Random album reviews

Jer

My sins are many


Rush - Roll The Bones (1991)
  • Dreamline - The sound of a car passing by on a wet road welcomes a clockwork guitar lead that drives a soft verse. This breaks into a punchy chorus 1 with synth accents. Another verse and chorus 1 leads into a gentler chorus 2. A brief bridge leads back into chorus 1, then a soaring guitar solo. This returns to chorus 2, then chorus 1 and a quick ending. An excellent song which became a latter-era concert staple for good reason. 9/10.
  • Bravado - A bright melodic guitar lead is accompanied by an upbeat groove. This gives way to a calm bass-driven verse that builds and changes slightly to become the chorus. This eventually breaks into a great guitar solo and bridge before returning for a few rounds of the chorus and an extended instrumental outro. A good song, though it feels a bit samey throughout. 7/10.
  • Roll The Bones - A quick percussive intro breaks into a bass riff with guitar and synth tradeoffs, leading into a catchy verse. Synth organ announces a peppier pre-chorus, which eventually gives way to a sublime acoustic chorus with interesting vocal harmonies. Another round of verse through chorus and we get an epic but brief guitar solo. This gives way to the much-maligned “rap” section, voiced by a downtuned Geddy, which has a brief organ break in the middle. (I actually don’t mind this part, aside from some silly lyrics.) This returns to the pre-chorus and the excellent chorus before fading away. This song has a couple of weaker elements, but most of it is brilliant. On balance I’d round it up to a 9/10.
  • Face Up - Ringing guitar and drum fireworks break into a bouncy verse and pre-chorus. This leads into a decent chorus with some questionable vocal effects. Another round of verse through chorus, then things slow down for a dreamy bridge. This breaks into an energetic guitar solo before returning to the chorus, then a mash-up of the pre-chorus and the chorus before a quick synth denouement. Good stuff, but not great. 7/10.
  • Where’s My Thing? - A funky guitar riff breaks into a full band “verse”, which leads into a soaring instrumental chorus. Another “verse” and “chorus”, then we get a funky off-rhythm bridge followed by a calmer interlude with distant guitar. A variant “verse” leads to a quick rhythmic breakdown, then an up-modulated “chorus”. A reprise of the bridge cuts to a quick ending. A strong instrumental track, 7/10.
  • The Big Wheel - An epic synth and guitar intro builds into a bright rock riff. This leads into a catchy verse and a brief pre-chorus. Another verse and pre-chorus, then we break into a big melodious chorus. Another couple rounds of verse and pre-chorus, then we return to the chorus. This gives way to a multi-part interlude with guitar swells and “oh-ohs” that leads into an uptempo bridge before returning to the great chorus with some additional vocal harmonies. Some guitar noodling and vocal riffing fade out to end the track. Great stuff, 8/10.
  • Heresy - A military beat builds into a melodic guitar lead. This flows into a pleasant verse and a so-so pre-chorus. Another verse with more vocal harmonies leads back into the pre-chorus and an OK chorus. Another verse and pre-chorus, then a brief interlude prefaces a return to the chorus. This gives way to an extended outro based on the pre-chorus before a reprise of the military beat closes things down. Some nice parts here, but there are enough weaknesses to round this down to a 6/10.
  • Ghost Of A Chance - A twangy riff leads into a bouncy verse. The riff returns for a more intense pre-chorus before falling back into a surprisingly calm and appealing chorus with guitar accents. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a great guitar solo with electric piano accompaniment. This leads into an extended outro with chorus vocal riffing and guitar fills that slowly fades away. A strong song with some great parts, a robust 7/10.
  • Neurotica - A guitar and synth groove supports a somewhat awkward verse. The heaviness picks up for a decent pre-chorus before breaking into a catchy chorus with some odd “oh-ohs”. Another round of verse through chorus, then a brief techno-ish interlude leads into a strong bridge and a great guitar solo. This folds back into the chorus before a reprise of the techno effects carries us out. Good song with a few weaknesses, 7/10.
  • You Bet Your Life - A drum fill intro breaks into a bright guitar lead. This gives way to an OK verse before cutting into a bizarre and somewhat icky chorus 1. Another verse and chorus 1, then we get an odd chorus 2 that evokes memories of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. Another round of verse and choruses flows into a final guitar solo with some vocal riffing that fades into the distance. A very mixed bag, but the music is probably good enough to round this up to a 6/10.
Average: 7.3/10
Weighted: 7.3/10

Rush enters the 90s with a somewhat uneven effort, featuring a few great tracks, a lot of good songs, and a couple of weaker ones.

Alex Lifeson wanted to experiment with some funk guitar sounds on this album, which actually integrated pretty well into the band’s sound. More polarizing was the band’s decision to dip their toes into some rap stylings on the title track, but this was a one-off thing that didn’t really bother me. In concert this part was accompanied by a video with a skeletal character delivering the rap, which made the whole thing funny in a good way.

This album and Presto were both produced by Rupert Hine, so they share some similarity in sound. But Rush was about to change things up again, including dipping their toes into yet another style that was popular in the 90s...
 

Randalf

Ancient Mariner
Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls

While looking at significant albums from the last decade that just came to close, this one received quite a lot of attention. And no wonder, the Mayan-zombie that stares you at the cover is definitely a haunting, memorable sight! You'd expect something twisted, gloomy, dark and heavy from a band with a three-guitar line-up calling itself "Iron Maiden" and putting out DOUBLE ALBUM as their debut. This band is clearly trying to make being stubbornly old-school and "out of fashion" their thing right from the start.

Carefully built around Mayan imagery and the blood-lust zombie featured in the album cover, booklet and even in the Mayan-style art in the discs, the album is very strong with visual imagery. The music, however, does not really have any kind re-occurring lyrical themes, but the pure musical narrative is relatively strong, even if it doesn't quite give well enough reason and excuse for it being a double album. There is a beautiful artwork in the booklet, featuring the same zombie that is present in the album cover, with a totally different, more colorful background; there you'd got a perfect cover for your second album, a handful of songs already and strong visual continuity with reappearing Mayan motifs and that zombie guy.

As for the mentioned music, it's pretty traditional melodic heavy metal with some nods towards prog-rock and hard-rock and a couple of heavier parts thrown in. The opener, If Eternity Should Fail kicks off with a mystical intro and neat build-up. The melodies are good and while not too many things going on, the basic elements showcase the immense potential of the band. The chorus could be out of this world if the band weren't so stubborn with their demo-ish and raw approach to recording, I believe. While most of the songs have a lot of creative stuff in them, there are also some pretty straightforward rip-offs, and you can clearly tell where their inspiration lies: Speed of Light has a lot of Deep Purple elements in it, while stealing a riff from Enter Sandman by Metallica. Kinda clever, since younger people don't probably even know the songs and bands these newcomers are copying and it's not like older metalheads care to check out these newcomers too carefully anyway. One of the longer songs - and mind you, many of these tracks have pretty respectable runtimes - The Red and the Black has pretty distinctive Uriah Heep section in it, while otherwise being one of the more innovative songs on the record. Then again, attempts like the mentioned also showcase their lack of experience: they probably shouldn't tackle compositions like these until they've spent a bit more time playing and training together, as there are a couple of pitfalls, small mistakes and a few other oddities here and there thorough the record. The singer, while being able to reach some high notes pretty well, does seem to struggle with the almost hilarious pace of the lyrics in a couple of songs, even if the tempo never really gets that fast. There aren't too many voices like this in the rock/heavy metal scene, but he should probably discover his most comfortable ground a bit more carefully and try not to reach the most ambitious heights at the moment anyway - especially since his middle register seems to be very strong.

Being a bit too ambitious is actually the defining trait and problem of this particular record. For a fresh band as these guys are should probably focus on more simplistic approach first and only tackle more challenging ideas when they've gained some ground together. While songs like the mentioned The Red and the Black, the title track and the 18-minute album closer Empire of the Clouds are definitely impressive, they also sort of stumble at it. Give these tracks a fresh go in the studio after a couple of years and we'll see... You might want to bring scissors, too, since especially the last mentioned drags on with it's clever-yet-not-thoroughly-thought piano & orchestral parts for a bit too long. The title track is most successful of these longer songs to find a solid footing, being probably the heaviest song on the record and not playing with too many elements at once and thus not dragging or falling apart at the slightest at any moment. There's some clever tempo changes, but nothing too complex and overall, they seem to be at their most comfortable ground with this heavier yet very melodic and mystical stuff, such as this and the opening track. Other highlights include hard-rock gem Tears of a Clown that would have some huge radio potential if given a proper studio treatment and Death or Glory, which could become almost a power metal anthem at the hands of a more extreme band.

