“Test For Echo”, the seventeenth studio album from veteran Canuck prog rockers RUSH, is quite the difficult beast. Sometimes it takes on the form of the classic RUSH we know and love, with intricate melodies and complex rhythms. Other times, it sounds almost like PANTERA playing a very distasteful joke on us.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, “Counterparts” (1993), “Test For Echo” is a purely guitar-driven record, made evident by Alex Lifeson’s uncharacteristically crunchy axe on tracks like “Driven” and “Virtuality”. Unlike previous RUSH albums, Lifeson dominates “Test For Echo” and the band’s usual “team effort” sound takes a backseat as a result. On some tracks, Geddy Lee’s bass is either barely audible or merely follows the guitar melody. This is not befitting of someone who is arguably the best technical bassist in the world.
Even the normally solid Neil Peart seems somewhat subdued on this album. His beats seem to lack the creative fervor of previous album efforts, putting an obvious damper on the overall album sound. Once again, why regulate this drum god to playing elementary beats that are simply beneath his sky-high skill level? I mean, Alex Lifeson is great, but why does he have to drown out his two fellow musicians, both of whom are widely regarded to be the best in the world at their particular instrument?
Nonetheless, for every trough there is always a peak. As flawed as this album is, there are flashes of brilliance every now and then. The instrumental “Limbo” is a high point, as is the soft and profoundly sarcastic “Resist”. Also, the lyrics on nearly every track are top-notch and full of the kind of evaluative introspection that we have come to expect from the band. Peart’s writing, as with any RUSH album, challenges you to think for yourself and consequently wonder what direction the world’s heading in today, with topics as broad as interchangeable religions (“Totem”), division between eastern and western culture (“Half The World”) and even the online community (“Virtuality”).
Ultimately, however, “Test For Echo” is a relatively under-whelming album for the power trio from Toronto. Yes, it’s still progressive on the inside, but in order to find it, you have to weather a storm of unnaturally (for RUSH, anyway) heavy guitar. Because of this, “Test For Echo” may turn off longtime fans of the band’s softer, more keyboard-centric sound of the eighties and even the screeching sharpness of their early days in the seventies. At the same time, it’s simply not heavy enough to attract fans of Progressive Metal bands like SYMHPONY X and DREAM THEATER. A somewhat disappointing album for RUSH, “Test For Echo” may have stranded itself on a middle ground where neither fanbase can get into it. (Online August 29, 2006)