This 1975 sophomore release from Rush is where Rush became the power trio we’ve known and loved for a long time: in other words, this is the first album to feature Neil Peart, and his entrance into the band contributed largely to the changes heard between the s/t debut and this album; Neil’s entrance also foreshadowed the overall direction the band would take from here and on.
On Rush’s debut, the music was fairly straightforward heavy rock, and the lyrics weren’t necessarily anything unique (mostly love-oriented lyrics, which were very typical.) On the musical standpoint, the musings found on said debut were often compared to Led Zeppelin; this comparison is pretty silly, given that nearly all industry-writers think that nearly *every* hard rock band to land on the scene in the early-70s, or later, is derivative of Zeppelin. As if Led Zeppelin were the only hard rock giants to leave an indelible mark on subsequent hard rock bands? Come on, now!
However, on this second album, Neil Peart enters the scene. Noticeable changes are abound. Lyrics exhibited less of the typical “lovin’” attributes, and became a bit more philosophically-oriented. Time signatures strayed from straight 4/4 (and the like), and went into more exotic areas. The opening rocker, “Anthem” is a perfect example, as it features *both* these new attributes that became a part of Rush’s trademark. The lyrics are Ayn Rand-inspired (Neil was a big devotee.) I personally haven’t read much of anything from Ayn Rand, but if going solely by these influenced lyrical musings, I’d have to say that Ayn Rand herself must have been something of a mental case. The lyrics on here are a bit arrogant and pompous, but, Neil Peart seemed to love this woman’s “philosophy”, so to speak, so go figure. And I love the music.
Speaking of the music, we are already treated to Rush and their brand of time changes: this rocker opens up in a hard-charging, frenzied 7/8; listen to Alex Lifeson’s intense descending riff on the pentatonic minor, and how Geddy Lee plays the same lick on his bass in unison with Alex. And to top it all off, Neil is playing in sync with these two on the snare, which helps to give the opening something of a regal atmosphere; it’s almost like an odd-timed march. The energy displayed and exchanged between these three is quite intense. After the 7/8, it switches to a more common time signature. Other rockers like “Beneath, Between & Behind” display the same kind of intense energy. This is all excellent stuff. Indeed, Rush were just starting out, so these musings aren’t exactly at their most fully-developed, and this is probably why so many people seem to think a bit less of these “pre-2112″ albums.
On “By-Tor & The Snow Dog,” Rush tackles their first epic composition. This would probably be called a mini-epic in comparison to their later juggernauts, since it’s not in the double-digits in regards to the minutes in length, but we already sense the cosmic lyrics, instrumental jams (one in 7/4, and already featuring some mathematical techniques — see if you can spot what I’m talking about; I’m not going to give it away), and multi-faceted atmospheres that were common in Rush’s later epics. Songs like the famous title track, and “In The End” are Rush in their hard rock balladry musings, while “Rivendell” is a beautifully soothing, dreamy number which features Geddy Lee in one of his more mellow, romantic vocal phases, and he also plays the classical guitar on here. It’s a beautiful track.
This isn’t the more evolved side of Rush, and this aspect is undoubtedly the main thing that turns fans off about this. But, really, it’s quite an excellent album. Recommended.