Random album reviews


The Living Flame

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...


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.


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!


The Living Flame

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


The Living Flame

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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