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RUSH Snakes & Arrows Atlantic (2007)


Nothing concentrates the mind better than having to review a new Rush album after just one solitary play. And after this playback at Atlantic Records HQ in Kensington I was left breathless, if not stunned by the sheer power of an album that stylistically throws in the proverbial kitchen sink.

I suppose after such an enduring and varied musical career, it's not surprising that Rush have gone back to their Proggy musical roots. And with former Foo Fighters Alex Raskulinecz at the controls, the band are given a free reign to indulge their musical excesses, as they stretch out and jam in a post Zeppelin heavy duty deluge that manifests itself in a stunning wall of sound.

Aside from a high in the mix raucous drum sound and some complex arrangements, vocalist Geddy Lee's successfully uses his impressive high range to give full meaning to Neil Peart's esoteric lyrics. Where once there was a thin high register vocal line, there is now a more mature vocalist whose phrasing puts him up there with Robert Plant in his element.

'Snakes & Arrows' opens with the new single 'Far Cry', which after a big, powerful staccato drum intro opens into a slice of melodic hard rock with a lilting chorus. 'A Far Cry' is much more accessible than much of the rest of the album and sets the standard with a belated chorus that stays in the mind long after the conclusion of the song.

The following 'Armor & Sword' features some of Peart's best lyrics, and might be regarded as a metaphor for both personal faith and contemporary world events. The line, 'Our better natures seek elevation, A refuge for the coming night, No One gets to their heaven without a fight', seems to be a personal reflection but can be taken as a wry comment on our times, while 'The suit of shining armor, becomes a keen and bloody sword', is an uncompromising analysis of the machinations of religion and faith.

'Working Them Angels' employs a big wall of sound and is punctuated by urgent time changes which build up a tension that is finally resolved by the 'Working them angels-Overtime' line. 'The Large Bowl' is a more radio friendly affair and is one of the highlights of the album. Opening with an acoustic guitar and a vocal line that recalls Mark Bolan, the hook has a hypnotic quality about it, before Alex Lifeson delivers a trademark solo.

There's more of the evocative big sweep wall of sound on 'Spindrift'. The song cleverly uses natural elements in the lyrics as metaphors and delivers big booming chords and a heavy duty rhythm track topped by some lovely bass notes and jangling guitar.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson sounds a little like U2's The Edge as the band use an ascending chord sequence and a stop time rhythm before plunging back into an explosion of riffs. 'Spindrift' impresses if only for the fact that Rush manage to make the music conjure up the lyrical imagery.

'The Main Monkey Business' is the first and certainly the most impressive of three instrumental outings. It's interesting to see what Rush make of a piece that doesn't have to accommodate the lyrics, and the result is a guitar-led motif with a vaguely Celtic/Zeppelin sounding feel, and a real sense of presence and controlled power. The mid-section slips into a Space Rock outing that resolves itself in a Prog Metal oeuvre as layers of keyboards beef up the melody line.

'Monkey Business' is both coherent, powerful and delivers a polished production without ever losing the essential band dynamic. Another drum intro graces 'The Way the Wind Blows' before giving way to a surprising heavy duty bluesy guitar led shuffle. If anything there are elements of Jethro Tull's soft Metal period of the late 80's with the song's poignant lyrics about the pseudo East/West religious divide glued together by repeated heavy guitar riffs, some belated space rock elements, and impressive vocal swoops.

The second instrumental 'Hope' is a pleasant if unchallenging acoustic link piece with a Eastern, almost sea shanty feel, while 'Faithless' is an impressive return to the lyrical raison d'etre of the album. The line 'I've got my own moral compass to steer by' neatly summarises the song's meaning, and it is essentially a simple outing that derives an anthemic quality from some big production trappings that include the use of a mellotron. If 'Faithless' is another high point of the album then 'Bravest Face' continues the upwards curve, with its acoustic intro, some complex crunching chords, and impressive lyrics that dwell on the nature of mankind's duality.

'Good News First' doesn't work as well, with the high register vocals struggling manfully to unravel the lyrical meaning over another big production wall of sound. Curiously enough the sometimes impenetrable nature of the previous track adds lucidity to the following hard hitting rocked out instrumental 'Malignant Narcissism'. This short piece of guitar drenched Space Rock works really well and even finds time for some impressive bass and drum breaks.

The closing 'We Hold On' is the perfect kind of powerful and coherent outing to finish with and features soaring vocals, feverish guitar, a pounding rhythm track and a strong chorus.

'Snakes & Arrows' is a powerful album which in striving to be contemporary is possibly a little heavier and a touch more cluttered than it needed to be. Neil Peart's heartfelt lyrics are impressive throughout, and Geddy Lee's vocals suggest a new maturity. Above all the band find room to jam out enthusiastically, but in occasionally over egging the arrangements and sometimes falling in between the Prog Rock, Space Rock and melodic Metal genres, 'Snakes & Arrows' might be a CD that seeks to consolidate rather than break new ground.


Review by Pete Feenstra

GRTR! Best of 2007

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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