2012's Clockwork Angels is the new concept album from the legendary Canadian band Rush. It is the band's nineteenth studio album of original material (twentieth if you count the covers album Feedback) and follows up their last two albums in bringing out the more Hard Rock/Metal aspects of their sound. It takes Snakes And Arrows' variety and Vapor Trails' power and combines them into a very strong album indeed, one that isn't ever dull or plodding. It can be bought now as a digital download, now in a special fan pack edition of Classic Rock Magazine that comes with a Keychain, Poster and links to online bonus content or later on its own in either CD or Vinyl format. The story that it tells is also available separately as a novel if you want to take things even further.
If you have already heard `Caravan' and `BU2B,' which were released a full two years earlier than the record was, then you should have some idea of this album's musical direction already. The songs have since been re-recorded to fit in better with the rest of the album though, so even if you've played them to death already, you won't feel cheated that they are part of the album.
Despite concentrating on the band's heavier side, the album is still very dynamic and varied. Sometimes things will be melodic and sweet, sometimes there are synths and keys in there, sometimes you'll hear little touches that remind you of Hemispheres and A Farewell To Kings and then of course sometimes you'll hear more of the direction from Snakes And Arrows' and Vapor Trails' heavier moments. The opening to `Carnies' even has a big fat riff that could almost fit on a Monster Magnet or Down album.
Each song on Clockwork Angels contains a lot of different parts; you could hear a funk-like break down in one track, an acoustic intro in another, some proggy feedback scrapes in another and straight rock beats in yet another, or you could hear all of that and more within one single track.
Highlights include the closing track `The Garden' which opens with acoustic guitars and has a grand orchestral feel in places, as well as the amazing single `Headlong Flight', which mixes variety with focused hard rocking (similar in a way to `Far Cry' off the last album but with more parts packed into it) and the fun track `The Anarchist' that really takes off in a neat passage that revolves around tom-rolling.
As a general rule, I always find that the best Rush songs are the ones where a lot of time has passed without you knowing it, for example a five-minute track that feels like it is only two-and-a-half minutes long; and the worst ones were the ones where a lot of time passes without enough ideas used to justify the song lasting as long as it actually does, for example a six-minute track that could have worked a lot better as a three minute song.
The best thing about the whole Clockwork Angels album for me personally, is that every song justifies its own length. When this plus is added to the superb musical direction (I prefer the band's heavier side personally), the superb production and the as-always superb musical and vocal talent on display, it makes for an absolutely captivating record that hits hard on first listen and has a lot more to offer on subsequent spins as well.
Then on top of that, you have the interesting steam-punk story to get to grips with across each early listen, which just adds yet further intrigue and replay value. It would be tempting to say that this is almost guaranteed to be loved by any Rush fan, but then you have to consider that their audience is so wide and diverse and their catalogue is so varied that pleasing any one type of fan may cost another type of fan to loose interest.
If you are an early-prog or synth-pop fan first, and a Rush fan second however, if you hated Vapor Trails and the heavier parts of Snakes And Arrows and are generally the type of person who hates all Metal, then Clockwork Angels may not be for you. I can see how it may be leaning a little heavily on one aspect of their sound and that maybe that's the one part of Rush's style that you don't personally enjoy. Maybe even the conceptual nature of the record or the variety within each track isn't enough to save it for you, if you simply don't like Rush when they get all loud and distorted. If this describes you, then my advice would be that maybe you ought to give this one a miss.
Otherwise however, this is a pretty essential album and no matter the size of your Rush collection, this should probably be a part of it.
In summary; Clockwork Angels is a strong and fresh album, it is energetic, entertaining and focused, it is heavy rather often and has enough ideas per song to justify each song's length. It just sounds vital and has enough depth to reward repeat listens. Overall, its a pretty top-notch release and it's definitely something you should consider getting if you like Rush, especially if you like their heavier side.