The debut of "Iron Maiden" is, however, a good one. Judging by the picture, these guys aren't too young - let alone good-looking - but they should have some good years and a handful of records ahead of them. Focus on the basics, book a proper studio and a producer (the potential in compositions like Death or Glory, Tears of a Clown and even the more ambitious stuff should definitely cause some interest in major labels) and swallow your pride: being a bit commercial is not a sin, if done well. Now their attempt to be "cool underground" almost backfires fatally.

As strong as the visual theme and the overall atmosphere is, they might want to ditch the zombies in the end - unless they are willing to go all the way and start dressing up as zombies for their live shows! Monster aesthetics in the album covers might have a huge effect on pre-puberty boys, those interested in comics and whatnot anyway, but they alone do not sell tickets to major festivals and such. However, carefully over the top zombie monster make-up and a couple of anthem-like songs developed from the same molds such as Death or Glory and Tears of a Clown might result in huge success. Then there might be some room for a bit more artistic stuff too. This time, however, it's not quite there yet, but there is strong, even Ghost-like potential in these guys if only some producer capable of crafting huge hits takes them under protection. Now, they just need their Square Hammer.

The Book of Souls is a good debut, but it suffers from the lack of quality control and someone telling the boys not to be too ambitious. There are more than enough of quality tracks that could've made a brilliant record, but things got a bit out of hand in the end and it's like every single "ingenious" blues section and more or less sloppy yet "DANGEROUS, 'cause that's rock'n roll baby" type of solo had to be included... They're playing well together, even if they're not terribly precise, but there might be some potential "artistic differences" and "chemistry issues" bubbling under the surface among the guitarists... I'm especially worried about Mr. Dave Murray, who seems to be responsible of The Man of Sorrows, easily the most odd song on the record, and the only one he's written for the record. Should he want to pursue this gloom bluesy thing and others not, it might be for the best to leave this group and therefore let Gers and Smith handle the guitars alone. The three guitars are not really used too a maximum effect anyway and the suspected egoism when it comes to solos and everyone's involvement in guitar parts could definitely became much bigger of a problem than it already is.

But yeah, potential there is.

A merciful 3.5/5.
 
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Diesel 11

As you scream into the web of silence...
Really enjoyed the way you tackled that review, even if I completely disagree with a lot of it. Case in point:

The music, however, does not really have any kind re-occurring lyrical themes
I’d argue that it’s actually got a really good reoccurring theme in souls, life, and death. All of the songs seem to touch on them in some way.
 

Randalf

Ancient Mariner
Really enjoyed the way you tackled that review, even if I completely disagree with a lot of it.

Haha, I'm glad you enjoyed it. As people here can probably tell, I was just turning everything from expectations to the angle of my approach completely upside down, while being a bit provocative with my shameless imitation of how a stereotypical "FFDP is the best band ever!!!" (my intention is not to mock them or their fans, but you probably get the point) writer might approach this one.

I was showing pretty bad taste though.

DiscIaimer: I actually really like the album and I'd probably rate it around 4 if I was being totally serious.

Ah, yeah, you're right about the themes around lyrical content!
 

Jer

My sins are many


Rush - Counterparts (1993)
  • Animate - A countdown and a beefy drum beat are joined by synth organ and ringing guitar. A solid chorus leads into a driving verse and pre-chorus before returning to the chorus. Another round of verse through chorus and we dial it back for a bass-driven interlude that leads into a strong bridge. A bluesy guitar solo follows, folding back into the bridge before returning to the chorus with some extra synth accents. This morphs into an extended musical outro that fades away. A strong song that doesn’t quite take flight. 7/10.
  • Stick It Out - A thick, dirty guitar lead flows into a dark verse. This kicks up into a heavier, dissonant grunge groove for the next verse, ending on an awkward a capella vocal. This breaks into a more traditional rock riff for the chorus, but the bizarre vocal harmonies here are borderline nauseating. We return to the verse, this time with a weird half-spoken twist. Another verse, then we get a less bizarre rendition of the chorus. This gives way to a gentler, catchy bridge, followed by a decent guitar solo and brief guitar interlude. Another verse and the ickier version of the chorus returns, followed by an outro based on the bridge, with vocal riffing from the chorus. Well, that was kind of a mess. There are probably enough decent parts here to salvage a 5/10.
  • Cut To The Chase - A clean guitar lead is joined by driving bass for a soft, catchy verse. The intensity kicks up for a brief pre-chorus before breaking into a heavier, guitar-driven chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a sweet extended guitar solo and a punchy bridge with some rhythmic guitar fills. A brief breakdown returns to the chorus, now with electric piano fills, leading to a quick ending. A very good song that indisputably rocks. I’ll round it up to an 8/10.
  • Nobody’s Hero - An uptempo acoustic groove kicks things off. “I knew he was different in his sexuality” is certainly an unexpected leadoff lyric! The catchy verse flows into a nice pre-chorus, then a merely OK orchestrated chorus. A bright and brief guitar solo rolls back into the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus. A nice guitar interlude leads into the pre-chorus and chorus again, then an extended orchestrated outro with vocal riffing. This song has good parts and lackluster parts, but it probably does enough to eke out a 7/10.
  • Between Sun & Moon - An upbeat groove supports a good verse. The intensity kicks up for an escalating chorus with some odd lyrics. Another couple of verses, then a brief echoing vocal interlude breaks back into the chorus. A rhythmic guitar interlude eventually leads into a variant verse, a regular verse, and back to the chorus to close things out. A strong song full of weird sexual metaphors that creep me out a little when they come out of Geddy’s mouth. 7/10.
  • Alien Shore - An odd sample cuts into a thick beat with a soaring guitar lead. This pulls back a bit for a ringing, driving verse. The heaviness returns for an urgent, but not totally successful pre-chorus. Another round of verse and pre-chorus breaks into a decent chorus. A reprise of the opening guitar lead flows into a chilled out guitar solo, then a brief electric lead. A variant verse leads into a pre-chorus that recalls all its lyrical variations, then a final set of choruses that ends a capella. I like the verses a lot, but the rest of the song is a bit lacking. 6/10.
  • The Speed Of Love - A drum roll breaks into a bright, pleasant groove. This gives way to an atmospheric verse with some rhythmic variations before cutting into an anemic chorus. Another couple of verses and we get a slightly better version of the chorus with some vocal harmonies. An atmospheric guitar and bass interlude introduces an OK bridge. Aggressive percussion builds up, then dissipates back into the too slow and too simple chorus. This develops some more interesting drumming over time, then gives way to a quick outro. Adequate, but it could have been much better. 6/10.
  • Double Agent - A bass and vocal intro that foreshadows the chorus breaks into a heavy, funky riff supporting a spoken word verse with an awkward vocal sung in the middle. This leads into a melodic pre-chorus that blossoms into a catchy, appealing chorus. Another couple of spoken word verses with synth effects lead back through the pre-chorus and chorus, now with synth accents. A hint of the verse riff breaks into a busy and messy guitar interlude before returning to the pre-chorus. This cuts back into a couple more spoken word verses, ending on a bare vocal. This is an interesting track with some really cool parts and some awkward moments. On balance I think it merits a 7/10.
  • Leave That Thing Alone - A peppy beat supports some clean strumming and assertive bass that serves as the “verse”. This breaks into a soaring guitar lead that serves as a “chorus”. More “verse” and “chorus”, then we get a guitar and synth interlude followed by a different soaring guitar lead. A brief breakdown cuts back into the “chorus”. Another guitar and drum breakdown returns to the “verse”, which takes on hints of the “chorus” guitars as it slowly fades away. Good stuff, 7/10.
  • Cold Fire - A scratchy guitar and vocal intro breaks into a clean, ringing verse, leading into a catchy chorus. A brief return of the intro riff cuts back into another verse, then the intro riff returns to underpin a driving pre-chorus that blossoms into a more impressive version of the chorus with some odd vocal harmonies. A strong guitar solo follows, leading back into the pre-chorus and chorus. The pre-chorus riff returns with some vocal riffing to serve as the outro. A very good song that delivers enough to round it up to an 8/10.
  • Everyday Glory - An upbeat synth lead with prominent bass folds into an appealing verse. A reprise of the intro leads into another verse and a peppier pre-chorus before breaking into an uptempo acoustic chorus that starts off strong but loses its way a bit. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a sweet extended guitar solo. This breaks into nice melodic bridge that gains vocal harmonies and builds nicely back into the pre-chorus before a reprise of the intro fades into the distance. Good song, 7/10.
Average: 6.8/10
Weighted: 6.8/10

Counterparts is one of those albums that sounds really good the first few times you listen to it, but then its weaknesses become more obvious over time. The thick rock production of Peter Collins sounded exciting after the thinner, more reserved sound of the previous two albums, but the songwriting wasn’t quite on the same level. And I hope we can all agree that Rush and grunge don’t mix very well.

