Thursday, February 12, 2015

Slantpiece - Second Wind

Slantpiece is a band from Kearney Nebraska.  They play Heavy Metal.  Those are two simple statements but yet they are far from simple for several reasons.  First, Nebraska is not known for metal.  There is a thriving homegrown metal scene but nothing on a national level that is gaining attention outside of the state.  This is a shame.  The second reason is there is a preconceived idea, that with few exceptions, innovative metal comes from the left coast.  

It should be noted that Slantpiece, a 4 man group from Kearney Nebraska breaks all of those molds.  They are a midwest band turning out solid heavy metal.  I was fortunate enough to review their first EP Get You Some (  The band, now ready to release their sophomore effort, Second Wind, have tread into heavier waters and added some new styles to their repertoire.  While the first album centered around razor sharp riffs sometimes treading towards thrash metal, Second Wind seems to be more heavily influenced by Southern Sludge Metal bands.  From my first listen, the album is noticeably heavier than Get You Some, but that’s not exactly what grabs you from the beginning.  Producer Michael Beck, who produced Get You Some, and has had time to get to know the band and their strengths, has played a key role in how smoothly this project has come together and how good the overall finished product sounds. Beck’s ear for harmonies and sound structure are a perfect fit for how Slantpiece makes music.  It takes talent for a band like Slantpiece to craft the songs they do and equally, it takes the same amount of talent behind the boards to record and mix the album so that the listener can take the journey with the band.  Because of this, Slantpiece and Beck are the perfect combination.  

After a couple of years playing together, the sound is tighter and the members of the band seem more comfortable with each others styles and they use it to their advantage.  The CD opens with Ghost of Yesterday, a monster of a riff that gallops along with a thick sludgy riff and deep throaty vocals.  There is some nice lead work at at the 1:55 mark.  There is marked improvement to an already talented band on this release.  The drumming on Ghost of Yesterday is solid but varied and provides a very stable base on which to build the rest of the song.  Singer Derek Johnson has shown great improvement as well.  The vocals on the previous release were one of the highlights of the release.   This time around, Johnson seems to be more comfortable in the roll of vocalist for the band.  His vocals are both melodic and throaty and fit very well in the style of the song.  The overall mix of this album is better than Get You Some with a wider sound stage.  The guitars are separated well enough to hear who is playing what, but very solid when they both lock on the same riff.  The bass is solid and punchy and the drums are loud enough to give the entire project a solid foundation to build from.  The vocals this time around are further back in the mix, making them sound more like an additional instrument.  To me, this is the best way to mix vocals because every sound contributed to the overall project has the same amount of importance.  The vocals are a vehicle to serve the song rather than the song being a vehicle for the vocals.  The overall effect is very satisfying.  

Baptized in Whiskey is the second track on this offering.  Breaking down into a bass and drum power groove, before really allowing the listener to get accustomed to the sludgy riff that leads the track before and after each verse is a masterful touch.  The song conjures up images of smoky biker bars where theres more blood than booze on the floor.  The track just feels good and could easily be at home in the collection of a fan of Southern metal such as Down, Crowbar or Eyehategod.  

Changing gears midway through the release is Shallow Grave.  The riff and chord progression immediately reminds me of mid 1990’s Iron Maiden.  This is in no way a bad thing.  The band finds a groove that they are comfortable with and turn out what could arguably be the most musically solid track on the release.  It takes its time with several tempo changes and growling vocals that add great contrast to the rest of the track.  

Taking a break from the sheer power and heaviness of the album is Stuck In a Rut.  The song opens with a nice drum cadence to then be replaced with a much lighter very nostalgic riff.  The song seems to be paying tribute to some of the more decadent Sunset Strip bands of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  The song is incredibly fun and could easily be the song you crack open that first brew of the night to if you are at a party, out on the town, or just rocking out in your own living room.  The only difficulty for the listen here with this track is after the heaviness of the previous tracks, it is difficult to readjust to the style of the song, although it would arguably have been far more difficult to adjust to the track following some of the heavier cuts on the album.  

