Rush's 20th album, Clockwork Angels, is some of the heaviest music the Canadian trio has ever created. Bassist and singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart treat listeners to a story cycle of tunes as the adventures of a young man are chronicled through steampunk, alchemy, pirates and carnivals all under the eye of a Watchmaker.
There is low-bottom heaviness to the opener, "Caravan," with a tickling of keys in the chorus and quite the usual flights of chunky craziness in the middle, but "BU2B" is better with a more direct lyric and more menacing Lifeson guitar playing. Both of these songs premiered on the band's 2010/2011 Time Machine Tour. The title track sees some high vocal chanting and some great slashing from Lifeson's electric guitar - a picked rhythm that his band mates pop and groove over. Lee's vocal is especially effective on the chorus, with a super funky sweet spot in the middle of the tune.
"Carnies" is reminiscent of "Working Man," especially in its verses with Lifeson's pull-offs. During the single-note bridges, Lifeson and Peart are especially on fire. This is a massively heavy song revealing the protagonists' journey into the seductive world of "demon music and gypsy queens." "Seven Cities Of Gold" features Lee leading with a sharp opening and some of Peart's most inventive drumming. Lifeson takes off halfway through, as again the trio pushes the rock hardcore. "The Wreckers" is pretty commercial for Rush, again with loud splashy guitar, but also a floating melody for the verses that are lyrically beautiful.
Give up everything you ever knew about drumming when listening to "Headlong Flight," another nod to pre-2112 Rush (arguably their most infamous album and era) with a kinetic disturbance. This is Rush on fire with all three men playing at the peak of their efficiency - Lee's vocals are amazing and his bass playing superb stuff. Lifeson channels his lead from the Rush oldie "By-Tor And The Snow Dog." Peart is at his best of these 12 tracks, maybe his best ever. There are surprises in store from him that I can't even begin to explain in this seven minute-plus opus.
There is a short reprise of "BU2B" - just a waving key-violin sound effect and Lee's vocal - but in a way it's just as effective as the first one. The acoustic guitar-led and somewhat uncharacteristic "The Garden" is simply perfect. There is a nice, trilling guitar line that opens the tune up; Lee's voice is rich and Peart's lyrics truly say something. Rush fans will be delighted by Clockwork Angel's cover displaying the time, 9:12 or 21:12, which I believe is apropos as this release sounds heavy in that old, classic Rush way, yet this band is at the height of their maturity.
~ Ralph Greco. Jr.