That said, there’s a lot of solid material on here, with a couple of tracks that are almost great, and a few tracks that are mediocre to OK. On the whole it’s still a pretty good album with great production.
 

The Dissident

Ancient Mariner

Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence - Dream Theater - Disc 1
Format: CD/Digital

Disc 1:
Fading in from the outro of Finally Free from Scenes from a Memory The Glass Prison opens up the bands 6th album and introduces the audience to the first component of the twelve part suite. Portnoy thunders on his drums quite aggressively brining them to the forefront over Petrucci's soloing. James delivers a distorted vocal performance towards the end of the first part he really gets into a more strong style of delivery. Part two comes in becoming a midpaced stomp with a fair bit of anger behind the vocals. The track has some moments where it really shines but as a whole this track isn't the strongest opener Dream Theater have presented, it feels disjointed in parts and while each member does good work throughout the track doesn't become a strong sum of its parts at least not upon this first listen. Long bloated and inconsistent. Blind Faith is up next a clean vocal delviery and some more melencholy music signals that this longer track could potentially be a heart wrenching experience. Clearly about disillusionment with religion and the idea that maybe blind faith isn't the right idea. The chorus is a little shaky but as a whole the track is a massive step forwards from the opener. The extended instrumental section is amazing especially the last few bars before vocals come back into play. Misunderstood comes in calm once again, the track is quite slow for the majority of the first 4 minutes however it does explode into a more upbeat and dynamic track with the second chorus. An interesting guitar solo from Petrucci which from what I have read was played backwards and included on the track, a cool way of doing it. The Great Debate is the final lengthier track on the album, coming in with some news discussions regarding stem cell research, the track slowly builds behind the passages, James comes in at the 3 minute mark and sings incredibly distorted but thankfully that soon is removed as a whole a rather strong track with some powerful imagry and stances placed towards the controversial topic. Disc 1 closes off with Disapear, haunting vocals from James introduce the track so soft, full of pain and longing. And melencholy the track remains, chilling emotions are delived throughout the vocals

The Glass Prison -7.5/10
Blind Faith - 9/10
Misunderstood - 8/10
The Great Debate - 9/10
Disapear -9.5/10

Overall 86
Adjusted 85%
3.5 Stars


I will do disc 2 and include them as a whole album as well later just don't have the time at the moment.
Disc 2:

The disc spanning title track from the album opens up with Overture which is a very orchestral instrumental piece of music, a sprawling piece of music which grows darker and more twisted sounding as it progresses with a large amount of keyboard focus put in throughout the track. There are some great lighter components which I suspect based on the structure of the track will be repeated later on throughout this 8 track suite. About To Crash comes in as the Overture closes out, the introduction is solely piano based and when Petrucci comes in with his incredible melodic guitar the track really gets going, James paints a tragic picture of a woman with bipolar disorder. Showing her ups and downs throughout the track, the song doesn't just pertain to her it has reference to a support system in what appears to be a lover who is always there to help her back up following a crash. War Inside My Head pertains to PTSD which makes the themes evident throughout the whole track to be pertaining to mental disorders. The track takes a slightly harder approach, Portnoy shares lead vocals with James on this track and I have to say his vocals are better here than on many of the other tracks which he has sung on at least to me. A very short segment, it honestly could have been longer and more fleshed out but it is nice to have a short and direct component. A furious breakdown leads into The Test That Stumped Them All and continues to take the track into a darker realm, pertaining to schizophrenia this track features some very prominent drum work from Portnoy who thunders away furiously inbetween verses. The vocal delivery has a lot of Pink Floyd esc feel to it in parts a very eclectic track and very big into the concept record feel to it. It will either grow on me or I'll never hear it again but I do like the track. Goodnight Kiss is about the depression of a mother after losing her child, the track slows right back down a ballad of sorts calm and majestic the track features a rather nice solo section from Petrucci. Solitary Shell has a really infectious drum beat opening up the track which continues with the calm but still warm delivery, and as a whole the track is emotional, sentimental and really paints a brilliant picture of isolation. I love it. About To Crash (Reprise) returns the suite into a more upbeat approach, sung from the point of view of the woman from earlier when she is on one of her highs the track like many from earlier finishes lyrically about 3 quarters through the track and then goes into an instrumental which segues into the next piece, this time it segues into the final track Losing Time/Grand Finale. A track which begins to wrap everything all together while introducing the 6th and final degree. I feel like the whole 42 minute track is a great example of a suite greater than the sum of its parts, it isn't completely mind blowing but it is an incredible feat and the track really doesn't feel like 42 minutes have passed since it began.

Overture - 9/10
About To Crash - 9/10
War Inside My Head - 8/10
The Test That Stumped Them All - 8.5/10
Goodnight Kiss - 9/10
Solitary Shell - 10/10
About To Crash (Reprise) - 9/10
Losing Time/Grand Finale - 9.5/10
Disc 2:
Overall 90%
Adjusted 91%

