Long billed as the album that would bring Rush back to their classic sounds of the 70's, Snakes & Arrows is instead a remarkably focused release that sees the band returning to some heavier, yet ultimately more textured moments. This is no Hemisphere part two, more akin to something along the lines of Moving Pictures, Grace Under Pressure, and Counterparts, with the trio really taking to the time to come up with good, memorable songs, layered with tons of Alex Lifeson electric and acoustic guitar tones (including the return of solos!), Geddy Lee's spirited vocals and bass work, and the exemplary drumming and lyrics from the master Neil Peart. It's easily their best album in close to a decade.
Things kicks off in grand fashion with "Far Cry", a somewhat bombastic piece led by Peart's drum grooves and Lifeson's chunky guitar tone. "Armor and Sword" is one of the heavier songs here, with almost "Which Hunt" styled doomy guitar riffs over dense arrangements littered with intricate drums, keyboards, and Lee's acrobatic bass grooves. The bassist's vocals are quite mysterious here, adding a nice touch to this dark and heavy track. Things are more upbeat on "Workin' Them Angels", a catchy number with great hooks and Lifeson's layering of acoustic and electric guitars, something he does throughout the album, giving this one a rich depth, punctuated by Peart's drum blasting near the outro. "The Larger Bowl" contains some wrenching lyrics from Peart, and the arrangements are mostly acoustic, but it's a highly addicting piece that will have you humming the melody for hours. Alex Lifeson even drops in a tasty guitar solo for good measure.
The band dips back into dark and heavy territory for "Spindrift", a plodding yet menacing track with evil riffs from Lifeson, haunting Mellotron, stunning drum work from Peart, and an inspired vocal from Lee. The first of three instrumentals is "The Main Monkey Business", a nice proggy number with atmospheric keys floating underneath some intense riffery from Lee and Lifeson, while the ever busy Peart keeps things all glued together yet allows himself some moments to blast away with some almost fusiony fire. A surprising jump into bluesy hard rock, mixed with some crankin' prog metal, is heard on "The Way the Wind Blows", and "Hope" is the second instrumental, this one a vehicle for Lifeson's excellent acoustic guitar mastery.
Melodic bass lines and textured guitar patterns permeate "Faithless", a song that will remind of some of the material the band was writing on albums like Presto and Test for Echo. Bland and slightly generic, it's one of the least appealing songs on the CD. "Bravest Face" is another lackluster song, with too much of a "folky/alternative" thing going, despite some nice Mellotron waves, but the band bounces back somewhat for "Good News First", which features some nimble bass grooves from Lee and plenty of varied guitar parts from Lifeson, as well as an appearance again from the Mellotron. What this one lacks in intensity it makes up for with variety and complexity. Fans of "YYZ" will love the kick ass instrumental "Malignant Narcissism", a complex, prog-metal/fusion burner, with wonderful bass lines from Lee while Lifeson chugs and snarls his way through the mix, Peart providing no shortage of impressive beats and fills underneath it all. Hot stuff indeed, just wish it was longer. The closer "We Hold On" is a savage rocker with some of Lifeson's most wicked playing on the CD, and sure to be a live favorite for years to come.
Overall, Snakes & Arrows is a triumph (no pun intended or reminder of that other Canadian trio) for Rush, despite the fact that it falters a tad three quarters of the way through for a bit. They probably put three more tunes on here than they really needed, but what's good is really good, and it shows a band that still knows how to rock out with the intensity that they were known for many years ago.
1. Far Cry
2. Armor And Sword
3. Workin' Them Angels
4. The Larger Bowl
6. The Main Monkey Business
7. The Way The Wind Blows
10. Bravest Face
11. Good News First
12. Malignant Narcissism
13. We Hold On