For some reason, there is an apprehension by metalheads to get into Rush. Some are (understandably) turned away by Geddy Lee’s zany, high-pitched vocals. You’re not exactly wrong if you think of South Park’s Terrance and Phillip the second you hear his voice. But, more often than not, the songs just aren’t heavy enough for the modern headbanger. Lonesome internet trolls and dive bar floozies continuously complain that the Canadian trio’s music is “too nerdy” or “too math rock.” However, I don’t believe this argument holds much weight.
Throughout their 40+ year career, Rush has crushed plenty of eardrums with their unique powerhouse of sound. The problem is that most of these tracks never received the attention they deserved. The band’s heftiness largely came from the merciless drum assault of the late Neil Peart. But you’d be wise not to sleep on their secret weapon, Alex Lifeson. The criminally underrated guitarist is no stranger to slapping listeners in the face with chunky riffs, while Lee holds everything down with chest-rattling basslines.
If you’ve never found Rush heavy enough for your liking, it’s time to pull the Q-tips out of your waxy canals and give these legends another chance. Besides, in today’s world of extreme metal and its 2,112 subgenres containing the word “core,” is anything really heavy enough?
1. “What You’re Doing”
“What You’re Doing” proves Rush was heavy before Neil Peart. Taken from their debut, self-titled record, John Rutsey balanced out the lineup with a thunderous drum sound. He left shortly after its release because of health problems.
You’ve heard “Working Man” a billion times, but the intensity of this overlooked gem can’t be denied. It has a wicked Black Sabbath aura, mostly because of Lifeson’s meaty riff. It’s ripe for cranking and pissing off neighbors while giving your neck muscles a vigorous workout.
“Anthem” is Rush doing what they do best. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a record that has a giant, suspicious-looking owl on the cover. They were expanding creatively on this second release but still delivered a fist-pumping rocker destined to rattle arenas and muscle cars everywhere.
Anthrax tackled “Anthem” on their covers EP, appropriately titled, Anthems. Anthrax knows what the hell is up, and you should too. As Axl Rose said in the liner notes for “The Spaghetti Incident?”, “Do yourself a favor and go find the originals.”
3. “Stick it Out”
“Stick it Out” immediately grabs your attention with a mysterious, creepy riff that feels like Jack the Ripper is lurking behind you, waiting to drag you into the shadows. When Peart crashes the party, the mood shifts in the best possible way.
This standout number from Counterparts boasts a positive message, one laced with urgency and inspired by frustration. A well of determination and drive drips from the lyrics, which are remarkably enhanced by the enormous sound these three guys created together.
After eighteen albums under their belts, Rush still sounded like they had something to prove. They came out swinging with songs that sounded more robust and massive than ever before. “Caravan,” the first single from their final album, Clockwork Angels, is best described by its lyric, “The caravan thunders onward.” After a quick orchestral intro, this behemoth reveals itself as an unstoppable force, plowing through any obstacles that dare stand in its hero’s path to bigger and better things.
The way the band effortlessly bounces between simple hooks and brow-raising prog metal makes them sound superhuman. The production by Nick Raskulinecz (and Rush) maintained an impressive crispness while giving listeners a swift kick in the nads. Okay, we get it, Rush: we’re not worthy!
5. “Malignant Narcissism”
Geddy Lee slaps the bass hard on this jam session from Snakes & Arrows. Peart and Lifeson carefully follow his lead, slithering around like a couple of demons, fanning the flames of this untamed beast ever so methodically. At every turn, it feels like Peart could steer the maniacal hellride off the tracks and into oblivion. But, at the last second, he comes to a halt, sliding into the station for the next group of unsuspecting passengers.
6. “One Little Victory”
This one is all about the drums. If you’ve never heard “One Little Victory” you might think it’s Motörhead when you hit play. No Rush album starts more forceful than Vapor Trails. The controlled chaos is almost hypnotizing.
The album arrived after a six-year recording gap (their longest ever) due to the deaths of Peart’s wife and daughter. Lyrically and musically, it’s a front-row seat to a man expelling all of his grief. The drummer was determined to have “another chance at victory, another chance to score,” and with the help of his bandmates, he scored big time.
To fully enjoy its badassery, check out Vapor Trails Remixed. The original album was, unfortunately, part of the loudness wars and often sounds like garbage being dragged down a sidewalk.
In addition to the great grunge bands who flooded airwaves in the 90s, Rush put out a killer record in 1996 called Test for Echo. They didn’t indulge in lengthy instrumentals or grand experimentation. This streamlined record fits with the vibe of the time, especially “Virtuality,” which is one of the earliest (and fewest) rock songs about modems.
Aside from conjuring up images of AOL chatrooms, this tasty nugget also possesses the power to send you leaping off your couch or coffee table like a madman. Flannel isn’t simply worn, it must be torn off and whipped around the room, destroying every lamp or plant that gets in the way. If Beavis and Butt-Head heard it today, they’d still think it was “pretty cool.”
8. “Far Cry”
“Far Cry” kicks off Snakes & Arrows with a slow, commanding riff mirrored by in-your-face snare hits that wouldn’t be out of place on a Metallica disc. There’s something so raw yet simultaneously slick about the track, proving Rush was always on a different level.
This song perfectly portrays the up and down rollercoaster of life. It instantly makes your skull sway wildly while dragging every emotion from the depths of your soul to the surface of your goosebump-ridden skin. Even the softer, catchier moments feel immensely heavy, something all metal bands could learn from.
9. “Headlong Flight”
I’m not sure who (or what) lit such a raging fire under Rush’s asses before they wrote this, but I wish I could buy them a stiff drink to go along with the stiffness in my pants. “Headlong Flight” is an invigorating shot of adrenaline from start to finish, which was needed in 2012.
When I first heard this on the radio, I didn’t think my speakers would survive. Luckily, they did, because it demanded repeated listens. I was completely captivated and practically in denial that a bunch of 60-year-olds had forged something this punchy and energetic. Lifeson shreds like Satan is holding a pitchfork to his heart, while Peart and Lee lose their minds like never before. It’s a stunning bookend to an astonishing discography of hard rock hits.
I can’t make a list of heavy Rush songs without the masterpiece instrumental “YYZ.” If you call yourself a rock or metal fan, you must have heard this song once in your silly life. If not, put down the Hot Pockets and add this to your Spotify playlist immediately. Just kidding. Get your ass to a record store.
If you can’t headbang to this, you’re a crazy person. Crazier than the person who named their child after the first five letters of the alphabet and said it’s pronounced “Ab-si-dee.” That’s like writing an entire song based on the Morse code for a Toronto airport. Who does that? Oh right, Rush did. And it’s heavy as hell.
It’s nuts how much awesomeness occurs in four minutes. Every band member solos their balls off while still working as a cohesive unit. No matter what happens in the future of rock n’ roll, it will always be unfair to other bands that this song exists.
And there you have it, young squires and headbangers. Go forth . . . and get RUSHIFIED!