Whole Album:
Overall 88%
Adjusted 88%
4 Stars
 

Jer

My sins are many


Rush - Test For Echo (1996)
  • Test For Echo - Clean arpeggios lead into a calm, awkwardly phrased chorus. This breaks into a noisy, monotonous riff before falling back into a too-slow bluesy verse. The intensity picks up again for a lackluster pre-chorus on top of the monotonous riff, leading into a heavy ascending guitar part that dissipates with the title lyric. Another ho-hum verse, then we return to the chorus, this time with cheesy vocal harmonies. The pre-chorus riff leads into a pretty good rhythmic guitar interlude which falls back into the slow verse rhythm for a nice guitar solo that flows into the heavy ascending guitar bit. A quick breakdown leads into a variant verse, then another disappointing pre-chorus and a final round of choruses. The pre-chorus riff returns with some bass fills to close things down. A very mixed bag, 5/10.
  • Driven - An appropriately driving guitar lead propels a solid verse. This cuts into a brief acoustic pre-chorus before the rest of the band kicks back in for a heavier but not very compelling chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then a bass-driven interlude breaks into a decent heavier bridge that modulates up a couple of times. This flows into a heavier version of the pre-chorus, then falls back into the verse. This leads into the heavier pre-chorus and chorus, this time with a different rhythmic feel. An extended outro based on the verse riff reaches an abrupt end. There are some cool structural ideas here, but a lot of the song feels half-baked. 6/10.
  • Half The World - An acoustic and electric intro flows into a midtempo verse groove. This leads into a bright, appealing chorus. Another decent verse and strong chorus, then we get a brief melodic interlude and an OK bridge. This cuts into a heavier guitar lead, then a mandola section that continues through the verse. A final chorus leads into a brief outro with a long decaying note. The verse and the bridge aren’t that inspiring, but the chorus is strong and the rest of the music is interesting enough to round this up to a 7/10.
  • The Color Of Right - A noisy, one-note guitar part with bass accents leads into an OK verse and a better pre-chorus. Another round of verse and pre-chorus breaks into an awkwardly phrased and not very memorable chorus. A rhythmic break introduces a nice melodic guitar lead, then a reprise of the intro leads back into the strong pre-chorus and weak chorus. The melodic guitar lead returns for the outro. Another very mixed bag, but the strength of the pre-chorus and the OK-ness of the verse salvages a 6/10.
  • Time And Motion - A staccato guitar riff breaks into an off-rhythm lead with questionable synth accompaniment. This leads into a slightly queasy groove that underpins a solid verse. This cuts into a brief bright chorus and guitar break before returning to the verse. An extended chorus leads into a reprise of the off-rhythm lead and synths before breaking into a cool, noisy guitar solo. A hint of the verse leads into a cool bridge that trades off between heavy guitar crunch and dreamy arpeggios. The off-rhythm lead and synths transition back into another round of verse and chorus before a guitar break leads into a long decaying note to end the song. Cool track with a few weaker elements. 7/10.
  • Totem - An upbeat acoustic intro breaks into an equally upbeat verse. This leads into an acoustic-supported pre-chorus before falling back into an OK gentler chorus. The intro returns, then another round of verse through chorus leads into a calmer guitar solo and bridge. A reprise of the intro rolls directly into the pre-chorus and chorus before a quick vocal nod to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” closes things down. Good stuff, 7/10.
  • Dog Years - An almost punk-style guitar riff rolls into a busy rock riff for a catchy verse and pre-chorus with pretty dumb lyrics. This rolls into a bright, OK chorus with equally dumb lyrics. Another round of verse through chorus leads into a ringing bridge with even dumber lyrics. A melodic interlude with some “ooh-oohs” returns to the punk riff and another round of verse through chorus, then a surprise chorus 2 before a quick punk riff outro. The music here is pretty decent, but the lyrics are just embarrassing (“Sad son of a bitch”? Really?). I guess I’ll round it up to a 6/10.
  • Virtuality - A crushing whirlwind of a guitar riff drives an awkwardly phrased verse. A noisy melodic lead and a busy bass line support an OK pre-chorus, then a taste of the verse riff blossoms into a ridiculously catchy acoustic & electric chorus with ridiculously cringey lyrics (“Put your message in a modem and throw it in the cyber sea”?). Another round of verse through chorus, then the verse riff gives way to a strong bridge with melodic percussion, then a cleaner version of the pre-chorus lead. A brief break returns to the verse, pre-chorus, and that chorus that you hate to love. The verse riff returns, leading to a brief outro. This song is a glorious mess, with some parts so sketchy that it would be hard to go over a 6/10 overall, and some parts so great that it would be hard to go less than a 7/10 overall. I guess I’ll split the difference and round it up to a 7/10.
  • Resist - A soft electric intro with synth piano leads into an acoustic chorus with nice vocal harmonies but awkward phrasing. A distant soaring guitar lead leads back into the chorus, then a reprise of the intro with some “uh-uhs” leads into a more urgent but less successful chorus. This gives way to a nice stripped down acoustic bridge, leading back into the intro groove before returning to the chorus, now delivered in a round. Another taste of the intro and the distant soaring guitar part leads to a brief denouement. Pleasant enough, with some nice parts and some weaker ones. 6/10 overall.
  • Limbo - Bubbling water and chains lead into a bass and drum intro, breaking into a full band groove with ascending guitar. This breaks into ethereal guitar harmonics with bass accents, then a midtempo groove with distant “ah-ahs” that serves as a ”chorus”. This cuts into a more uptempo guitar section, then the ethereal guitars return with synth accompaniment, folding back into the “chorus”. A drum and bass breakdown leads into an off-kilter melodic lead with odd Transylvanian voice-overs. A variant of the ethereal guitar section breaks into a heavier guitar interlude, then an ascending guitar bit that leads back around to the “chorus” before a few guitar variations lead back to the opening sound effects to end the track. Very good but not quite great, a robust 7/10.
  • Carve Away The Stone - A noisy chord progression supports an OK verse. This breaks into a quick off-rhythm instrumental pre-chorus, then a mediocre chorus with clean ringing guitar. A heavier guitar break leads into a slow but more driving version of the verse. A pre-chorus with awkward “ooh-oohs” added leads back into the chorus, now with icky vocal harmonies. Uptempo guitar and bass leads into a strong guitar solo, then a heavy variant verse. This leads into the pre-chorus and chorus, now with an awkward round arrangement. The uptempo guitar and bass return for the outro. Most of this song doesn’t really hold together, but the strong guitar solo and some other positive instrumental bits salvage a 5/10.
Average: 6.3/10
Weighted: 6.3/10

Rush closed out the 20th century on a sour note. Test For Echo was a serious disappointment, with no great songs on offer, and over half the album serving as filler (or worse). Many of the vocal melodies were lackluster, the songwriting was often disjointed and uninspired, and even the lyrics veered into cringey territory in multiple places. This record sounded like a band that had lost its way and was running out of ideas.

Within 2 years of the album’s release Neil Peart lost his daughter and his wife in rapid succession, and it wasn’t clear at the time whether he’d ever return to the band. Geddy pursued a solo project, and there was a very real possibility that Rush would go out with a whimper after fielding their weakest album in 20 years.

Thankfully, that all changed a few years later...
 
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The Dissident

Ancient Mariner

Systematic Chaos - Dream Theater
Format: CD/Digital

Systematic Chaos opens up with a descending guitar riff of a track called In The Presence Of Enemies Part I. This track remains an instrumental for the first half of it, being laced with a very clear Dream Theater esc approach, the keyboards and guitars intertwinned and the powerful drums of Mike Portnoy thunder behind the majestic guitar and keyboard based duo, the first half of the track fades away as the second component comes in slowly building up once again. James sings in a lower register and his voice sounds quite comfortable in this lower and more rock oriented sound. A strong and direct track considering the extended length of the track! Foresaken comes in from a piano based intro which segues perfectly from the previous track before a thundering riff comes hammering down. A longing ballad without the music typically applied to ballads, upbeat and powerful this track tries to emote some powerful feelings throughout and James' voice just soars over the band. Constant Motion brings the band back to a bit of a quicker pace. The vocals feel quite a lot like Metallica, quick and aggressive off the start before James begins to sing in an upbeat manner so I guess it is Mike singing the more aggresssively delivered vocals, which work but aren't quite as strong as the band's frontmans vocals. A brilliant solo section ensues before the band comes in to close out the track with a quick chorus. The Dark Eternal Night, Mike continues to sing co-lead vocals on this track, the contrast between his and James vocals is quite a lot and frankly they aren't entirely my cup of tea. That being said the track's musicianship is amazing throughout and the solo section takes some time to spotlight some very lighthearted keyboard work in contrast to the heavier instrumental work from the rest of the band. Another incredibly strong track, Dream Theater has been incredibly consistent up until now and this track is no exception despite not all components working for me completely. Repentance continues the twelve part suite with parts 8 and 9. James sings calmly over the first component which is subtitled as Regret, heavily piano focused the track really takes a more atmospheric approach by comparrison to the other tracks thus far and the first compoenent of this segment of the suite closes out with a melodic guitar solo before transitioning into part 2 which is known as Restitution which features some spoken word guest vocalists right off the bat with the track being atmospheric behind it all taking a bit of a Pink Floyd feeling in some spots especially the wordless vocals following the spoken word component. Prophets Of War opens up with some really 80s sounding synth work and James singing once again. It has a poppier feel to it by comparrision to the previous tracks. The chorus being a chant is actually quite effective and works surprisingly well. The Ministry Of Lost Souls comes in with some heavy orchestration a dark and melencholy track about a woman who is saved from drowning but her rescuer dies saving her. A slow and powerful chorus conveys the feelings of the resuers spirit. A slow and chunky instrumental section ensues which makes sense considering the song is only half done roughly at this point and there isn't that many lyrics left to be sung. An amazing track. In The Presence Of Enemies Part II closes out the album it opens up with the sounds of wind blowing a 4 part track spanning roughly 17 minutes in length, the song is the slowest of any other on the album for the first while at the 3 and a half minute mark the track picks up the pace a bit and really begins to lay down some powerful and more dynamic instrumental work. The pick up happened right when it should have if not a little too late, regardless the change was needed. The second section of the track really began to pick up and takes a more recognizable Dream Theater like approach. This section has some moments of vocal brilliance and others which aren't quite so brilliant. The third component of the track is a rather strong instrumental which eventually segues into the final component of the track which pulls it all together, remaining orchestral and powerful with a mostly instrumental ending with a sole verse.