Following Stuck in a Rut, is Scars.  The track is the shortest song on the album, but don’t let that fool you.  The riff is the densest and heaviest one up to this point.  Vocalist Derek Johnson taking a vocal styling that is reminiscent of Philip Anselmo by way of Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills, complete from the low growl to the screams.  This track is the one to get the aggression out with on the floor or in the pit.  With this much ferocity on the studio track, I can imagine how much fun hearing this one live will be.  

There’s an art to putting together an album.  The most important is to always end it with a strong track that leaves the listener wanting more.  The band have done this with their title track called Second Wind.  The track busts out of the gate with a fast riff and double bass rolls to punctuate the heaviness before changing tempo into a sludgy groove.  Once again on this track, Slantpiece are reminiscent of bands such as Down and take that style and work it to it’s full potential. 

Sophomore releases are sometimes looked at as inferior releases to a debut or albums that happen later in a bands career, hence the term sophomore slump.  With one listen, any fans that are worried that this may have happened to Slanpiece, will put their fears to bed.  Second Wind is done by a more seasoned Slantpiece.  One that is far more comfortable being a band than they were on their debut.  The music is heavy and satisfying and not once leaves the listener scratching their head wondering what they were thinking.  

Slantpiece is a band from Kearney Nebraska.  They play heavy metal.  Now you know why this is not as simple as it seems and now you know why you need to get this release.  Show your support and get to their shows, but a cd, buy a t-shirt, pick it up on iTunes or whatever other physical and digital venues they use.  Show your love for the band and the music they make so they can continue to make music and get the recognition they deserve.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Slantpiece Get You Some

Slantpiece plays metal, period.  That’s what they do and it’s what they do well.  Kearney Nebraska is home to this 4 piece outfit.  Well you know this because you hang on my every word right?  In July, I was fortunate to be able to give my opinions on the first two offerings from Slantpiece’s upcoming EP entitled Get You Some.  At the time, they were headed to Lincoln to complete their EP with Producer Michael Beck.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, the results are done, they are here and soon, the finished product will be in your hands.

The opinions I held in my previous review of this band have been cemented.  The band has finished their 6 song EP and in that time, have managed to wring out more aggression, melody and precision than many of their peers in the Genre.  The music is heavy and precise and at the same time, melodic and shows adept songwriting skills. 

Each track has it’s own identity, which is rare in today’s music world.  Most projects are either a single driven by a bunch of filler to make the single stronger, or 10 variations on the same riff and vocal.  With Slantpiece, you get none of the above.  Each song on this project is strong and deserves to be listened to over and over. 

Sequencing is important when making music.  You want to keep the listener engaged the entire time without playing all your cards in the very beginning.  Each track on this project stands well on it’s own but the sequencing on this project is guaranteed to keep your fist in the air the entire time.  The band know that change from track to track as important as changing up the riff in a song.  Get you some is an engaging project that starts off with a roar and only gets heavier.  The tracks themselves will be sequenced as follows: 

War Cry
Demon Mind
Muddy Water
World of Chaos
Back Against The Wall
Act of Betrayal

Of course you should listen to this and make up your own mind, but trust me when I say that this is music that metal fans have been dying to hear for a long long time.  You don’t have to go to major acts and major labels to get it either.

Let’s dig into these tracks and experience just a taste of what Slantpiece has in store for you. 

The EP opens up with War Cry.  This piece, like Muddy Water feels a bit blues influenced to me.  Immediately it is reminiscent of Attika 7.  It is a heavy, sludgy, bluesy riff that has enough swagger and groove to make you an instant fan.  This track features a more melodic singing voice from guitarist, vocalist Derek Johnson, which advances the track nicely.  The song contains heavier elements too, but they are used to increase the overall ferocity of the track by only being used when necessary.

Demon Mind is a track that immediately reminds me of early mid tempo slayer songs in the intro without attempting to gallop along once the intro is done.  There is double bass work here that is used to add punch to the track.  Drummer Bill Sabah’s drumming adds what is needed for the track without going over the top.  There are a lot of todays metal and metal-core drummers who could learn a lot from how he approaches his instrument.

