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Rush probably has the most loyal fandom of aging rockers this side of Pink Floyd. Problem with such a loyal fan-base when it comes to an old band is, every time there's a new album coming out, you are going to have all sorts of enthusiastic hype claiming it to be the return of the band to its mighty superior roots and this low bitrate 30 second teaser sample reminding them of the glory days of the band. Same thing happened with Rush's latest album Snakes & Arrows.
Personally the expectations weren't high considering the last album Vapour Trails was quite a debacle. Things change though. I mean, the band isn't back to its roots or anything. Neither is Alex Lifeson showering us with his blazing solos nor the band is writing sci-fi epics like the old. Snakes & Arrows sees some drastic and important evolution elsewhere.
Sticking to writing guitar driven songs thankfully, most of these are given a very see-saw epic structure because of being written on an acoustic guitar with contrasting heavy guitars and the band has clearly put them all together in the jam room instead of the isolation approach. Acoustic guitars are often strummed throughout songs even while electric and distorted guitars are present and Lifeson uses banjos and mandolins to effectively dress things up a little every now and then. Don't fret though, there's absolutely no shortage of loud distorted rhythm guitars because the band completely rocks out here. It's just that the wild extremes are rather well worked out and the band just writes one great cohesive song after another with great arrangements, filled with layers and layers of guitars and some brilliantly infectious choruses. And a sea change from Vapour Trails, the production is crisp and you can hear all the guitar layers, the subtle mellotrons and even the one time orchestral bit, all damn clear.
Some of the songs are immediately catchy and these are the ones that make this album click right away. Album opener Far Cry, Working Them Angels, The Way The Wind Blows, Faithless, Bravest Face, We Hold On are all some of the strongest songs the band has written in years and these will hit you right away, and also have enough in them to last multiple listens. This means that the listener, after the first few listens are going to favour the second half over the first. Especially considering the second half has three great instrumentals. The Main Monkey Business, which is bound to give these post-metal types a major complex and has Neil Peart's most goosebump inducing drum lines , the bluesy 12-string acoustic solo instrumental called Hope and the crazy Malignant Narcissism (a reference to a term used to refer the North Korean dictator character from the Southpark creators' movie Team America: World Police) which would fit damn fine on John Paul Jones' first-class Thunderthief album. They should write more instrumentals in the future. All three really strong compositions in the second half implies, I really couldn't wait till I'm past the first few songs.
But hold on - the rest of the first half grows a hell lot over time. Armour & Sword, The Larger Bowl (note Peart trying out some fancy Pantoum on this one) and Spindrift are as great as the rest of the early winners and those kickass instrumentals.
There are moments of vintage Rush, there are moments when the band is sounding completely like never before and there are moments especially in the middle of the album when the band takes a bluesier stance. Great playing from all the three as expected, killer writing with enviable hooks and that perfect unquestionable production. Geddy's voice has aged well with the high pitched squeals pertinently missing, Peart's lyrics mostly revolve around real life experiences and as for the solos, there are at least a couple of them that are prominent lead parts but go elsewhere if you're looking for Lifeson Leads ®. These veterans are the top of the game and this is easily their best since Presto. I love this evolved modern Rush. Buy this already.