Required Listening: Rush’s Hemispheres

by Andrew Marvin on February 8, 2012

This Required Listening guest post is by Andrew Marvin


Over the course of almost four decades, Rush has traversed several genres, including heavy metal, synth-driven pop, alternative, and modern rock. However, they are most fondly known by many as the high lords of progressive rock music.

Progressive rock rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s as a way of elevating rock music to a new level of artistic merit. Rush released several albums during the progressive era, including their 1976 breakthrough, 2112. They outdid themselves a mere two years later, however, with the release of their prog rock masterpiece, Hemispheres.

While 2112 is consistently included on greatest album lists, Hemispheres pushed the band beyond its limits in terms of scope and musicianship. It stands as both a culmination of the progressive rock genre and a defining moment for the band itself. Here’s why it deserves a spot in your collection.

In just four tracks, Hemispheres epitomizes everything that makes progressive rock such a challenging, yet rewarding, endeavor. Elaborate song structures, complex time signatures, and esoteric lyrics all appear in force on this album.

The eponymous opening track, clocking in at over eighteen minutes and containing six different movements, features the epic scope characteristic of the genre. The twenty-minute title track on 2112 had made the band and its fans no stranger to “really long songs”, but “Hemispheres” is anything but more of the same from Rush. Rather, it supersedes “2112″ thematically by describing the war between Apollo, Bringer of Wisdom, and Dionysus, Bringer of Love. This is no mere human struggle; it is a battle between the gods, an appropriate symbol of the record’s power and scale. To this day, the mythology of Hemispheres outweighs anything in the band’s catalogue.

The album’s second side features two conventional-length tracks, which nevertheless stand as progressive classics. “Circumstances” provides a hard rock, yet philosophical, single, while “The Trees” gives the album a Tolkienesque flavor, adding the fantasy elements often found in the genre. The album concludes with the nine-and-a-half minute, twelve-part instrumental, “La Villa Strangiato”, exhibiting the band’s unmatched virtuosity and technical prowess.

Hemispheres is required listening for progressive rock and music fans alike not just because it fulfills — with astounding proficiency — all of its generic requirements. It also stands out as Rush’s last true progressive rock record, as well as one of the last great entries in the genre itself.

By the late 1970s, progressive rock was in decline. Critics considered it overwrought and pretentious, while simpler, more accessible music like punk rock and disco was gaining favor with audiences. Despite this adversity, Rush boldly released a progressive masterpiece, and it remains one of the most impressive records of their career.

The grandeur of Hemispheres, though, was not without consequence. The album saw the band overreaching, as the material became almost too complex for them to play. Because of this burden, the band made a conscious move in the opposite direction with 1980′s Permanent Waves, which featured more radio-friendly songs and new wave elements. Though many great records continue to follow, the band has yet to attempt such grandiosity again. As a result, Hemispheres defined the band by closing the door on their progressive period and paving the way for the next iteration of Rush.

While 2112 rightfully brought the band much acclaim, Hemispheres cannot be overlooked as a definitive album of its genre. Rush punctuated the progressive rock era with a towering achievement, untouchable in its scope, power, and virtuosity. That’s required listening.

You can buy Hemispheres on iTunes.



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The Required Listening: Rush’s Hemispheres by Andrew Marvin, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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