I have had the privilege of reviewing two of the tracks on this album early on.  You can find the review here:

Because I have expressed my opinions on these songs already, I will be including excerpts from that review as well.

Muddy Water shows another dimension of this band.  The guitar riff, while heavy is more melodic and feels a bit blues influenced.  Listening to this one, I am instantly reminded bands such as Down, Attika 7 and Biohazard.  Johnson’s vocals are a bit more melodic, with less of a rough edge to them, though adding screams at just the right times to punctuate the heaviness of the song.  This one gallops along and does not let up.  The drumming takes a back seat to the riff in this song and allows the guitar work to really shine of this track.  Note pinches at the end of some of the guitar lines are reminiscent of Zaak Wylde’s work for Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society. 

Likely the heaviest track of this set is entitled World of Chaos.  This song starts off with a scream and doesn’t let up.  The riff is intricate and well played and, while very heavy, almost ventures into progressive metal as much as it does thrash.

Back Against The Wall opens with a big fat bass groove that quickly layers up with crunching guitars and drums.  The track is a mid tempo track that is sludgy and heavy.  The vocals are done in a spoken style which fit the track perfectly.  This is a track to go to when you are looking for a great classic metal sound that is not afraid to be both retro and modern at the same time.

Act of Betrayal is a mid-tempo, heavy piece of work with a lot of aggression to offer.  The riff opens with a roar.  The bass work follows the lead riff closely and adds ferocity to it.  The drumming on this track is solid and accomplishes both driving the song as well as adding to the anger of the vocals.  The vocals on this track are throaty growls but not the typical RAWRROARLETSSEEHOWFUCKINGANGRYICANBEROAAARRRRR!!!  Johnson’s vocals are unique in that while they are heavy and angry, you can understand every word and he sings on key with the song rather than just a single note like so many of the bands that you hear today.  You honestly don’t hear musicianship this accomplished with bands who have honed their craft for years.  This is notable because this band got it’s start at the beginning of 2012. 

In short, friends, this is a heavy band making heavy music.  If you are a true metal fan or even a casual observer, get this.  These are real people making real music and they are representing metal in the midwest, and keeping heavy alive.  Support them by going to shows and getting the shirts, but most of all, make sure to tell your friends so they can support good local homegrown music as well.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Slantpiece -Aggression in the Midwest

Kearney Nebraska to most is a small sleepy town in the middle of the state if you know of Kearney at all.  Home to The University of Nebraska at Kearney and not much else.  When you think of new music, I would be willing to bet that Kearney isn’t in your top 1000 cities...yeah, I can’t think of 1000 cities either, but before Kearney you’d think of Omaha simply because of bands such as 311 as well as other artists who have had some success such as Matthew Sweet and Conor Oberst and his band Bright Eyes.  

If you were to travel to Kearney and look for good local music, you would find a resurgence in metal,  I’m not talking teased hair glam metal.  I’m talking about sludgy, heavy metal made by guys who know how to play and also know how to wring every bit of anger and aggression out of their instruments.  

The band that comes to mind immediately is a 4 piece band called Slantpiece.  Featuring the talents of Derek Johnson on vocals and guitar, Derek Tavis on lead guitar, Wryan Carpenter on bass, and Bill Sabah on drums, Slantpiece is a heavy band playing straightforward metal with influences ranging from Black Sabbath, Black Label Society, Clutch, Metallica, Slayer and Corrosion of Conformity.  

This band specializes in dark, heavy, brooding riffs, that while they are sludgy, they are very technical and precise.  They are currently working on their debut EP in Lincoln Nebraska. The EP will be titled ‘Get You Some’ .  Working with producer Michael Beck, who’s clients range from Chiamera, Soilwork, Knights of the Abyss, Marilyn Manson,
Ke$sha, Kill Hannah, Black Dahlia Murder, Badlands and Death, who are quite arguably the most notable death metal band on the planet.  

The band has recently made two songs, “Muddy Water” and “Act of Betrayal” available to listeners on the reverbnation website.  You can find these songs by going to www.reverbnation/slantpiece.  

