Snakes & Arrows is the 18th full-length studio album by the Canadian rock band Rush. Co-produced by Nick Raskulinecz, it is Rush's first studio outing since 2002's Vapor Trails. The album was recorded in five weeks between November and December 2006 at Allaire Studios in New York’s Catskill Mountains and mixed and mastered at Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, California. Snakes & Arrows was released on CD on May 1, 2007, as a double LP album on June 19 (limited to 5,000 copies), as well as the new MVI (Music Video Interactive) format (limited to 25,000 copies) on June 26. Snakes & Arrows debuted at #3 on the The Billboard 200 chart and dropped off the chart after 14 weeks. It was certified gold in Canada in September 2007. The track "Malignant Narcissism" was nominated for a Grammy Award under the category Best Rock Instrumental Performance. According to drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, inspiration for the title of the album was conceived after considerable research from several sources; the 2000-year-old Buddhist game called "Leela, the Game of Self Knowledge," the related children's game Snakes and Ladders (also known as Chutes and Ladders), and Hamlet's quote "slings and arrows."This information helped convince bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson to adopt the original painting of the age old game board as the cover for the new album. Promotion and release On March 12, 2007, the band unveiled a new website at the official Rush website, primarily to promote the album. The first single from the album, "Far Cry," was posted as on-demand streaming audio on this site at that time. The band also announced that the single was being released to North American radio stations. On May 8, 2007, the band announced the release of a video for "Far Cry," and on June 1, 2007, "Spindrift" was released to radio stations as the album's official second single. The third single for the album, "The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum)" was released June 25 to North American radio where it positioned within the top 30 of the Mainstream Rock and Media Base Mainstream charts. In promotion of Snakes & Arrows, Rush kicked off their planned intercontinental tour on June 13, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia, which ran through October and covered most of North America and Europe. The 2008 leg of the tour started on April 11, 2008 in San Juan, Puerto Rico at José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum and came to a close July 24, 2008 in Noblesville, Indiana. The album debuted at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling about 93,000 copies in its first week. These figures only reflect sales of the CD version of the album, and do not include the MVI or LP versions. Writing and production Writing for Snakes & Arrows began in January 2006 with Lee and Lifeson working at their home studio in Toronto. The pair began the writing process by jamming, which gradually molded their ideas into completed pieces. During this process, Neil Peart wrote preliminary lyrics for the songs – a creative method the band has employed frequently on their earlier works. Peart, originally from the Toronto area, has lived in Southern California since 2000. To continue working with his bandmates for the new album, he commuted to Ontario and New York throughout the writing and recording phases. When Peart was in California, the band occasionally collaborated over the Internet. By March 2006, rough versions of six songs had been completed. The three band members met in Quebec to listen to the material recorded thus far. In May 2006, they refined the songs in a small professional studio in Toronto. After the first six songs were recorded, the band set out to write and record additional songs in September. American producer Nick Raskulinecz, who worked with the Foo Fighters, was hired to assist the band in producing the album. Raskulinecz, a self-proclaimed fan of the band, reportedly encouraged the band members to explore the limits of their renowned talents and enthusiastically encouraged the band to incorporate the complex rhythmic and melodic patterns that characterized their earlier works. The final mix of the album was recorded at Allaire Studios in Shokan, New York; mixed and engineered by Richard Chycki at Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, California, and mastered by Brian Gardner. Neil Peart's customary essay on the writing and recording of the album, called The Game of Snakes and Arrows, has been released on the Rush website. Neil also wrote an article that appeared in the August 2007 issue of Modern Drummer in which he details his writing process for the album. Influences and musical direction Peart, the band's primary lyricist, has stated the lyrical theme of the album is based on his personal reflections on