To begin with, let me say that the sound of Snakes & Arrows is fantastic. The mastering process seems to have been improved 100% since Vapor Trails in 2002. Generally the sound is thick and crisp. In terms of recording quality I think that it is the best sounding Rush album that there has ever been. Stylistically it is a hard rock album, probably the "hardest" record that Rush has made in a long time. The sound is very textured, thick and layered with lots of interesting sounds.
Musically they seem to want to avoid creating or playing anything that is too obvious or conventional. After 30+ years of making music I can see how the typical rock song would be boring for these master musicians. There is very little on this record that is "catchy" on the first few listens and sometimes a single song doesn't seem to hold itself together well, like the person who wrote the verse was working in a different room from the person who wrote the chorus. The melodies are unusual and will require some effort from casual listeners to appreciate. Some listeners may simply reject this music as non-melodic nonsense or noise, but as a Rush fan, I hope that this record is like a good piece of modern art, the more you examine it, the more fascinating it becomes. There are some great time signature changes in the song "Workin' Them Angels" and I really enjoy some parts of some of the songs.
Lyrically the record is rather dark and sad with themes of determinism and resignation in the face of all the evils of the world. They went from "I will choose freewill" in 1981 to "we can only grow the way the wind blows - we can only bow to the here and now or be broken down blow by blow." This is not a record that I would want to listen to over and over without having some more positive material to listen to on the side. For me this is not a fault of the album, and I appreciate Neil Peart's willingness to honestly express all aspects of life, the good and the bad. Perhaps this change is a function of maturity and a recognition that eventually innocence is lost the real world must be looked squarely in the eyes. In any case these lyrics are more profound and heartfelt than anything recently on the radio or MTV. Even with this lyrical aspect of the record, Neil Peart still avoids the silly "drowning in pools of black despair" stereotype of modern rock music. I get the feeling that he simply wrote down what he was feeling about certain things in this world and I appreciate that honesty. There might be some really positive messages here, but with the serious, heavy and ponderous sound of the album- it just feels sad.
In summary, this record may not appeal to everyone, but if you are interested in progressive rock music and are willing to expend a little effort in listening to this album it might be worth your time. Personally, I haven't made up my mind yet, but I'm trying to like it.