By Raymond Westland
Some time ago I had pretty fierce discussion with some prog connoisseurs about which bands are truly essential within the progressive rock and metal establishment I brought Tool, Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, The Mars Volta and Opeth to the table. Pink Floyd and Dream Theater were mentioned as well. Suddenly the conversation turned to Rush, a band with a long and distinguished history. Albums like 2112 and Moving Pictures are genuine classics. The vast majority of the aforementioned bands owe at least something to these innovative Canadians. Rush’s latest album, entitled “Clockwork Angels”, is basically my first exposure to Geddy Lee and Co and it’s a very convenient excuse to do a lot of backtracking in their extensive discography…
The thing I really like about Rush and Clockwork Angels is that they’re perfect examples what can be achieved when a certain set of musicians are perfectly in sync with each other without one or two members take centre stage. Neil Peart’s adventurous drumming, Alex Lifeson’s tasteful guitar playing and Geddy Lee’s innovative bass playing and trademark vocals are an incredible creative force that only a few can match.
Clockwork Angels revolves around a concept story written by Neil Peart and Sci-Fi writer Kevin J. Anderson. In that way the album echoes the days of 2112 and Moving Pictures. The album starts with three rather heavy and moody songs in the form of “Caravan”, “BU2B” and the title track. The devil is clearly in the details and the wealth of ideas is simply astonishing. However, no matter how lavish the textures are, how complicated the arrangements or the technical accomplished some parts are, they never jeopardize the overall flow and groove of each individual composition. Geddy Lee’s vocals may not reach the dizzying heights of yesteryear, but they have aged very well and they gave the album a certain sense of mature authority.
Other notably moments on this album are the Middle-Eastern flourishes of “The Anarchist” and the two mercilessly driven heavyweights in the form of “Seven Cities Of Gold” and “Headlong Flight”. As with many of the other songs on Clockwork Angels, I can hardly fathom the depth and richness of these tracks. There are so many layers and nifty little ideas that it will take me at least a dozen intense listening sessions before I really get to the bottom of this. The album ends on a lighter note in the form of a ballad called “The Garden”. It’s a nice song and it’s a nice break in the overall heavy and stark atmosphere which characterizes this album.
Where many older bands are just a mere shadows of themselves or just a bad parody in some cases, Rush are just as vital and relevant as ever. Forget the hyped nonsense surrounding Storm Corrosion, because Clockwork Angels is the quintessential progressive rock album you’ll hear this year. A dear colleague of mine described it as an angelic masterpiece. I couldn’t agree more. Clockwork Angels is indeed a serious contender for album of the year. Utterly breathtaking!
(Anthem/Universal [Can] / Roadrunner [ROW])