So let’s dig into these tracks and see what makes them tick shall we?  The first offering is a track called “Act of Betrayal”.  This piece a mid tempo, heavy piece of work with a lot of aggression to offer.  The riff opens with a roar.  The bass work follows the lead riff closely and adds ferocity to it.  The drumming on this track is solid and accomplishes both driving the song as well as adding to the anger of the vocals.  The vocals on this track are throaty growls but not the typical RAWRROARLETSSEEHOWFUCKINGANGRYICANBEROAAARRRRR!!!  Johnson’s vocals are unique in that while they are heavy and angry, you can understand every word and he sings on key with the song rather than just a single note like so many of the bands that you hear today.  You honestly don’t hear musicianship this accomplished with bands who have honed their craft for years.  This is notable because this band got it’s start at the beginning of 2012.  

The second track, which in this reviewer’s opinion is the strongest of the two offerings is called “Muddy Water”.  
This song also shows another dimension of this band.  The guitar riff, while heavy is more melodic and feels a bit blues influenced.  Listening to this one, I am instantly reminded bands such as Down, Attika 7 and Biohazard.  Johnson’s vocals are a bit more melodic, with less of a rough edge to them, though adding screams at just the right times to punctuate the heaviness of the song.  This one gallops along and does not let up.  The drumming takes a back seat to the riff in this song and allows the guitar work to really shine of this track.  Note pinches at the end of some of the guitar lines are reminiscent of Zaak Wylde’s work for Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society.  

It is impossible to describe a band’s sound in a review.  The best way to hear a band’s talents are to hear them for yourself.  The sound of these two songs is clear and dynamic.  The songs are heavy and loud, but the sound is not brickwalled and hard limited such as most albums are nowadays that fall victim to the loudness wars.  It’s clear this band knows what they want and how they want to sound and will not compromise on that.  There are a lot of nationally known bands that could learn a lesson or two from the studio work of Slantpiece.  

Overall, this is work that should not be ignored.  This band is making good music and it should be heard, hopefully on a national level. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ghost B.C. Infestissumam

Ghost B.C. - Infestissumam

When listening to an album, what makes it better than others?  What makes it good at all?  Is it musicianship that is far superior to others?  Complete virtuosos of their craft?  Soaring vocals that rival that of some of the worlds most renowned and accomplished vocalists?  One could say that these things could be taken to mind when trying to identify a good album, but if this were the only criteria, there would be very few albums that would qualify. 

To me, creativity, musicianship and playability play a huge part of rather an album is good.  Is it an album that can be played all the way through with no filler or is it a singles collection stuffed to the gills with fluff enough to make a full length album? 

Today, I am speaking to a small group of people and after you have read this, you can decide if you are one of these people.  Today’s album is Infestissumam by Ghost B.C.  The band hails from Sweden, home of black metal, though this is no black metal band.  For those who know and love their hard rock and heavy metal, take Danish metal band Mercyful Fate, the vocals qualities of Blue Oyster Cult and the doomy riffing of Black Sabbath.  Add an organist and give them a creative angle and you have Ghost.  Worldwide Ghost is know as Ghost, and only in the US are they Ghost B.C. because of the existence of another band already named Ghost. For the convenience of typing, I will refer to them as Ghost as that is how they are known world wide.  

Infestissumam translates to ‘hostile‘ for you language buffs and trivia addicts.  The album is the sophomore effort by this band.  Their first album Opus Eponymous was released in Europe to critical acclaim.  It took the dark and doomy sounds of Black Sabbath and added vocals that were on par with Blue Oyster Cult’s in their classic Don’t Fear the Reaper, meaning clear clean lyrics sang rather than growled or screamed.

Infestissumam has divided the bands following.  This release is arguably less heavy than the first record, however the things that made Opus Eponymous so great are still here along with some new surprises.  

I mentioned that I am speaking to a select group of people who can appreciate this release.  Before reading further, ask yourself, can you separate from reality?  Can you listen to an album, enjoy it for it’s sound and put aside the band’s message?  For fans of bands such as Slayer and Marilyn Manson I still have your attention.  If you are unable to do this, Please put this away and read no hard feelings....I mean’re staying?  Ok, thanks for hanging on my every word, Ha!

