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| 11 September 2012 | Reply

Released June 2012
By Guest reviewer Craig Skelton, bassist & keyboardist with melodic rockers STONE CIRCLE

Canadian prog rock power trio, Rush are no strangers to long form story telling but in the past their stories (By-Tor & The Snow Dog, 2112, Cygnus X-I to name but three) have always been told in one continuous piece of music with different but often related musical ideas making up the various sections or chapters. In a word they used to be bloody good at it but haven’t released anything in this style since 1980’s Natural Science from Permanent Waves.

Clockwork Angels, their 19th studio album, sees a long overdue and stunning return to this form but with one significant and superbly wrought difference. This time Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart deliberately set out to write a whole album that tells one story but through a collection of completely independent songs that can stand on their own or be listened to as a whole.

And that right there is the beauty of this album. You can just listen to one song, and there are some absolute crackers like the opening tracks, Caravan and BU2B, two of the most powerfully written and executed riffs I’ve heard in years; or you can fully indulge and immerse yourself in the album as a whole and revel in the world building and adventures of our intrepid hero, ‘’a young man who quests to follow his dreams, in which he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colourful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.”

Don’t know about you but that sounds fucking cool to me and I recommend sitting with a pair of headphones and reading the accompanying liner notes which help flesh out the tale.

One criticism levelled at recent albums, in particular 2002’s Vapour Trails, was a lack of dynamics and melody compared to earlier efforts. This has firmly been put to bed. The dynamic range of the title track, Clockwork Angels, is a lesson in arrangement and ‘Halo Effect’ has one of the simplest and effective melodies I’ve heard Geddy sing.

Clockwork Angels see the band re-partner with producer NickRaskulinecz, who the band first worked with on 2007’s ‘Snakes and Arrows’, and for good reason. This album is tight as hell and punchy as fuck. No matter how thick the texture or layered the mix you can hear every note, every drum, every word. There are barn burning freight train heavy tracks like ’Headlong Flight’ and gloriously textured anthems like the albums uplifting closer ‘The Garden’. Alex Lifeson’s guitars sound as stunning and colourful as his playing, Neil Peart is still pound for pound the best damn drummer on the planet and Geddy’s bass tone is quite simply ball rattlingly good.

Everything about this album has vibrancy and passion including the striking artwork by long time Rush cover artist Hugh Syme. In a subtle nod to the bands long form story telling prog rock past the clock hands on the front show the time as 9:12 or 21:12 for those in the know.

It’s a mighty return by the world’s biggest cult band (Rush’s sales statistics place them third behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band but apparently no-one knows who they are, certainly not mainstream radio here in Oz).

A couple of extracurricular titbits for the rabid hard core Rush fan (is there any other kind?) are the special Fanpack release being done in conjunction with Classic Rock magazine which includes a 132 page booklet chock full of interviews, gear breakdowns and insights from various producers and industry luminaries and a novelisation of Clockwork Angels by sci-fi novelist Kevin J. Anderson, a long time friend of Neil Peart.

Bottom line: This is the best sounding and most coherent and consistent album by Rush since 1993’s Counterparts. Not that I’m knocking the three interim outings but Clockwork Angels is a stand out album sure to become a classic with fans and newcomers alike. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is I’m one of those rabid hard core Rush fans and I’m desperately trying to maintain a modicum of objectivity. Now if only we can get them to tour Down Under…

Find out more about STONE CIRCLE here

Category: CD Reviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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