On October 29, 1978, "Rush" released their sixth studio album "Hemispheres".
And what a crazy album it is .... the compositions are even more complex than what this band has done so far, intricate and complicated rhythms, psychic and asymmetrical time signatures, and challenging and crazy solos. And of course, all of these demanded a perfect, virtuoso, precise playing level from this amazing trio. In order to bring all this goodness to fruition, the band expands the range of instruments it plays on, especially Neil Peart who pads his drum set with a wide variety of percussion instruments including gong and Timpani that were not included in his drum set in the past.
If we could put our finger on the first prog metal album, it would probably be "Hemispheres". True "Rush" did it back in 1975 with "Caress Of Steel", they improved the formula with "2112" and diversified it with "A Farewell to Kings", but this time it's already a whole new level. This is without a doubt the pinnacle of the band's progressive era, but also its swan song in reference to this special style, as in future albums "Rush" will swim with the current and begin to move away from the advanced genre and the long and complex musical pieces.
So before we dive into the review itself, some technical and statistical data.
This is the band's second of 3 albums to make "Rolling Stone" magazine's list of the 50 greatest prog albums of all time. It reached the respectable 11th place, ahead of quite a few good prog classics.
This album was also ranked eighth in "Rolling Stone" magazine's readers' survey of their favorite prog albums.
The album includes only 4 tracks. The first side includes the musical piece "Cygnus X-1 Book 2: Hemispheres" which is divided into 6 parts, while the other side contains only three sections.
This is the band's first album featuring an instrumental track - "La Villa Strangiato", which is divided into 12 parts and lasts about 10 minutes.
It is also the album that was the hardest for Geddy Lee to perform in terms of singing. The band first recorded the music without making sure the scale is suitable for singing for Geddy, forcing him to stretch his abilities to the edge and his vocal cords even above and beyond the ordinary.
The only two songs from the album (the other two are an instrumental track and an epic piece), "The Trees" and "Circumstances", were released as singles.
It is also the band's latest album recorded and mixed in England.
And now for the content:
The main musical piece on this album "Cygnus X-1 Book 2: Hemispheres", is the second book in the work "Cygnus X-1" and a direct sequel to the first book located as the last track of the album "A Farewell to Kings" and is called "Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage ".
So, for those unfamiliar with the first chapter of the work, we will mention that "Cygnus X-1 Book 1" is a song divided into three parts that tell the story of a space explorer on a spaceship named "Rocinante", who made his way to the black hole, "Cygnus X-1", while believing he could cross it and discover what is beyond. The piece ends as the explorer approaches the black hole and his ship gets out of control and is pumped powerfully into the black hole. For more on the first book and for that amazing album, read the review we wrote about it here:
The second book and the subject of our current review, "Cygnus X-1 Book 2: Hemispheres", continues from exactly the same point and tells us how the same space explorer survived and managed to get out on the other side of the black hole into Olympus, where an argument takes place between Apollo (the brain) leading the thinking people and Dionysus (The heart) which leads the people with emotion, while the same researcher (who will be crowned as Cygnus) will serve as a mediator whose job is to balance them. The word "Hemispheres" reflects the two lobes in the brain with Dionysus and Apollo each representing a different lobe.
Already in the first sounds of the album, during the Fade In, you can actually hear and imagine how the explorer's spaceship is sucked through the black hole and comes out of its other side, and we are already entering the first of 6 parts of the musical piece - "Prelude". This is an instrumental part that lasts about 3 minutes, which is like the "overture" from "2112". It includes fragments from the parts that will accompany us throughout the musical piece. One does not have to be a fanatical fan of "Rush" to appreciate the virtuoso playing ability and the amazing, high-quality composition presented here. Just listen to the rhythm changes, the hallucinatory time signatures that are replaced like socks and the amazing playing ability. Turn up the volume, and listen up to Geddy Lee's bass strolling around Alex Lifeson's riffs, you will notice the precise timing and amazing combination of the drums with the guitar and bass, the syncope, the breaks, the arpeggios, the palm-muted strings. Even the "Triangle" comes to ecstasy when Neil Peart's drumstick touches it. Just perfection, perfection, perfection !!!
After the instrumental section, we move on to a verbal introduction designed to get us into the story. It explains the struggle between the gods of "love" and the "logic" that since the dawn of history have been fighting for the control of human beings.
After a bar-length pause (4:24 min) we move on to the second part of the work "Apollo (Bringer of Wisdom)". Apollo is the god of the sun and art in Greek mythology. He represents the left lobe of the brain. During this section Apollo introduces himself and just like in an election campaign explains Why it is better that he will rule over humans? He explains that he brings wisdom, truth and understanding. He assures humans that he will help them understand and find food, fire and shelter. At first, humans are happy with what the god Apollo offers them, they learn, become more efficient, build for themselves a social life and cities of residence, but they still lack something and they do not understand what exactly. The episode ends when humans cross the "Bridge of Death" in search of Dionysus to get answers from him about what they lost along the way. Alex Lifeson's crazy and amazing solo (6:24 min) literally accompanies us crossing the bridge until the humans reach Dionysus.
