This record is the culmination of Rush’s adventures into side-long progressive rock songs. Mind you, they only wrote these kinds of seventies icons for four albums, so when you consider their discography as a whole, it’s a somewhat small part of their sonic output. With that aside, Hemispheres on its own merits is a wonderful album, and stands up well against other luminaries in Rush’s corpus.
For those who don’t know, this record is prog rock/hard rock, with equal shares of either, and most of the time the two genres are blended perfectly. It’s certainly harder than its softer and spacier predecessor A Farewell to Kings.
There are only four songs on this record and Circumstances is the arguable weak link of the quartet. Compared to the sonic boom majesty of the other three, it’s fairly Rush-by-numbers. In saying that, Rush-by-numbers usually exceeds the better efforts of many lesser artists. Such is the power of this band.
There’s signs of things to come too. Both Circumstances and the far superior The Trees have a precision and concision about them that reached a brilliant apex on their next studio record, Permanent Waves. But generally, one Rush album usually foreshadows the next, so – at least to a fan – there’s no surprises here.
Progressive hard music reached its apex with album opener, the six-part Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres, a titanic musical battle between the heart and the mind (signified by the figures on the album cover). Eighteen minutes of mind-bending to-and-fro. It’s Book II, as Book I (The Voyage) ended out A Farewell to Kings. We’ve reached the destination that song was journeying too and the resolution? Listen to it, that’s all I can say further.
Of course, this album contains the first in a long line of Rush epic instrumentals – the marvellous La Villa Strangiato, which went some way to cement the band’s reputation in technical excellence.
As said before, Hemispheres is the peak of Rush’s prog rock phase. It’s also the last album to genuinely feature long, thematic songs usually associated with the genre. Sure, Permanent Waves had Natural Science, but it never felt like a prog rock song. It doesn’t have that same quality – whatever that may be. I can’t put my finger on it. In any case, Hemispheres is a superb record, taken on its own merits or part of the progressive rock oeuvre.