Like “Meddle” is to “Dark Side of the Moon,” Rush could not have released “2112” without releasing “Caress of Steel” first. The opening track is a continuation of their bluesy old selves, influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin. The wild shriek of Geddy Lee, powerful drums of Neil Peart, and guitar doodling of Alex Lifeson are prominent in this song, and is easily the song that most fans relate to off this album. Following this song are two other shorter songs “I Think I’m Going Bald” and “Lakeside Park,” which I feel are also influenced by their two previous albums, but are less significant. As great as the first three tracks are, what I love the most about this album are the final two tracks, containing their most controversial songs “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth.”
So many considered the drastic shift in musical style from the first half of the album to the second to be detrimental to the band, and the reason why Rush almost fell apart. The first half is traditional Rush, a mix of blues, punk, classic rock, and even hints of classic metal. The second half, on the other hand, was considered entirely revolutionary during this time, and to some ahead of its time. Taking on a more progressive, psychedelic, and experimental approach, these two songs totaling over 30 minutes in length sound like a mixture of early Genesis, early Yes, and King Crimson. Known for biting off more than they can chew, Rush attempted the next “Close to the Edge,” using prolonged chord progressions, odd time signatures, and improvisation. Overall, I felt like Rush in their youth made an excellent attempt at progressive rock after taking this shot in the dark.
While both songs’ lyrics may be hard to understand (a topic that would take another post in itself to discuss), and are challenging to the listener in multiple ways, one can appreciate the musical knowledge behind the band. I love to listen to the chord progression and time signature changes in both “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth,” traits that are still lacking in some of the most popular and most knowledgeable of rock bands. Being based on two separate concepts or stories, I love the use of each instrument in helping tell the story. The slower sections reminds me of journeying across the land, while the harder and faster sections help me picture a battle scene, or an intense action sequence. Lee’s vocals are moving, especially in the beginning and end of “The Fountain of Lamneth,” which help the listener to understand the feelings behind the characters in each song. While to some these songs may be considered excessive, to hear these attributes coming out of kids from Canada is absolutely astounding. With the time and effort put into these songs, it is absolutely necessary for the length of the second half of the album to take over part of your day.
Although “Caress of Steel” may not be considered the best progressive rock album of all time, it definitely is looked upon as an influence to modern progressive rock and metal bands today. The use of instruments in telling the concept, the musical knowledge, the unique vocals, the bluesy guitar, and unbelievable drum work are reasons for listening to this album. I highly consider listening to this album for those who are fans of progressive rock, and are fans of bands like Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, and other 70’s prog rockers. For fans of Rush already, I highly recommend giving this album another listen.
Update: Check out my second album review of Rush here.
Please watch this Youtube video of a live version of “Bastille Day”: