The cover art of the newly release compact disc shows a breathtaking, fresh shot of rock climbers hoisting themselves up a Stonehenge-like formation.
The vivid, full-color photos in the liner notes serve as a superb framework around lyrical poems containing themes detailing the human need for affirmation.
But it's the progressive music on the disc - with varying tempos, clean drum progressions and crisp vocals urging reason - that stands out the most.
A chart-topper? Maybe an unknown band off the L.A. club circuit making its way toward the MTV Buzz Bin? Maybe its the next HFStival headliner.
At first glance - and listen - you'd think this was some hot young group straight out of Berklee College of Music. Not by a long shot.
It's Rush, the rock group that stays a step ahead of its competition - and their age - through constant reinvention and innovation. The Toronto-based band assembled two decades ago is back at it again - for the 21st time. The trio that turns out solid albums year after year offers trademark musicianship, confrontation with pertinent issues, and a resulting high volume of record sales via its latest creation, "Test for Echo."
"It was the most enjoyable [album] for us," says guitarist Alex Lifeson from his hotel room somewhere outside Detroit. "We were very unified in what the direction was. I think it shows on this album."
Unification, it seems, was not the only change that Rush experienced since the 1994 release of "Counterparts," a fast-paced concept album chock-full of philosophy, from rational objectivism (a focus on the individual) to the study of complex relationships. Vocalist-bassist Geddy Lee, percussionist Neil Peart and Mr. Lifeson took 18 months between albums to go their separate ways.
"I spent 10 months writing and recording 'Victor,'" says Mr. Lifeson, 43, of his first solo album since helping form the band in 1973. "I had two weeks off and then came 'Test.' Coming off the side project, I was very focused on songwriting and arranging.
"I felt a lot more confident and stronger."
The band took such a long hiatus after finishing its last tour in May 1994 because "Geddy wanted a year off to be with his new daughter and Neil always has a lot of things going on," Mr. Lifeson says.
Mr. Peart, the lyrical brainchild of the band, took drum lessons from Freddie Gruber.
"This is Neil Peart, who I think is the best drummer in the world. He felt there was an area that needed to be improved," Mr. Lifeson says. "He wanted to learn to play with more of a swing groove.
"He now has a circular, fluid technique, not a linear form of playing like he used to have. His endurance is greater."
In October 1995 the band assembled their new and old experiences at Chalet Studio, a country retreat outside Toronto.
"We spent the first few days talking about where we were going as people. We didn't even talk about the music," says Mr. Lifeson, who has long since traded in his long, blond hair and double-neck guitar for a conservative, Dutch-boy do and a sleek Paul Reed Smith guitar.
>From his desk that overlooked Lake Ontario, Mr. Peart, 44, began "sending a stream of lyrics to the small studio at the other end of the house, where Geddy and Alex hunched over guitars and computers," explains Mr. Peart in the "Test for Echo" biographical press release he has written on behalf of the band.
A snowstorm and several months later, the album was mixed by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Faith No More).
"When we heard his mix of a song for the first time, invariably we'd say something like, 'Wow, I never thought of it like that before!'" Mr. Peart says.
Now, about a year after settling down to work, the band is back on tour, hitting 70 venues in an effort to please the fans.
"Touring does not play an important role as it did in the past. We all are really enjoying the chance to spend time with our families...and the grueling nature turns up off," Mr. Lifesone said. "But we realize there is a large following that wants to see us. We try to reach a balance."
Lucky for the fans, playlists for the 1996 tour have included classic favorites "The Trees" from 1978's "Hemispheres"; "Natural Science" from the 1980;s "Permanent Waves"; "YYZ" and "Red Barchetta" from 1981's "Moving Pictures"; and, for the first time ever, the entire Ayn Rand-inspired "2112" medley from 1976's "2112."