For their 20th release, legendary Canadian band Rush have come up with their most adventurous album in years, titled Clockwork Angels. A concept album that "chronicles a young man's quest across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy as he attempts to follow his dreams. The story features lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnival, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life." It's safe to say that Rush haven't undertaken a project like this in many years, and it's no surprise then that Clockwork Angels will be a revelation to those fans who miss their heavier and progressive days.
Opening cut "Caravan" starts things off in fine fashion, an upbeat rocker with a catchy chorus and layer upon layer of guitar from Alex Lifeson. Geddy Lee might not be able to hit those high registers anymore, but his confident mid-range works just fine here. "BU2B" recalls the more proggy aspects of their previous release Snakes & Arrows, and the lovely title track features Lee's silky bass grooves, hard hitting textures from Lifeson, and Neil Peart's always impressive drum work. At nearly 8-minutes long, this is the first of a few longer pieces on the album, and mixes the hard rock & prog quite nicely. Crisp riffs from Lifeson highlight the upbeat rocker "The Anarchist", a song also driven by some fantastic bass courtesy of Lee and a furious middle section where the trio really lock into some tight ensemble arrangements. Add in some nice keyboard layers and a stinging Lifeson solo and you have another winner.
"Carnie" signals the CDs first really HEAVY number, containing one of the most grinding riffs Lifeson has come up with in years. Lee's strong vocals perfectly tell the story of our main character finding work with a travelling carnival before the arrival of The Anarchist spoils it for him. This segues into the catchy "Halo Effect", a song that has 'radio single' all over it thanks to some very memorable melodies and lovely backing strings. Geddy's muscular bass lines lead in the groove laden "Seven Cities Of Gold", another heavy number featuring some wild lead guitar from Lifeson as well as a red hot main riff. "The Wreckers" is another textured track with a killer chorus that will stick with you for days, almost like a sequel to "Subdivisions" from Signals. Plenty of haunting keyboards on this one also add some nice layers. The band goes full bore into complex progressive metal on the juggernaut "Headlong Flight", as Lee & Lifeson roll out a furious onslaught of intricate riffs while Peart flails away underneath. "Wish Them Well" is another catchy rocker, and song number 3 that could have hit potential on FM radio in a perfect world. Closing number "The Garden" is 7 minutes of gorgous prog rock bliss, as chilling keys and Lifeson's expert acoustic guitar work provide the bulk of the instrumentation, allowing Geddy to finish telling the story.
Clockwork Angels is another in a long line of classy, sophisticated releases from Rush. No, it might not be the second coming of Hemispheres, 2112, or Moving Pictures, but it's easily their strongest release since Grace Under Pressure, even better than the excellent Counterparts and Snakes & Arrows, two very successful releases in that time span as well. If you favor Rush material that rocks very hard yet retains that progressive as well as commercial edge, this is the album you've been waiting for.
3. Clockwork Angels
4. The Anarchist
6. Halo Effect
7. Seven Cities Of Gold
8. The Wreckers
9. Headlong Flight
11. Wish Them Well
12. The Garden