Powerful, challenging and bursting with musical sophistication, Hemispheres is where Rush‘s sound came together completely both in scope and execution. As much as 2112 was the their breakthrough and A Farewell to Kings upped the anti with greater experimentation and use of different instrumentation, the Canadian power trio were still working out the kinks. On Hemispheres, they not only pushed the multiple time signatures and long songpieces to the limit, but delivered them with absolute perfection.
Few bands have the musical prowess let alone the balls to pull off a 20-minute epic the way Rush does on “Cygnus X-1: Part 2 – Hemispheres.” It’s here that Rush show they have perfected the long-playing epic to mesmerizing results. Split into five different sections, the trio showcase a mystical blend of hard rock with subtler, quiet sections; Geddy Lee utilizing the keyboards with innovative frequency as plays intricate bass lines. Written about a mysterious black hole, where the explorer on a space ship is sucked and he emerges on Olympus interacting with the Gods and people and how life should be lived; the song takes the listener on an introspective journey, different from the one on 2112 that was more revolutionary. The entire piece is so fluid that it ultimately doesn’t feel as long as it says on the track list. Neil Peart’s drumming had reached a precision and dynamic that was unrivaled in rock and heavy metal, while Alex Lifeson’s guitar was simply mesmerizing with bombastic crunch.
Peart’s drumming is simply some of the best of his career as well as the lyrical pieces that he set forth on the three of the four tracks. The hard rocking “Circumstances,” despite Lee’s ultra-sonic high vocal pitch, takes us back to Peart’s days in England where he grew disillusioned with the life where he is living. The whimsical “The Trees” deals with inequality and racism through the nature-like setting of the forest – “There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees, for the maples have no sunlight as the oaks ignore their pleas.”
The album’s centerpiece is the 9-minute instrumental, “La Villa Strangiato,” which closes the album. The song combines flamingo-style guitar work with flourishes of jazz, rag time and Zeppelin bombast. It’s on this track that Rush reaches their peak as instrumentalists, as musicians, as artists. Starting off with Lifeson’s playing a Spanish guitar, the song segues into a winding, complex guitar solo while Peart builds the beat as Lee plucks nimble bass lines. The track is one of the best and sophisticated compositions of Rush’s career.
Despite the overall sentiment that at only four compositions – two of them long song pieces, pa- the album is a lot to stomach; the music is, by far, the most skillfully-crafted of their career. Full of multi-movement song structures, complex melodies and rhythms; Hemispheres is a musical juggernaut of innovation.
As much as Hemispheres could be seen as Rush’s crowning achievement that pushed their flair for progressive rock to a peak, it could also be seen as the point where the songs were in danger of getting out of hand in length and multiple time sequence changes. You got the sense that the band had pushed their progressive inclinations as far as they could go, which explains the drastic shift in direction they made on their next record.
Still, Hemispheres is one of Rush’s most musically-satisfying pieces of work. A crowning achievement for the band, the album remains a high-water mark for the genre of progressive metal.
Rush – Permanent Waves – 1980
Rush – A Farewell to Kings – 1977