Here’s a link to my online conference paper bio, abstract, and video for “Rush’s ‘Hemispheres’: Uniting Heard and Mind (and Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal)”. May 2021 Progect Conference, hosted by the University of Ottawa.
If progressive rock and heavy metal sometimes appropriate ideas from classical music—instead of, say, the blues—would that be enough to explain their appeal? Of course not. If they’re often musically and lyrically “complex,” are these complexities straightforwardly more so than the underlying grooves and vocal practices of funk and hip hop? Well … no. On the other hand, even though they may not reach a particularly diverse audience, progressive rock and heavy metal actually espoused eclecticism right from the start.
The Canadian rock band Rush (1968-2018)—one of the godfathers of progressive metal—would not have developed an eccentric, eclectic progressive/hard style without the example of musicianly progressive rock from 1969-77. However, the band’s music also relates to the influence of blues-oriented hard rock and power-oriented heavy metal from the same period. Rush’s 1978 album Hemispheres begins with its title-track, and with it the band provided its last of three album-side-length compositions. “Hemispheres” establishes a conflict between the left (thought or “reason-oriented”) and right (emotion or “feelings-oriented”) halves of the human brain. The band anthropomorphizes these according to classical/mythological references to the gods Apollo and Dionysus, respectively.
The paper explores the large-scale design of Rush’s “Hemispheres,” including its sections, form, metrical construction (including 12/8 and 7/8), lyrical features, and tonal complexities. The latter include extended chords, inversions, cross-relations, chromaticism, modes, ambiguous progressions, and various solutions to a particular cadential figure. Among other things, Rush uses nearly identical music to equate a pair of extended lyrical frames as equally inadequate ideologically. The band then converges on additional musical and lyrical frames that themselves become a reconciliation. In this manner, Rush mythologizes the post-counterculture of needing to unite heart and mind into something new.