Let’s talk first about the music of this album.  Hailing from Sweden people expect this band to be a black metal band.  They are a very theatrical band, choosing to let their music speak for them rather than their personalities.  The band collectively refers to themselves as “The Clergy”.  They play as faceless ghouls.  Six masked performers take the audience through their shows.  Five of the members play in black cloaks with black masks on their faces.  The leader of the band is a man known only as Papa Emeritus.  He dresses in a Cardinal’s outfit and a skull mask hiding his features as well.  

The album opens with the track Infestissumam which is completely in Latin and sounds very much like beginning of a heavy metal mass.  The song fades directly into drums, bass and guitar riffing of “Per Aspera Ad Infiri” translating to “the hard road to hell”.  Each song on this album is catchier than the one before it.  A rather vaudevillian organ glosses over the top of the album giving it a dark and sinister feeling.  The album then goes to the first single titled secular haze.  If you have not hear this band before, this is a good starting point.  Beginning with a circus-like organ that is then combined with the rest of the band, you will find yourself singing along rather you know the words or not.  The vocals are thin but they are richly complemented with harmonies.  

Ok, let me say that while this album was rated as one of the top 10 albums to hear of 2013 by Spin magazine, let me tell you the only questionable thing about this album is the lyrics.  This is why I made mention of being able to separate the overall sound of an album from their message.  The lyrics all revolve around Satan and Satanism, not in the LaVeyan sense but rather in the horror movie sense of the coming of Lucifer’s son to destroy the earth and reward his followers.  I might mention here that the band’s ultimate goal is to make a horror movie in the form of an album.  I doubt they are any more serious about this than the actors in Roman Polanski’s brilliant film Rosemary’s Baby.

The entire record follows a theme which is a continuation of the previous album, but a completely different style.  This album is rich in creativity and catchy as can be.  You will find yourself humming the choruses of each song all the time rather you want to or not. 

I do not in any way condone the lyrical content of this band, however, I find them no different in content than Marilyn Manson, Slayer,, Black Sabbath or any other band that is a common name today.  This band is resurrecting the classic sound of heavy metal from the 1970’s rather than the galloping guitars, blast beats and RAWRGROWLHOWLGRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWLLLL!! that has become common in many bands today.  These bands are sort of dime a dozen to me and sadly when you have heard one, you’ve heard them all.  This is just my opinion, however.  I am sure that others would disagree.  What I do know however is that this band has a retro sound that also sounds completely modern.  The playability and creativity is there rather they focus their talents on a message that you agree with or not.  This may just very well be the album of the year for me, although there are several months to go before my final list will be complete.  

Lets talk tech specs of this album.  There are several versions available.  There is a 10 song cd, a deluxe edition containing two additional songs, one of those being a cover of I’m A Marionette by fellow Swedes ABBA (who knew that when the disco was removed, there was a good song in there?!!?!?!?!).  There is also a vinyl version available too.  
For those familiar with the loudness wars, the cd versions as well as the MP3 are bricked and hard limited with no dynamics.  The vinyl is cut from a different master and is dynamic and clear.  In the US, is pressed on standard weight red vinyl with one of the album labels being the uncensored art that many disc makers would not press.  

Overall, this is a solid release showing growth and change from their debut album.  This is not a sophomore slump by any means.  It’s theatrical metal.  This could stand on it’s own as a very good horror movie, but decide for yourself.  Pick this one up and give it a listen.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Puscifer - Donkey Punch The Night EP

Ahh, good independent music.  Something that doesn't come around very often.  Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle understands good independent music by way of his least commercial group Puscifer.

Maynard James Keenan is the only permanent member of the group, however his road band often includes members of A Perfect Circle. Last year, the group released the fantastic Conditions of My Parole marrying rock to electronica in a way that few other groups could do.

Puscifer is back for 2013 with a new EP called Donkey Punch the Night.  The 8 song EP will be released on Tuesday in the US, but for now, you can hear it streaming on many music sites. 

