimpse of some loggers arriving, not with malicious intent, but simply to do their job. You can feel the tension in the music at 2:39 when this serene setting takes a dark turn before cutting back to the maples and oaks preparing for a showdown. The final verses have a wicked sense of humor that make this song even more endearing upon each listen.
"La Villa Strangiato" starts with some Spanish guitar before a quirky instrumental section builds up to the heaviness at 2:02. From there the song explores the eponymous strange village with a variety of blazing guitar leads, complex basslines, and unpredictable drum patterns. Each listener will claim a different part of the song as its defining moment and that fun riff section that begins at 5:50 is a sure highlight. As complex as this song is, there is little self-indulgence even though the track's subtitle suggests otherwise. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart are masters of their craft and even the most bombastic parts of their music have a clear direction. Each display of instrumental devastation serves a purpose to the song and acts to keep moving the story forward.
Hemispheres features the engaging lyrics, brilliant soundscapes, and skewed melodies that continue to define Rush. If you're more a fan of their epic fantasy era rather than their personal/philosophical age then this is essential listening. New fans who'd like to hear progressive music that emphasizes storytelling over flash should also check this out. This is simply a great album from a great band.
And here it is - the end of an era. Take it all in, for herein finishes the run of Rush epics. For the third and final time, Rush pens a song that goes coast to coast and fills a side a vinyl, in this case the suite “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”. As if to end this chapter in style, this song is part two to “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Journey” from A Farewell to Kings.
“Hemispheres” continues the journey of the hero from the last album, wherein the science fiction tale describes his ships journey to, and subsequent destruction by a black hole in the Cygnus constellation. Now we pick up the tale, as a fantasy, the hero arriving formless onto a land locked in an ancient civil war. One faction is Apollo, representing logic while the other is Dionysus, representing love; each forming in the great conflict a hemisphere, representing modern conventions on right/left hemispheres of brain function. This is a classic argument in science fiction, where logic and love is cast opposed and in conflict. From the vantage point of being an outsider he immediately sees the war for what it is, a house fighting against itself. The gods listen to him and fix their world by joining the two forces into one, thus the two hemispheres form a complete sphere; both interdependent to complete the world.
This suite runs in 6 parts. While not the opus that “2112” is, it is still solid. The music is mellowed out progressive rock, but innovative and good; the band tighter and at the top of their game. The lyrics tell a wonderful story, but too much at times as Lee seems pushed to keep up with everything that needs to be said. You will need to hear this a couple times to get everything. On the plus side this pushes Lee into new vocal territory with positive results.
Another song note, much has been made over “The Trees”, a good song with debated lyrics; opinions range from comments on French/English relations in Canada to labor disputes in general. Peart claims the song was inspired by a cartoon and is about collectivism. To me, it seems to be an analogy about egalitarianism and the cost of enforced outcomes. Either way, it’s quite a piece of music, so take a listen and decide for yourself.
“La Villa Strangiato” is the final track and another long piece. It is also the first Rush instrumental, and the guys go all out on it. Someone must have told them that instrumentals are the point in a concert where you ratchet things up to show off, advice obviously followed being subtitled “An Exercise in Self-Indulgence” for a reason. The good news is that this does not come across as a meaningless exercise in needless musical-masturbation. It is a smooth run for over 9 minutes of musical greatness. And yes, for those who love the old Loony-Tunes, the riff at 5:49 and 8:03 is the “Assembly Line” music from many a great cartoon.
As the last chapter in this period of writing, Rush goes all out. The writing is over the top. The music is complex, smooth, and flowing, much care applied to the sound. Acoustics and electric guitars seemingly join into a lush production, layers of textures applied to give the sound depth. Peart continues to amaze, adding complements to his kit and being a technical master. Lee proves again that bass work is a full time member of the band, even getting a chance to show off eloquently on “La Villa”. Lifeson is all over this like a kid in a candy store, enjoying every riff and carrying you along for the ride. The music hits its apex with the instrumental, the band putting an exclamation point on not only this album, and an era.
Prog fans will love this album - It has all the facets to make it succeed. Non-believers will find it difficult, side one encompassing 18 minutes that need to be treated as a whole; they will likely not have the patience to give this a few spins to peel back the layers and unlock its moments. Side two, while still painted by the broad brush of prog, is good solid hard rock and “La Villa Strangiato” just owns no matter what kind of music you like.
Many Rush fans will tell you that the 1970s were the band's best decade. After all, in just six short years, the Canadian trio had managed to release the best selling debut in Canadian history, two successful follow up albums and the monster smash that was '2112'. So how do you close out a decade as strong as this one? Simple; you release the masterpeice that is 'Hemispheres'.
As usual, all three band members bring everything they've got to the table. Geddy Lee's voice soars above the crescendo of Neil Peart's masterful drumming, while his driving basslines provide a solid foundation for Alex Lifeson's awesome riffing and incredible solos. Try as hard as you might, you just won't find a single second on this disc that doesn't rear its head back and scream excellence.
2112 fans were thrilled to see another epic opener, this time the sequel to Cygnus X-1 from 1977's 'A Farewell To Kings'. Clocking in at an impressive 18 minutes, the song manages to stay fresh throughout - it never gets old and it never gets boring. Musically, the band remains solid, as showcased by the wicked basslines found in "Circumstances" and the wonderful instrumental "La Villa Strangiato". Lyrically, Neil Peart is at his finest, from the political metaphor that comprises "The Trees" and the cohesive storyline found in "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres".
All in all, you will be hard pressed to find dissapointment within this album. From the moment you hit play to the second you inevitably start it up again, the album never fails to deliver. The only flaw this album has is its length - or more to the point, the lack thereof. However, it remains an excellent way to close out an even more excellent decade, 'Hemispheres' is a must-own album for not just any Rush fan, but anyone who even slightly apprieciates the progressive genre.
This is one of Rush's classic releases, from before they got a synthesizer fetish. Wait, you need more reason than that to buy this album? Well, ok.
On this album, we get to see Rush at its best. Rush has yet to top "Hemishperes". It kicks off with the continuation of the Cygnus X-1 story, part one of which was the ending to their previous album, "A Farewell to Kings". It's a great epic, clocking in at just over 18 minutes long, and is great from beginning to end. Geddy Lee's voice is really great, and try not to sing along with the "Every soul a battlefield" part. Of course Alex Lifeson's guitar is fantastic, Neil Peart pounds the skins like a master, and Geddy Lee proves that he can play bass as well as he can sing. It's my opinion that Cygnus X-1 pts. 1 and 2 comprise the best concept song the band has ever written, even though 2112 has a slightly better storyline.
You would think the rest of the album would be filler, and that's almost true. The second song, Circumstances, is a pretty regular song for Rush, being about 3 1/2 minutes long, and possibly an attempt at a radio hit. Despite that, it's still quite good, and I never skip it. Next up is The Trees, which is a decent enough slow-ish song, dealing with trees (duh) and having some meaningful lyrics that I won't ruin here. Good, but pales in comparison to the next one.
Which is: La Villa Strangiato, a nine minute instrumental! This is a really great song, and definitely Rush's best instrumental. Geddy has a great bass solo in there, and the whole thing just rocks.
The only flaw with this album is that despite the lengthy songs it's still a little short, being just over 35 mintutes. On the other hand, I much prefer a short album to Rush packing in a bunch of radio-friendly filler songs. If you're at all a fan of Rush, and you don't have this, get it right now. If you're new, I'd suggest starting with "2112", then moving on to "A Farewell to Kings", and then buying this one, so you can see their evolution, and because the first part to Cygnus X-1 is on "A Farewell to Kings".