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Review by Gary Hill

While Rush started almost as a Canadian Led Zeppelin, as they moved forward they became more and more of a progressive rock band with each album. While the brilliant A Farewell To Kings certainly cemented them into that title (arguably 2112 or Caress of Steel got them there) with Hemisphere's their prog rock explorations undoubtedly reached their pinacle. The CD that features only four songs, includes an over 18 minute epic that continues the story not finished with the last track on A Farewell To Kings. This song alone is worth the price of admission, being arguably one of the most nearly perfect prog rock epics ever done by any band. However, the other three tracks are all very strong, as well.

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Track by Track Review
Cygnus X-1 Book II - Hemispheres
Almost a reverse echo effect riff leads this in, then the band launch into a quick progression before pounding out a short staccato section. Then they eventually drop into the fast paced main segment of the first movement of the cut. They drop it down to slower territory for a bit, then hit a faster jam before dropping back again. A new section emerges out of a short silence, feeling much like A Farewell To Kings material. They evolve this up and as the first verse enters this plays through the ends. A melody from the intro returns to create the backdrop for the next segment of this epic. The band proceeds to launch through a series of organically connected, but yet diverse, sections. In a classical musical style, themes emerge and re-emerge and what is created is a seamless whole with all parts supporting it. This never gets boring or repetitive, yet it also doesn't become noodly or disconnected. This truly is Rush's finest work. They manage plenty of opportunities for instrumental soloing here, and they even pull in music quotes from the piece for which this serves as a sequel, A Farewell To Kings' "Cygnus X-1". The story here involves the unification of science and art, passion and logic through a battle of the gods of old. This truly is a piece of epic proportioned themes. Anyone who wants to argue that Rush doesn't fit as progressive rock better be prepared to answer for this one. Truly, I think it is their crowning achievement and one of the finest prog rock epics of all time. They even cap off the power and majesty of this incredible piece with a beautiful and triumphant balladic segment that brings an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the track.
A song that combines the Caress of Steel mode of the band with the A Farewell to Kings mode, this fast paced quirky rocker is another winner. I like the central theme, too. "The more things change, The more they stay the same". They drop it to a pretty and sedate keyboard break, but then burst back out into hard edged jamming from there.
The Trees
Starting on acoustic guitar, the first verse is sung in this style. Birds come over top of the end of this verse, then a brief pause gives way to a more metallic reworking of the first verse's themes. They work this in several directions as the song carries forward. They it drops to a mellow segment dominated by keys and percussion. This moves to a gradual build up to a classic Rush jam. Lifeson gets in a very tasteful solo before the main themes return, the group jamming on and reinventing this for a time, then jumping back into the verse.
La Villa Strangiato
Starting with a mellow acoustic guitar solo, Lifeson shows off his ability to play flamenco before keyboards take it to begin a build up. Peart eventually joins, playing louder as it carries forward. Then the guitar tears in, and the band launch into a series of variation on a theme. This fast paced instrumental covers a lot of musical territory and each member of the group put in an awe-inspiring performance. They drop it back, raise it up and overall continue to astound and explore an ever-expanding musical landscape. Lifeson puts in some ver intriguing sound on this one, and Peart is impeccable as always. This is another that is seamless and organic, while still incredibly dynamic. Seldom will you find a piece of music with as many moods and textures as this one. Geddy Lee throws in an awesome, but brief bass solo, too.
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