After one listen, I can say that I am impressed.  This collection follows in the footsteps of Conditions of my Parole only in that it still blends rock with electronica, however this time around, Keenan and company take a different approach in the types of songs.  The Project opens with a cover of Queen's ambitious Bohemian Rhapsody.  This track finds Maynard stretching his vocal range singing all parts.  While he doesn't have the vocal range that Freddy Mercury had, it is very close.  The track does little to make it a complete original, instead trying to stay close to the original. 

8 tracks total on this project go from hard core keys and bass of the second track, to the 1980's feeling percussion of Dear Brother.

The project is satisfying from beginning to end.  This shows yet again, that while Puscifer is a vent for some of Keenan's more avant garde work, it is not a collective for releasing throwaway tracks from Tool or A Perfect Circle.  This group has it's own feel and it has it's own identity that is just as original as any of the bands that share Keenan as a member.

If you are looking for pure guitar driven rock, you might be better off looking elsewhere.  What you will find here is great music.  It is driving and sonically thunderous, but not because of screaming guitars, bass and drums.  That is all there, but this project shows Keenan as a singer in a way that his other projects just don't do.

Besides Bohemian Rhapsody, which is present in two different mixes, a very 80's new wave take on Accept's classic rocker Balls To The Wall is also present.  The arrangement remains closely in tune with that of the origial, but layering of vocals over synthesizers make it a track of it's own.   Anyone familiar with Keenan's covers should expect this however by way of A Perfect Circle's eMOTIVe album which contained covers from Marvin Gaye, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello and others.

This project will best be received by fans who enjoy remix projects that contain multiple versions of tracks.  Two versions of each of the songs appear.  4 tracks with a remix of each. 

Overall this is a solid project and it belongs in the collection of any Puscifer fan.  Check it out.  You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Newsted Metal

Newsted - Metal

If you have not been living in a cave for the past 30 years, you will know who Jason Newsted is and his importance to Heavy Metal Music.  Jason's beginnings were with a little thrash band called Flotsam & Jetsam.  He has also played on multiple albums by Voivod as well as countless side projects ranging from sloppy (IR8) To just downright terrible (Echobrain).

Newsted's most important musical contributions came when he became the fan who joined his favorite band as their bass player.  Jason joined Metallica shortly after the death of bassist Cliff Burton, staying on with the band through several albums for a career spanning 14 years with them.  In 2002, Jason announced his departure from Metallica and for a while faded into obscurity.  He worked on his various side projects, Echobrain being his most well known.  He had bad blood with his former band mates and Metallica's fans found themselves in yet another split over who was a better bass player.

2013 finds Jason with a new band bearing his name and a new 4 song EP out today aptly titled Metal.  There are many things that this collection will be, unfortunately, Vinyl is not one of them.  This project was released directly to iTunes for 3.99.  It is a worthwhile purchase.

The name of EP sums it up perfectly.  It is metal, pure metal and nothing but metal.  There is no Voivod, Flotsam & Jetsam or Metallica here.  What you have is Jason on bass but fronting his own band with vocals. Jason's voice is good, his lyrics are a little difficult to digest on this album.  They're not complex, they're just not exceptional.  The songs on the EP average about 5-6 minutes each

4 songs is all we get to base our judgment of this band on.  Ultimately this gets the nod from me.

The album opener Soldierhead starts out with a galloping speed riff followed immediately by rollling toms.  The drumming on this track is primarily blast beats though played a little slower than you would think.  A better drummer would be an asset to this band, but the timing is solid.  Lyrically it's about a soldier in a war torn place looking back on his life trying to determine how he got to where he is.

Track 2, Godsnake begins with slow big riffs for the intro, settling with a slow sludgy chug chug riff.  It's not bad.  It's heavy and fun.  Again, nothing groundbreaking here.

Track 3, King of the Underdogs starts off with a bass guitar intro that is mimicked immediately by a lead guitar.  After the first 3 or 4 sung lines, the main riff takes off and the track shows itself for what it is.  It is arguably the best song of the 4.