In The Presence Of Enemies Part I - 9/10
Foresaken - 9/10
Constant Motion - 8.5/10
The Dark Eternal Night - 8.5/10
Repentance - 9.5/10
Prophets Of War - 9.5/10
The Ministry of Lost Souls - 10/10
In The Presence Of Enemies Part II - 8.5/10

Album Rating - 91%
Adjusted Rating - 91%
4.5 Stars
 

KidInTheDark666

What's yours is mine and what's mine is mine too
Cool, this is definitely another great album loaded with underrated tracks. Sadly the fanbase doesn't seem to rate it very highly.
 

The Dissident

Ancient Mariner
Noted, there is only 4 albums left in their discography which I have access to (only missing the debut) likely will do all of the remaining ones aside from The Astonishing. But I have also acquired The Sons Of Apollo's albums so they will be listened to soon.
 

The Dissident

Ancient Mariner
Was gonna hold off on reviewing anything other than Dream Theater until I finished their discography but this came in the mail today and it is nearly 30 minutes shorter than every Dream Theater album remaining.


Ordinary Man - Ozzy Osbrourne
Format: CD/Digital

Ozzy returns with a church choir style opening before a powerful riff from Slash kicks off opening track, Straight To Hell opens up the twelth album from the Prince Of Darkness, Ordinary Man. A decent rocker which has some strong energy for Ozzy but the track really feels like Ozzy is trying to recreate Black Sabbath in many ways while falling a little short of it. I think Ozzy is having a fair bit of fun with this track and it would have a lot of fun energy in a live setting. All My Life opens up slower and moodier, Ozzy has a lot of effects on his voice but while they are a little too prominent he does sound like himself through them. This track is really a song which begins to really show Ozzy coming to terms with his mortality and the life he has lived a brilliant outro solo ensues and the track is a nice change from the furious rocker which the opener was. I will take a moment to say the whole album cover is brilliant. Goodbye comes up next being counted in and then a stompable drumbeat comes up next and this track really dives into the farewell aspect of the previous track, a very somber track which is slow for the most part before erupting into another Sabbath esc rocker and taking on a brilliant guitar solo section this second half is brilliant. Ordinary Man comes in slow with Piano work done from the legendary Sir Elton John, a sad and powerful ballad with Ozzy singing his heart out throughout, confessing he doesn't want to die an ordinary man which is ironic cause lets be real here Ozzy is far from ordinary. Elton's vocals and piano work is sublime and this collaboration is a brilliant with two of the worlds most well known rock/pop icons singing an amazing track. Slash returns for a solo segment which is full of emotion and is brilliantly done. A perfect track. Under The Graveyard brings the energy back up following a very somber introduction, I think this track would have been a cool album opener as it starts dark then really jumps into a more fun and upbeat approach while falling back into it. A Harmonica opens up Eat Me which features some rather prominent bass guitar work from Duff McKagen a track which has some rather interesting lyrics. Today Is The End appears to be about school shootings or some other crime in which children are harmed and we glorify the killers for all of eternity by showing their face everywhere. A rather haunting track to have in such an upbeat feeling to it. Scary Little Green Men has to be about a trip, cause lets be real Ozzy isn't singing about the LGM's from Toy Story. A silly track which really is a fun track but not the best of what we have been provided by the Prince of Darkness on this record. For a man who couldn't tour Ozzy sounds like he is having an absolute blast throughout the recording of this album. Holy For Tonight is another farewell track, Ozzy really seems to be thinking he won't be remembered and that he will be gone pretty soon the former I think is a little off while the latter sadly seems to be much more relevant. It's A Raid is another collaboration with Post Malone it has a ton of raw energy in it and really dives into a full high energy and the track gets a little burried from the fury of everything in the song going to full blast. Take What You Want somehow introduced this new generation to Ozzy which is something that I'm still amazed by. Ozzy's opening verse is amazing on this track

Straight To Hell - 7.5/10
All My Life - 8/10
Goodbye - 9.5/10
Ordinary Man - 10/10
Under The Graveyard - 9/10
Eat Me - 7.5/10
Today Is The End - 8.5/10
Scary Little Green Men - 7/10
Holy For Tonight - 7.5/10
Its A Raid - 7/10
Take What You Want - 8/10

Album 81%
Adjusted 82%
3.5 Stars
 

Collin

Chasing Ponce De Leon's Phantoms
I love Systematic Chaos, however they really should have made ITPOE just one song. I re-arranged my version of the album on iTunes and i enjoy it much better this way.

1. Constant Motion
2. Forsaken
3. Dark Eternal Night
4. Prophets of War
5. Repentance
6. The Ministry of Lost Souls
7. In The Presence of Enemies Part 1
8. In The Presence of Enemies Part 2
 

The Dissident

Ancient Mariner
I love Systematic Chaos, however they really should have made ITPOE just one song. I re-arranged my version of the album on iTunes and i enjoy it much better this way.

1. Constant Motion
2. Forsaken
3. Dark Eternal Night
4. Prophets of War
5. Repentance
6. The Ministry of Lost Souls
7. In The Presence of Enemies Part 1
8. In The Presence of Enemies Part 2

Yea it feels like it should have been a single song! I'll have to give the two parts a listen as if they are a single track!
 

KidInTheDark666

What's yours is mine and what's mine is mine too
I would actually prefer In The Presence of Enemies as the opener and have The Ministry of Lost Souls as the closer.
 

The Dissident

Ancient Mariner

Falling Into Infinity - Dream Theater
Format: CD/Digital

New Millenium features a keyboard dominant introduction kicking off the album with a 8 and a half minute track Dream Theater are wasting no time with the instant progressive approach a track which is against the labels wishes of shorter more commerical length and sounding tracks, I think the record labels interveineing really hinders this track it sounds like it could be a super catchy track but as a whole falls short for me really lacking in the heaviness and the catchy component in which Dream Theater seem to have a good balance of on most of their tracks thus far. The ending of the track is heavier and begins to get to where it should have been the whole time. You Not Me brings in songwriter Desmond Child which really screams label interference as the man is the hitmaker with the likes of Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and Scorpions all of whom I enjoy but this isn't the same type of match like with the other bands, there is aspects of a really melodic track popping up throughout but it doesn't all come together. I'm hoping something changes cause this is really not an amazing promising start. Peruvian Skies is up next, and there is a distinct shift in the introduction of the track, there is a more mystical feeling to it. A track about child abuse, the track continues to be mystical and atmospheric while telling a horrible story of this poor girl. As the chorus closes out the band comes in heavier and the track begins to morph away from the mysticality into the harsh darkness of the subject matter and wow does the song really pull into much more of what I had expected from the album thus far a great track. Hollow Years once again begins calmly one of the albums singles this track likely will fall more into the realm of what the record company wanted. A great ballad which really speaks to the shift in mentality when someone realizes they can get through what is holding them down and then their life changes. A sentimental ballad which really works quite well throughout. Burning My Soul brings the album back into a heavier vein with a powerful bass guitar introduction, James sings with some real rage in this track, I believe this track was supposed to contain the following track as well and the more digestable lenght without the extended instrumental which became Hell's Kitchen I think is the right choice cause I'll be entirely honest I would prefer a shorter version of Metropolis Part 1 on many days. A rather strong and powerful track. The instrumental Hell's Kitchen is up next a slower start the instrumental builds, with some crying guitar work from Petrucci and some strong keyboard work accompaning it, the track begins to morph into a powerful track feeling similar to the instrumental section of Metropolis Part 1 although still feeling fresh. Lines In The Sand is up next, transitioning from Hell's Kitchen the first song on the album to span longer than the 10 minute mark clocking in at just over 12 minutes in length, James sings incredibly softly at first before brining the volume up a bit, there is a guest vocallist on this track and the band does display some real strong harmonies throughout. It isn't the most impressive of their epics although they deliver two of their best in the following record in Finally Free and Home in addition to having shortly before hand released A Change Of Seasons so I guess they can be forgiven for this. Take My Pain Away I believe is a follow up to Another Day, not as instantly catchy as the aforementioned track from their earlier album but where it lacks the instant catchy feeling there comes lyrics which cut straight to the core, the line about not being able to come home again is brutal and cuts straight through. Not quite the most powerful ballad but overall a rather strong tribute. Just Let Me Breathe comes in some more energy than has been felt in a little while. A track about MTV and the music industry as a whole referencing the deaths of Kurt Kobain and Shannon Hoon, a rather angry track and rightfully so. Anna Lee begins like a piano ballad and it remains as such a good vocal performance from James is present throughout the track. Trial Of Tears closes out the album a 13 minute epic a 3 part track opening with a component called It's Raining, the track slowly builds with some orchestral components being featured within the keyboard work. The lyrics for this track were written by the bands bassist John Myung. The first component is rather slow but has a good pacing to it, not too slow but just right. The second component Deep In Heaven is an instrumental component which is a nice segment of the track but it does add a fair bit to the runtime of this lengthy track which I feel could have been stronger if it was shorter. Wasteland closes out the track, shifting to an acoustic track the ending synths are a great way to end the track on a higher note. Overall too long and bloated.