The third part of the musical work begins at 7:00 am and is called "Bringer of Love". This part opens with a speech by Dionysus who, like Apollo, explains to humans why he is the one who is good for them. He is a "human" and emotional god compared to the other gods, he is, in fact, the complete opposite of the God Apollo, where Apollo is the enlightened, planned, and calculated "mind", while Dionysus is the hedonistic and spontaneous emotional "heart". A calculated and planned but emotionless life, it is the one that will bring them love, excitement, laughter and music, happiness and tears. Humans are eventually convinced, leaving the safe cities and Apollo and moving to live in the open forest, in the woods, under the stars, in an idyllic life of love, happiness, and music. But, the harsh winter caught them unprepared, hunger and wolves only added to the problems and led them to utter despair.
The fourth part "Armageddon (The Battle of Heart and Mind)" is a section that begins at 9:00 min. and introduces us to the "Gog and Magog" war of the two gods, the battle between the heart and the mind. It explains how the entire universe is divided into two in the war between the heart and the mind and how the people were abandoned without a leader to guide and lead them, while they drifted after the gods and fought each other. At the end of this part, the melodic section describes how those who did not fight boarded the spaceship "Rocinante" with the explorer on their final journey in search of the formidable "Cygnus" to help them end the incessant battle between heart and mind and the Gods Apollo and Dionysus. The segment ends when the left channel in the stereo changes to the right and with a dramatic effect that comes after the word "Hemispheres".
The fifth part "Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)" opens with an "atmospheric" and quiet section, starting at 12:00, during which we are witnessing "flashbacks" from the space and time travel of the ship "Rocinante". These "flashbacks" are embodied through small musical parts from "Cygnus X-1 Book 1" of the previous album (from the section" The Voyage"), which were transplanted into the instrumental part. At the end of the instrumental section, the researcher is presented as a spirit without body and without form, To move and intervene, he cries from within, and then... all of a sudden the quiet ends, and everything explodes with a loud entrance and screams from Geddy Lee (14:35) and the hawkish warriors who felt the great sorrow of the researcher, stop their fight and crown him as Cygnus God of balance.
The musical piece ends with an acoustic and melodic section "The Sphere (A Kind of Dream)" with a message of hope and a lot of optimism. In this part, Cygnus calls for the unification of the two lobes in order to produce one complete and unified lobe.
The other side of the album opens with "Circumstances" drummer Neil Peart wrote about his stay in London when he flew there as a young musician in search of a musical career and his return about a year and a half later to Canada, straight into the band's arms. The musical style here is reminiscent of the basic hard rock from the band's first albums, only with the sound and production we get on the band's next album "Permanent Waves" from 1980.
The second track on the other side of the album "The Trees" is perhaps the biggest and only "hit" out of it. In the best Neil Peart's tradition, this is an allegorical imaginary story that is a kind of parable about human behavior. The lyrics speak of an imaginary conflict that takes place between the oak trees and the maple trees - a kind of comedic wink of a Peart that conveys the way Canadians (maples) feel towards the Americans (oaks). It should be noted that in an interview with Peart from 1980 for "Modern Drummer" magazine, he stated that the song has no specific meaning. He just watched a cartoon and saw trees talking and thought what if the trees were behaving like people. It is interesting to note that at the end of the song the "Maples" band together and pass a law then the saw, axe, and hatchet cut down the tall trees (the oaks) that hid the sunlight from them, in order to create equality between them all. This describes the socialist worldview of Ian Rand whose work "Anthem" starred on the album "2112".
This piece became a sought-after classic in the band's performances and in some of the tours it was given a longer instrumental intro played by Alex Lifeson called "Broon's Bane". "The Trees" is actually a mini-epic that includes three main time signatures, some of which are asymmetrical. Most of the acoustic section is played at 6/8, while most of the heavy section is 4/4 and the instrumental transition section is played at 5/4.
The last track on the album "La Villa Strangiato" is the first instrumental piece that the band recorded. The subtitle of it is: "An Exercise in Self-Indulgence" and how true this subtitle is. This is a very complex section for playing, that includes no less than 12 sub-parts and extends over about 10 minutes. The band members claimed at the time that it took them longer to record this track than the entire second album "Fly By Night". Although it is an instrumental piece it tells a full story that is divided into 12 parts. The inspiration for the work came from Alex Lifeson's dream, and the music in it describes the events in that dream. The playing of all band members here is wonderfully virtuoso, especially Alex who is just at his peak.
It is interesting to note that "Rush" was influenced in this section by the work "Powerhouse" by Raymond Scott from 1937. Listen to the track of Rush starting from 5:49 and in contrast to the track by Raymond Scott starting from 1:24 here and tell us what you think:
And now just turn up the volume and listen to this wonderful piece.