My least favorite is the 4th and final track, Skyscraper.  The song has a bouncing bass guitar line that seems just a little too commercial and overdone, still, in the overall flow of the songs, it fits well.

So there it is, I've sat with this project all day and listened to it several times before judging it all.  It's a solid project and I would definately want to hear more by them in the future.  It's good to hear Jason singing and playing.  It left a rift with some of Metallica's fans, however, I hope they find their way to 'Metal' and let this band be what it is and not overshadowed by the biggest metal band of all time, that he just happened to be part of for a time.

Happy Listening

scrap224; Rush- HEMISPHERES

This is a Journey into Sound.....

Rush's 6th studio album, released in 1978 was a concept album like their critically acclaimed masterpiece 2112 but not quite as successful.
Following themes going back to Rush's second album, Fly by Night, on Hemispheres lyricist Neil Peart continues to heavily utilize fantasy and science fiction motifs. Similar to their 1976 release, 2112, Hemispheres contains a single, epic song broken into chapters as the first side of the album ("Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres") while the second half contains two more conventionally-executed tracks, "Circumstances" and "The Trees."
The album's final track, the ambitious nine-and-a-half-minute "La Villa Strangiato," was the band's first instrumental release. According to Peart the band spent more time recording "La Villa Strangiato" than they did recording the entire Fly by Night album.
All that time and effort were worth it after just listening to this album once.
The album contains examples of Rush's adherence to progressive rock standards including the use of epic, multi-movement song structures, complex rhythms and time signatures, and flexible guitar solos, like those found in "La Villa Strangiato." In the 2010 documentary film Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, the band members comment that the stress of recording Hemispheres was a major factor in their decision to start moving away from suites and long-form pieces in their songwriting. That change in philosophy would manifest itself in the band's next album, the considerably more accessible Permanent Waves.
For a short period of time, the album was available in Canada also as a red vinyl LP in a gatefold sleeve with poster (catalogue number SANR-1-1015), and as a limited edition picture disc (catalog number SRP-1300), both of which have become much sought after collector's items. I own the picture LP version!
Side A or the Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres side is 18:08 in length & broken up into 6 movements;
I. Prelude
II. Apollo (Bringer of Wisdom)
III. Dionysus (Bringer of Love)
IV. Armageddon (The Battle of Heart and Mind)
V. Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)
VI. The Sphere (A Kind of Dream)
This epic song deals with the story from Cygnus X-1 on the album A Farewell to Kings. It uses the Greek Mythology of Apollo, the god of Reason, and Dionysus, the god of Love. The followers of Apollo believe straight logic can lead them while the followers of Dionysus believe that love will lead them. Civil War ensues until the adventurer from Cygnus X-1 comes across this world. Since traveling through Cygnus X-1, a black hole, his body has been destroyed but he can still see and think. He becomes upset with the war and cries out to the people, Apollo, and Dionysus. The people hear his cry, stop fighting, unite, and proclaim the hero Cygnus, the god of Balance. Pretty heavy stuff if your so inclined to think while listening to music. Besides I have always considered Rush to be the thinking mans band.
The other songs on the album include CIRCUMSTANCES (Geddy sings some in French on the heavy track). THE TREES (whether Neil Peart knew it or not, I have always considered this a song about the haves & the have nots) & LA VILLA STRANGIATO (an exercise in self-indulgence). This track is over 9 minutes in length. It is broken up into differing movements like that of the first track.
I. Buenos Nochas, Mein Froinds!
II. To Sleep, Perchance to Dream...
III. Strangiato Theme
IV. A Lerxst in Wonderland
V. Monsters!
VI. The Ghost of the Aragon
VII. Danforth and Pape
VIII. The Waltz of the Shreves
IX. Never Turn Your Back on a Monster!
X. Monsters! (Reprise)
XI. Strangiato Theme (Reprise)
XII. A Farewell to Things
This album is a monster start to finish. This is considered by many fans & Rush themselves to be the last of their EPIC songs in terms of length. They so far have remained true to that pledge. HEMISPHERES represents the end of the beginning 'golden' age of Rush & the turning of the page to something different. I love this album. Spin It.