New Millenium - 7.5/10
You Not Me - 7.5/10
Peruvian Skies - 9/10
Hollow Years - 9/10
Burning My Soul - 8.5/10
Hell's Kitchen - 8.5/10
Lines In The Sand - 8/10
Take Away My Pain - 9/10
Just Let Me Breathe - 8/10
Anna Lee - 8/10
Trial Of Tears - 8/10

Album Rating 83%
Adjusted Rating 82%
3.5 Stars



And with that I have completed all the Mike Portnoy era of Dream Theater leaving only the first 3 since he left to listen to.
 

Jer

My sins are many


Rush - Vapor Trails (2002)
Rush - Vapor Trails Remixed (2013)

This deserves a little explanation up front. Rush’s comeback album (after Neil Peart’s personal tragedies kept them sidelined for years) was largely self-produced, and as Geddy Lee described it later on they “overcooked” it. The original version was brickwalled, having some obvious clipping and crackling in places, and minimal dynamic range. Years later they had David Bottrill go back and remix the album from the original recordings to address those issues, but the new mixes felt a bit different in places due to different choices on what vocal harmonies to emphasize, or different levels of intensity on the instruments.

Since these are ultimately two different takes on the same material, I’ll talk about them at the same time, focusing on the original and talking about where the remix differs.
  • One Little Victory - A thick drum beat is joined by erratic guitar, breaking into a ringing interlude with heavy guitar punctuation. This builds back into a variant of the opening groove, then breaks into a thick verse rhythm. This leads into a long, gradually building pre-chorus, then a brief and frail chorus 1. Another verse cuts directly into chorus 2, which is good but has some bizarre backing vocals. This returns to the pre-chorus and chorus 1. A midtempo guitar interlude winds its way back to chorus 2, then a reprise of the intro with some vocal riffing ends the song. Good stuff, but with a bit of an awkward alternative flavor. 7/10. Remix: The drums are cleaner but thinner, and the bass and vocals are more distinct. The weird backing vocals on chorus 2 are downplayed here, which is good. A guitar solo was also added on top of the second-to-last chorus section, which works well. Not quite as punchy as the original, but the other changes elevate the song. I’ll round it up to an 8/10.
  • Ceiling Unlimited - An interesting guitar & bass groove breaks into a more driving section before falling back into a less intense bass-driven verse with alternating guitar support. This leads into a solid chorus 1. Another verse and chorus 1 leads into a catchy extended chorus 2 that builds up into something heavier. This breaks into an excellent heavy interlude that loops back around to chorus 1 and morphs into chorus 2 before fading away. Great song, with only the weaker chorus 1 holding it back a bit. Still merits an 8/10. Remix: The guitars are toned down a little, and the vocal harmonies are more prominent. The drums are thinner but more distinct, and a lot of the flourishes stand out more here. The heavy interlude isn’t quite as heavy, but has a guitar solo added to it. The final chorus 1 section has a weird instrumental separation in the middle, too. There are some nice aspects to this version, but I prefer the heavier original. 7/10.
  • Ghost Rider - A plaintive bass intro is joined by soft guitar for a melancholy verse. This slowly builds into a melodic but sometimes awkwardly phrased pre-chorus, then a catchier chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a pretty good instrumental bridge with some weird scatty “oh-ohs”. A hint of the verse music breaks into a variant chorus that builds to an abrupt end. Almost great, but some awkward elements hold it back to a 7/10. Remix: The vocals get some spookier effects on them. The bass and drums are more distinct. The scatty “oh-ohs” are handled differently here and don’t sound as odd. The final variant chorus becomes more of a cacophony of vocals, which works thematically with the song. I think these changes enhance the song enough to round it up to an 8/10.
  • Peaceable Kingdom - A twangy intro breaks into a pulsing bass chord driven verse. This cuts into a fat, heavy interlude that gives way to a more open, bass-driven chorus 1. This leads into a messy off-rhythm chorus 2. Another verse cuts directly into chorus 1, which is joined by the heavy interlude before returning to the awkward chorus 2. A more driving interlude loops back around to the verse and chorus 1. Another heavy interlude leads into some noisy guitar noodling to close out the song. Some great parts, but chorus 2 keeps it from taking flight. 7/10. Remix: Some extra vocal harmonies are added throughout. The heavier guitars at the end of the verses sound noisy and muddy. The harmonies in the final verse emphasize the lower melody, which sounds a bit odd. I think I like the original slightly better, but this still gets a 7/10.
  • The Stars Look Down - A heavy midtempo groove with ascending guitar breaks into a funkier verse rhythm that quickly cuts into a catchy, melodic, bass-driven pre-chorus. This gives way to an excellent gentler call and response chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then a reprise of the opening groove breaks into a heavy instrumental before returning to a more driving version of the chorus, which gradually winds down to end the song. Excellent, 9/10. Remix: The bass is more jangly and distinct. The acoustic parts of the chorus breathe a bit more, but the vocal responses are quieter. The second pre-chorus gets some odd vocal harmonies that don’t work as well. The heavy interlude doesn’t come off quite as well either. Most of the changes here are negative ones, pulling this down to an 8/10.
  • How It Is - A bright acoustic intro breaks into a driving verse with aggressive bass fills. This leads into a lush clean-strumming chorus. We return to the verse, now with acoustic accompaniment, then back to the appealing chorus. A reprise of the intro turns into a nice bridge that folds back into the chorus before finishing on a brief instrumental outro. Great song, 8/10. Remix: The acoustic guitars have a richer sound, but the electrics are a bit thinner. Some extra backing vocal fills appear, and a couple of vocal harmonies are emphasized differently from the original. This version is probably a little better because of the enhanced acoustic guitars, but still an 8/10.
  • Vapor Trail - Insect-like guitar sounds herald clean ringing guitar with bass accents, supporting a great driving, melodic verse. A brief heavy guitar break leads into a bright pre-chorus with odd backing vocals, then a melancholy chorus on top of the verse guitar. This flows directly into the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus, then leads into a great interlude with guitar swells that builds back into the pre-chorus. A sparse melodic break cuts back into the chorus and an extended outro. A really great song that does enough to round it up to a 9/10. Remix: The bass and drums stand out a bit more, but the guitars are a little softer. The final vocals don’t blend into the outro quite as nicely. A slightly different take, but equally great. 9/10.
  • Secret Touch - A sparse rhythm with bass chords and an effervescent lead supports a simple verse. A heavy, dissonant guitar breakdown leads into a busy, driving pre-chorus. This opens up into a catchy, ringing chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, now with a cool call and response added. An extended guitar breakdown with verse vocals leads into an aggressive guitar instrumental which slowly rebuilds into the verse and chorus. A reprise of the intro and verse leads into an extended instrumental outro. Excellent song, 9/10. Remix: The bass is more jangly and distinct, but the guitars are lower in the mix, so they don’t have as much punch. The response vocals in the chorus are also softer, so they don’t have as much impact. There are some extra vocal harmonies toward the end of the song, too. I definitely prefer the original, but enough of the song’s greatness still comes through here to hold onto a 9/10.
  • Earthshine - A distorted riff is joined by a driving rhythm to support a great verse. The guitar kicks up the heaviness a notch for the second verse. This breaks into an upbeat acoustic pre-chorus with lots of “ooh-oohs” before blossoming into an epic, ringing chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, now with soaring guitar swells. An upbeat interlude with more guitar swells and a soaring lead follows. Another round of verse through chorus leads to a quick denouement. Stunning, 10/10. Remix: The guitars have a bit less punch, but the acoustic parts are a little fuller. The interlude and verse toward the end of the song don’t have as much oomph. The final vocal harmonies emphasize the low melody instead of the high one, which doesn’t come off as well. Still excellent, but loses a little something vs. the original. 9/10.
  • Sweet Miracle - A heavy bass-driven intro breaks into a gentler verse groove. This cuts into a heavier ascending guitar part for the chorus. Another verse and chorus and we break into a great melodic interlude with faint vocal accents. A variant verse and chorus bring the song to a close. Excellent, 9/10. Remix: Once again the guitars are a bit lower in the mix. The vocals feel a bit more naked and vulnerable, and you can clearly hear Geddy singing “salvation” during the interlude. A little different, but still excellent. 9/10.
  • Nocturne - Percussive effects lead into a simple guitar and bass rhythm. This breaks into a more sparse groove for the catchy, melodic verse. The heaviness kicks up a notch, then cuts into a strong ringing chorus. Another round of verse and chorus, then a brief, bubbly interlude with faint “doo-doos” cuts into a heavy breakdown before returning to the chorus to end the song. Great stuff, 8/10. Remix: Geddy’s vocals again sound a bit more naked on the verse. The lower melody on the chorus vocal harmonies is emphasized, which gives it a different feel. The guitars sound thinner, so the heavy breakdowns aren’t as heavy. I prefer the original, but this version is still great. 8/10.
  • Freeze - A pulsing intro flows into an off-rhythm verse. This breaks into a driving pre-chorus and a catchy, off-rhythm chorus 1, which then blossoms into a melodic chorus 2 with ringing clean guitars. Another verse leads into a variant pre-chorus, then chorus 1 and 2 again. An instrumental reprise of the intro, pre-chorus, and chorus 1 with some vocal riffing rolls into chorus 1 and a pulsing outro. Another great song. 8/10. Remix: The clean parts are a bit richer, the electric parts are a bit softer, and the vocals and bass stand out a bit more. Not significantly different from the original. 8/10.
  • Out Of The Cradle - A layered bass groove leads into an OK verse with a descending guitar lead. This breaks into an uptempo strummed chorus with some awkwardly phrased vocals. Another verse and chorus and we dissolve into a laid back interlude with faint backing vocals. This leads back into the chorus, which morphs into an extended outro with guitar and bass accents. Some good parts, but the clunky chorus that dominates the song keeps this firmly in OK territory. 6/10. Remix: The verse vocals seem to have more reverb. Some of the guitar parts are more distinct, and some are less so. Once again the lower melodies are favored in the vocal harmonies in some places. The interlude feels extra calm in this version. The bass stands out more in the outro. I think I prefer this version to the original, but not enough to surpass a 6/10.
Original Average: 8.1/10
Original Weighted: 8.1/10

