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A Deep and Difficult Step Backwards - 77%

Metalich, May 6th, 2007

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.