faith, inspired by his motorcycle journeys through North America. Many of the experiences mentioned in the lyrics of Snakes & Arrows evolved from Peart's memoirs from his most recent book: Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle. According to Lifeson, musical themes for the album were written and developed using acoustic guitars to work out the major parts. These parts were ultimately recorded using acoustic or electric guitars, or other instruments. Lifeson found that writing the songs on acoustic guitars provided a certain purity, assisting him in conceiving the instrumental parts. Both he and Lee used this as an alternative to more traditional methods of song development, which saw the use of amplified electric guitars and the assistance of electronic instruments. David Gilmour is credited in the liner notes because he inspired Lifeson to write songs mostly on acoustic guitar. According to an interview from the Sept 2007 issue of Guitar Player Magazine, Lifeson mentioned meeting Gilmour at a concert at Toronto's Massey Hall during Gilmour's "On an Island" tour. According to Lee: “ It's hard to describe. It's big, it's bold, and I think it's some of the best work we've done in years. I'm really pleased with the quality of the songs, and there's lots of playing on it... Playing those songs [from Feedback] that we loved and grew up on, I think it helped us remember how sometimes it's the simplicity or the directness of an arrangement that really makes a great song. And the other thing is, we played all together in the studio for a lot of the Feedback stuff. That's something that a lot of producers had been pushing us to do for a while but which we hadn't done in years. It was great to turn off the click and just play — you know, not worry so much about being so, quote, metronomic — and that definitely carried over into this record. ” – Geddy Lee, interview with Revolver Magazine. According to Raskulinecz, the album has a similar sound to Rush's albums of the late 70s, such as 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres. MVI Format Snakes & Arrows is one of the first albums released on Warner Music's "MVI (Music Video Interactive) format." This format is a 25,000 copy limited edition. The album comes in a deluxe box, and includes the 13 songs on the album in hi-resolution audio, the entire album in 5.1 surround sound, a 40 minute video documentary on the making of the album, 26-page booklet (4 pages more than the otherwise identical CD booklet), wallpapers, buddy icons and an exclusive poster for fans that register the MVI copy. After continuous production delays, the album was released on June 26, 2007. The DVD-ROM portion has 192-kbit/s MP3 files of the entire album. The DVD-Video portion contains both a "high-resolution audio" track (96 kHz/24-bit stereo LPCM) as well as a 5.1 surround-sound track (448 kbit/s Dolby Digital, 48 kHz). There is no DVD-Audio content on the disc When Rush issued Vapor Trails in 2002, they revealed that -- even after Neil Peart's personal tragedies in the 1990s had cast the group's future in doubt -- they were back with a vengeance. The sound was hard-hitting, direct, and extremely focused. Lyrically, Peart went right after the subject matter he was dealing with -- and it was in the aftermath of 9/11 as well, which couldn't help but influence his lyric writing. In 2004 the band issued a covers EP that was in one way a toss-off, but in another a riotous act of freewheeling joy that offered a side of the band no one had heard for 30 years. There were a couple of live offerings and a 30th anniversary project as well that kept fans happy perhaps, but broke -- though Rush in Rio was the kind of live album every band hopes to record. Snakes & Arrows represents the band's 18th studio album. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, Superdrag), the record is another heavy guitar, bass, and drums...drums...and more drums record. The title came -- unconsciously according to Peart -- from a centuries-old Buddhist game of the same name about karma, and also from a play on the words of the children's game Chutes and Ladders. Its subject matter is heavy duty: faith and war. From the opening track (and first single), acoustic and electric guitars, bass hum, and Peart's crash-and-thrum urgency in the almighty riff are all present. When Geddy Lee opens his mouth, you know you are in for a ride: "Pariah dogs and wandering madmen/Barking at strangers and speaking in tongues/The ebb and flow of tidal fortune/Electrical charges are charging up the young/It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit/It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it...." At the same time, inside the frame of the refrain, Lee refuses to be conquered in the face of chaos: "One day I feel like I'm ahead of the wheel/And the next it's rolling over me/I can get back on/I can