Remix Average: 8.0/10
Remix Weighted: 8.0/10

Six years after the disappointing Test For Echo, and about four years after the loss of Neil Peart’s wife and daughter, Rush came back with a vengeance. Ditching synthesizers entirely, the band embraced a full-on hard rock sound that focused on songwriting and the interplay between the main instruments. Peart’s poignant lyrics of loss, with faint glimmers of hope, were also his best in many years.

The remixed version of the album is slightly better in some ways and slightly worse in others. The raw sound is objectively better, and this is most apparent in the calmer passages with more dynamics, or in the busiest passages where the sound isn’t as muddy. Unfortunately, the lower level of the guitars often blunts their bite, and the odd changes to the balance of the vocal harmonies are a bit offputting. On the whole I still prefer the original version of the album.

I’ve heard that there’s a high-definition remaster of the original mix of the album that eliminates the clipping and crackling and regains some dynamic range. (This is the 96KHz/24-bit remaster by Andy Van Dette.) If you’re like me and prefer the original version of the album, this remaster may be the best option available.
 

Jer

My sins are many


Rush - Snakes & Arrows (2007)
  • Far Cry - A staccato riff with acoustic backing breaks into a funky midtempo groove. This cuts into a driving verse with prominent bass, then a catchy, ethereal pre-chorus, and a catchy chorus. A hint of the intro riff rolls back into the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus. A reprise of the intro riff and midtempo groove flows back into an abbreviated pre-chorus and extended chorus before the intro riff returns with busier percussion to end the song. Great stuff, 8/10.
  • Armor & Sword - Booming drums are joined by lackadaisical guitar & bass before breaking into a bright, strummy instrumental foreshadowing of the chorus. This cuts into an awkward, off-rhythm acoustic verse before breaking into a fat, heavy pre-chorus that gives way to the reverberant clean strums of the chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then a reprise of the lackadaisical bit leads into a heavier bridge that serves as a dark reflection of the chorus. This breaks into an extended guitar solo, then returns to the pre-chorus and chorus before a quick outro based on the verse. This one started off rocky but finished quite strong. 7/10 overall.
  • Workin’ Them Angels - Bright chords greet a melodic verse. Acoustic strums are joined by heavier guitars for a dark, catchy chorus. Another verse and chorus, then we break into a mandolin and vocal interlude. Another round of verse and chorus, then the mandolin bit returns with some chorus vocal riffing before a long decaying note ends the song. Very strong, probably gets enough done to round it up to an 8/10.
  • The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum) - Acoustic strums and “woah-ohs” lead into an appealing acoustic verse. The pantoum lyrical structure gives things an interesting feel. Bass enters and kicks things up a bit for a brief chorus. A quick pouty “woah-oh” section rolls back into the verse and catchy chorus. More “woah-ohs” lead into a cool bright guitar solo that returns to the chorus in a round form, then a breakdown of the chorus serves as an outro. This song almost feels like something off of Presto. If it weren’t for the clumsy “woah-ohs” I probably would have rated this higher, but as it stands I’ll say 7/10.
  • Spindrift - A cacophony of clean guitar leads into a queasy verse groove. A brief preview of the pre-chorus returns to the verse, then the full ascending pre-chorus. Another verse and pre-chorus builds up tension, then gives way to a calmer, ringing chorus. A brief interlude leads into an extended pre-chorus, then back to the chorus. A brief reprise of the intro leads into an outro based on the verse groove. There are some really great parts in this song, mostly the verse and pre-chorus, but the chorus squanders a lot of the energy. Let’s say 7/10.
  • The Main Monkey Business - An acoustic opening breaks into a synth and bass “verse” groove. This leads into a descending guitar and vocal “chorus”. A melodic guitar lead gives way to a reprise of the intro, then the “verse”, a new soaring “pre-chorus”, and the “chorus” again. A heavier interlude leads into a noodly guitar solo with prominent bass that evolves into something heavier. This builds back into the melodic guitar lead, then a series of rhythmic breakdowns before looping back to the “verse”, “pre-chorus”, and “chorus”. The heavier post-solo bit returns before a reprise of the intro closes things out. A very good instrumental, probably merits rounding up to an 8/10.
  • The Way The Wind Blows - Distant marching drums leads into a funky, bluesy midtempo groove before breaking into a simpler, more driving verse. This leads into a softer pre-chorus and a gentle acoustic chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then the bluesy groove returns for a multi-part guitar solo. This cuts back into the chorus, then a brief acoustic bridge that returns to the chorus again before a quick denouement. Some awkward phrasing in places, but the chorus is pretty. 7/10.
  • Hope - A brief acoustic 12-string solo piece. Pleasant enough, but there isn’t much meat here. 6/10.
  • Faithless - A simple ringing guitar riff with some bass and vocal accents gives way to a brief slow-paced verse and a perkier but awkwardly phrased pre-chorus 1. The opening riff returns for a so-so pre-chorus 2 before breaking into a ringing, somewhat catchy chorus. A reprise of the intro and an odd synth stinger lead back into the verse, pre-choruses, and chorus. This leads into a cool bluesy guitar solo, looping back to pre-chorus 1, then cutting directly back into the chorus before a quick ending leading into a long decay. Some neat parts, but a number of weaker elements hold this back to a 6/10.
  • Bravest Face - Ringing guitar and a preview of the pre-chorus gives way to a gentle but peppy acoustic verse. This breaks into the heavier pre-chorus and a strong chorus. Another verse cuts directly back to the chorus, then a bright, clean guitar solo. This leads into an acoustic variant chorus, then a hint of the pre-chorus before returning to the chorus. Verse guitars with chorus vocal riffing serve as an outro. This is a cool, unusual track that really sells itself by the end. I’ll round it up to an 8/10.
  • Good News First - Effect-laden guitar breaks into a bright guitar & synth groove. This gives way to a dripping clean guitar bit that accompanies a queasy, awkwardly phrased verse. This breaks into a more driving pre-chorus that morphs into a brief, interesting chorus. Another round of verse through chorus leads into a catchy acoustic bridge and a soaring guitar solo. A rhythmic breakdown cuts back into the pre-chorus and chorus to end the song. I really love the vocal harmonies on the chorus — they completely change the feel of things. There are a number of weaknesses here, though, so I think I need to round this down to a 6/10.
  • Malignant Narcissism - A cool, heavy bass groove with guitar accompaniment trades off with some bright guitar riffing. A brief interlude with some vocal samples leads back into the main groove, then various instrument breakdowns, before a quick outro. A neat bite-sized instrumental, 8/10.
  • We Hold On - A ringing guitar lead supports an OK verse with odd phrasing. This breaks into a more driving chorus with cool guitar fills. Another round of verse and chorus gives way to a queasy guitar instrumental with middle eastern influences. An awkward bridge folds back into the chorus, which ends on a long high note. This leads into a quick outro based on the chorus guitars. This track had the potential to be great, but it isn’t delivered with enough oomph, and the verse is a bit weak. Let’s say 7/10 overall.
Average: 7.2/10
Weighted: 7.2/10

