The power trio find their way on "Caress of Steel", a genuine turning point for Rush. The band are heavy and proud of it channelling Led Zeppelin and Kiss in places but injecting massive dollops of prog into the mix. The prog comes in the form of the two epics that are rarely heard outside of this album. I heard this album again to review after a long break but I have just listened to two ordinary Rush 80s albums and in contrast this album is like a jolt in the arm. There are no synths and the production is not as processed, and it is all the better for it.
The lengthy tracks are fabulous prog classics and Rush hold nothing back in their compositions. This rehearsal for "2112" is killer rock from start to end. Lifeson's riffing is awesome and indispensable on tracks like the brilliant 'Bastille Day' and wonderful 'Lakeside Park'. 'I Think I'm Going Bald' is like Led Zeppelin but lots of fun in any case. However, it is with 'The Necromancer' that it really takes off into full blown prog territory.
'The Necromancer' features some incoherent ideas with a mystical narration and many time sig changes and weird lyrics driving the story. Lifeson's lead breaks are extraordinary, especially at 7:30 when he just unleashes a tirade of guitar licks. What a difference here in the 70s when I just heard his restrained jangly 80s work. Lifeson is a brilliant guitarist and he is on fire on this song. Terry Brown continues to narrate the tale of three weary travellers who meet up with a wizard like Necromancer who leads them into the shadowy darkness, casting a spell that holds them captive.
The track is divided into three distinct sections that flow together seamlessly. 'Into The Darkness' has a "Lord Of The Rings" style narration and after some inspired musicianship moves onto 'Under The Shadow'. Now the travellers enter a medieval dungeon concealing the terrors of the unknown. Then we move to the next section 'The Return Of The Prince' that has a gentler musical texture ending the epic with an uplifting happy ending where the travellers are freed from the clutches of the Necromancer by Prince By-Tor.
On side 2 the whole vinyl record is swallowed up with the monster epic 'The Fountain of Lamneth'. The music is adventurous moving from soft to hard hitting in sharp abstract bursts. Lifeson swaps acoustic guitars for metal distortion as the mood gets darker. The drum solo from Peart is a blistering performance, but one cannot underestimate the power of Lee's high soprano voice and he is definitely in full voice in these early years. There are 6 parts including 'In The Valley', 'Didacts And Narpets', 'No One At The Bridge', 'Panacea', 'Bacchus Plateau' and 'The Fountain'. One of the best Lifeson solos is found on 'No One At The Bridge'. It is a grandiose piece of music that has some nice musical passages and lyrics.
The lyrics speak of the human condition including "Images around me don't identify inside, Just one blur I recognise, the one that soothes and feeds, My way of life is easy and as simple as my needs". But I particularly like the section after Peart's drum solo and Lee just screams out "Listen!" Perhaps he is telling us to listen to this new Rush sound that would permeate all the albums to follow until the 80s. The next few albums to follow would be Rush at their greatest.
Overall "Caress of Steel" signifies the golden era of Rush. It was a beginning of greatness for the band and one cannot help but to admire the bombastic approach to rock the band had in these early years. The epics are well worth checking out but also 'Bastille Day' and 'Lakeside Park' are killer making this an excellent album to indulge in. It reminds me of "Hemispheres" in a way having only a few songs with some epics, but they are all good and so it is a successful epiphany for the band branching into uncharted waters. The trio are at their most inventive and work well together to produce some amazing prog rock on "Caress of Steel".