get back on." Alex Lifeson's guitars swell and Peart's crash cymbals ride the riff and push Lee to sing above the wailing fray. Great beginning. "Armor and Sword" contains an instrumental surprise. After an initial ride-cymbal clash, the guitar and bassline sound exactly like King Crimson playing something from Red or Larks' Tongues in Aspic. The theme is repeated on an acoustic guitar before Lee begins singing about the shadowy side of human nature brought on by the many times children are scarred in development. The boom and crackle of electric guitars and bass are all there, but so is that sense of melody that Rush have trademarked as Lee states, "...No one gets to their heaven without a fight/We hold beliefs as a consolation/A way to take us out of ourselves...." There is no screed for or against religion per se, but a stake in the claim of hope and faith as absolutely necessary to accomplish anything, hence the refrain. Peart beautifully articulates the dark side of life's undersurface; he has been writing the best lyrics of his entire career on the band's last two studio records -- only two in the last ten years. The dynamic works against the melody and Lifeson's brief but screaming solo is a fine cap on it. "Workin' Them Angels" blends the acoustic against the electrics gorgeously, and Lee sings counterpoint to the guitars. "The Larger Bowl" is one of those Rush tunes that builds and builds both lyrically and musically, beginning with only Lee's voice and Lifeson's acoustic guitar. Its shift-and-knot rhythms and spatial dynamics offer the impression -- as does the rest of the album -- that the bandmembers are playing in the same room at the same time (it happened to a lesser degree on Vapor Trails, but here the impression is constant). The sounds -- both hard and soft -- blend together wonderfully. The live feel of the record with its sonic washes and overdubbed guitars and vocals creates near chaos without loss of control. It's like teetering on the edge of an abyss with one eye on both sides of it. Song by song, the notions of tension build, taking the listener to a place where hope and faith are challenged continually, not only in the face of the entire world, but in one's personal relationships -- check "Spindrift." Echoes of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Robert Frost, Matthew Arnold, and The Odyssey are glanced upon, as is The Dhammapada in the Buddhist scriptures -- with more of a thematic than referential purpose. Amid all this seriousness, there is a bit of humor. The instrumental track "Malignant Narcissism" references a line in the comedic film Team America: World Police from Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame. It comes from a line in the film that reveals how terrorists think. It's one of three absolutely stunning instrumentals; another is "The Main Monkey Business," which sounds like the closest Rush have gotten to jamming in the studio in over 20 years. Think of the intensity of 2112 with the musicianship of Vapor Trails, and you begin to get a picture: screaming guitars, deep bass thrum, soaring keyboards, and all those pop-and-boom drums from Peart's massive kit. "The Way the Wind Blows" is Rush taking on the blues in massive metallic style, and it feels more like Cream in the intro. Lee's vocal drives deep inside the lyric -- it's tense, paranoid, yet revelatory. It's about the perverse magnetism of religion and war, and how both are seemingly designed to be cause and effect: fanatical religiosity leads to war. There are different theories on this, but Peart distills them well, as if he's read (but not necessarily completely understood) René Girard's seminal work Violence and the Sacred. The album changes pace a bit with the instrumental "Hope," a largely 12-string acoustic guitar piece played off a medieval theme by Lifeson. "Faithless" is anything but. It's one of those Rush tracks where counterpoint vocals against the guitars and basslines create that unique welling of sound that occurs when the band is at its peak on-stage. The set ends with "We Hold On," a track that expresses the sum total of all the struggles life offers and holds. Here Eliot the poet is quoted directly at the end of the third verse. It's anthemic, with backmasked guitars, Peart playing actual breaks, and Lee's bass holding the chaos together with a constant pulsing throb, guiding the various knotty musical changes back to the center of the verse and refrain, which is the place where the cut just explodes in sonic fury. Snakes & Arrows is one of the tightest conceptual records the band has ever released. Musically, it is as strong as their very best material, without a lapse in texture, composition, production, musicianship, or sheer rock intensity. There are real heart and fire in this album. It was well worth waiting for. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.