Five long years after the great Vapor Trails, Rush returns with a good, but significantly less ballsy album. Synths make a slight return here, but only in a very minor supporting role, and there are a lot more clean and acoustic guitar bits on display.

I’m actually surprised that my song ratings were as high as they were — this is an album that I very rarely return to, and one that always stood out to me as a disappointment compared to the albums that preceded and succeeded it. But in fairness, there’s actually a lot of good material on here.
 

Jer

My sins are many


Rush - Clockwork Angels (2012)
  • Caravan - Bells and engine sounds greet a soft, ominous musical intro that breaks into a descending verse riff. A brief rhythmic breakdown leads into an odd-rhythm pre-chorus and a catchy, ringing chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a multi-part rhythmic interlude. This leads into an instrumental version of the pre-chorus supporting a bizarre guitar solo before rolling back into the chorus. A reprise of the verse riff closes things down. A little self-indulgent, but has a lot of cool parts and rhythmic change-ups. Probably does enough to round it up to an 8/10.
  • BU2B - A slow, strummy western-style intro foreshadows the verse. This breaks into a crushing riff for a really catchy verse. The heaviness pulls back to start the great chorus 1, with bass kicking in to drive it to a close. Another verse and heavier chorus 1 leads into a brighter and even catchier chorus 2. A verse riff interlude eventually loops back around to the heavier chorus 1 to end the song. A brilliant song with superb performances all around, and one of the best atheist anthems I’ve heard. 10/10.
  • Clockwork Angels - Distant vocals and percussion are overtaken by noisy, reverberant guitar that foreshadows the chorus. This gives way to brighter, ringing guitar supporting the verse. Things kick up a notch for the heavier pre-chorus, eventually leading into a big, melancholy chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a great guitar solo which dissolves into a twangy midtempo bridge with distant vocals. A variant verse leads directly back into the chorus, then a quick rhythmic breakdown and reprise of the intro to bring things to a close. Very strong, a robust 7/10.
  • The Anarchist - Pulsing drums and a descending guitar riff build up to a brief rhythmic interlude, then break into a bright bass-driven interlude and melodic guitar lead. This returns to the intro riff, and a few rhythmic breakdowns lead into an urgent verse. A middle eastern pre-chorus with distant vocals breaks into the bright bass line for the catchy and otherwise melancholy chorus. The melodic guitar lead returns for a brief interlude, then we get another round of verse through chorus. This leads into an appealing bridge, then a cool guitar solo that trades off between middle eastern and western feels. This rolls back into the chorus before a final decaying note. Excellent, 9/10.
  • Carnies - Carnival sounds give way to a funky distorted riff supporting a strong verse. This cuts into a catchy ascending pre-chorus, then a more driving chorus with clean guitar accents. Another verse and pre-chorus, then we get a rhythmic interlude that trades off with a clean melodic guitar lead while squeezing in a nice bridge. This leads back to the chorus, then a funky instrumental, before returning to the pre-chorus. A reprise of the rhythmic interlude serves as an outro. Great stuff, 8/10.
  • Halo Effect - A synth intro gives way to a warm acoustic verse that steps up into a heavier chorus. Another verse and chorus leads into a lighter, brighter guitar interlude before returning to the chorus and a quick outro based on the verse. Short and pleasant, 7/10.
  • Seven Cities Of Gold - A funky bass-driven intro builds into an equally funky tradeoff verse. This leads into a strong pre-chorus and a brief riff break before kicking into a catchy chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get an extended rhythmic interlude with guitar noodling that morphs back into the verse groove before returning to the pre-chorus and chorus. An instrumental outro slowly fades away, leaving only the decaying guitar. Another strong song that isn’t quite great. 7/10.
  • The Wreckers - A bright guitar riff gives way to a strummy, melodic verse that builds into a catchy chorus. Another verse leads back into the chorus, now with synth accompaniment. A reprise of the intro riff leads into a dark extended bridge that eventually cuts back into the chorus before fading away. Great stuff, 8/10.
  • Headlong Flight - A reverberant bass intro is joined by distorted guitar and drums, breaking into a heavy riff that drives a solid verse. This leads into an OK pre-chorus, then loops back through the verse and pre-chorus before breaking into a slower chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get an off-rhythm interlude leading into a funky instrumental with vocal samples. This leads into a busy extended guitar solo and another rhythmic interlude. Another verse and pre-chorus leads into a lighter opening to the chorus before kicking back into full heaviness, then closing things out with a quick finish. Great music, but weaker vocal lines. On balance let’s say 7/10.
  • BU2B2 - A brief, much weaker reprise of “BU2B” with new lyrics and synth orchestration. Works thematically for the story, but isn’t very special on its own. 6/10.
  • Wish Them Well - A bright guitar riff leads directly into the chorus. A brief ascending guitar lead loops back to the chorus again, then leads into a solid melodic verse. The ascending lead returns to support an OK off-rhythm pre-chorus before returning to the chorus. Another verse and pre-chorus, then we get a pretty great guitar solo and an OK extended bridge. This returns to the pre-chorus and chorus before fading out. This song has some cool parts, but it’s kind of a mess and doesn’t really hold together like it should. 6/10.
  • The Garden - A clean bass lead with synth orchestration gives way to a warm, melodious acoustic verse. This switches gears to a more haunting arpeggiated chorus. The clean bass lead returns, flowing back into the verse and chorus. This dissolves into a pretty piano-driven bridge that breaks into a soaring guitar solo before leading back into the chorus for an extended outro. An excellent and unusual song whose lyrics are even more poignant with Neil Peart’s passing. 9/10.
Average: 7.7/10
Weighted: 7.8/10

After another long break, Rush released what was to be their final studio album. Based on an original story concept by Neil Peart, the album paints a picture of a world of deserts, airships, and mechanical deities, and a protagonist ready to meet their maker.

Greater synth use crept back into this album, but so did a harder rock feel. The songwriting was also a noticeable step up from their previous record, with a real sense of maturity and mastery. The instrumental virtuosity of the group was also on display throughout the album — this was the band firing on all cylinders again, sadly for the final time.

As hard as it is to say goodbye, at least this legendary band got to go out on a high note with one last great album. They will be missed.
 
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