Chapter XVIII: Old Friends, New Territory
"One day I feel I'm on top of the world
And the next it's falling in on me
I can get back on, I can get back on"
Whenever I hear the lyrics of the chorus of "Far Cry," I always feel as though it's a metaphor for all the hardships and triumphs that Rush have experienced throughout their illustrious career. Seriously, just think about this for a moment... back in the early 70s, would you have ever believed that a progressive rock trio with complex instrumentation and heavy lyrical themes regarding fantasy and philosophy would become the rock juggernaut they are now? It's quite incredible, especially when considering what tragedies and struggles have befallen the band over the years. And here they still are, over four decades after Neil Peart first joined the band, still maintaining the same lineup after all that time has passed. The fact that Rush continued even after something as tragic as the deaths of Peart's wife and daughter and made an album as good as Vapor Trails
is a true testament to how close-knit and committed these guys are. However, where were they going to go after their 2002 effort? Well, Snakes and Arrows
strengthens the band's newly modernized sound found on Vapor Trails
while managing to be one of their most emotional and sentimental works.
The instrumental "blend" I mentioned in my last review is honed to near-perfection on this album. In fact, the more economic playing styles of each member here are really effective in keeping the album cohesive. Even the primary instrumental "The Main Monkey Business" offers very little in the way of flashy musicianship. Instead, there's a much more warm and inviting sound at work; Alex Lifeson's gorgeous acoustic guitar work is one of the most prominent elements of the record, and there's a lot more subtlety in Geddy's bass playing. But don't think for a second that this is a complete step down in intensity from Vapor Trails
; one listen to the opener "Far Cry" will immediately dispel that notion with its heavy riffing and hard-hitting rhythms. However, there's a certain beauty to Snakes and Arrows
that's a bit difficult to describe. There are a lot of lush arrangements and beautiful layers that give many of the songs an otherworldly quality, one of the best examples being the chorus "Armor and Sword." After a distorted riff from Lifeson and harmonized vocals from Geddy Lee, the song breaks into a very spacious and dreamlike portion for the chorus, with the guitar work sounding massive and almost cathartic.
Much of the album is based on personal reflection, however, as stated by Peart himself when describing the faith-based aspects of the record. Indeed, there are many intimate moments that really recall classic Rush songs like "Madrigal" or "Different Strings." One of my personal favorites is Alex Lifeson's solo acoustic piece "Hope," combining the typically complex playing he's known for with a very folky and organic vibe that almost sounds like it's being played at a campfire. Also, Geddy Lee's voice is a bit more restrained this time around, which is a much better fit with more subdued pieces like the mid-tempo rocker "Working Them Angels" or the acoustic-based power ballad "The Larger Bowl," the latter benefiting from combining these vocals with more minimalist songwriting and instrumentation during the verses. Of course, the band still engage in a little bit of prog self-indulgence when they want to, like in the short bass-driven rocker "Malignant Narcissism" as the subtle tempo and time signature shifts of "Faithless." As with Vapor Trails
, the biggest problem I have with this record is that it's a bit too lengthy. Cutting out some of the fat would have been beneficial to the album, perhaps if the band trimmed it down to about fifty five or so minutes.
Despite that, Snakes and Arrows
really is among Rush's finest works. It's hard to believe that the next album also surpasses this one, but it just shows how strong and relevant the band still are, even in today's rock scene. As it stands, though, this is one Rush record that should not be overlooked if you're even remotely interested in the group.