Info → United Snakes
UK Release: 21st August 2006 (False Flags E.P)
Track Duration: 09:44
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital. View Discography Entry.
Written By: Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge
Produced and Arranged: Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge
Additional Keyboards: Alex Swift
Additional Guitars: Angelo Bruschini and Mike Mooney
Drums: Johnny Mattock
Saranghi: Kamal Sabri
Mixed By: Lee Shephard
Promo Video Directed By: Dave Ferner
Additional Coding: Tak Fung
United Snakes as well as another song called Speed of Dark were produced during 2001/2002 with intention to be included on The Matrix Reloaded soundtrack. However, the music supervisor for the soundtrack, Jason Bentley upon hearing the two Massive Attack contributions changed his mind on their inclusion and opted for the soundtrack to have a more “nu-metal” vide to it, thus leaving Massive Attack out of it completely.
The working title for the song was Bullet, at least going by when it was first played live on the 2004 tour.
While originally released in the Summer of 2006 on a limited edition promo single, it took until the release of Heligoland (were it appeared on the special edition version of the album) in February 2010 for United Snakes to become more widely heard in the Massive Attack fan community, with many falsely assuming the track was from the Heligoland recording sessions.
United Snakes was first played a handful (five in total) of times during the South American leg of the 2004 tour where it would go on to be replaced with Black Melt for the rest of the tour. Its very first live appearance was at the Creamfields festival in Mexico City, Mexico on the 24th May 2004. While the name of the song was never publicly announced by Massive Attack, according to setlists available at the time, United Snakes was known as Bullet. Unlike the regular version of United Snakes which only featured 3D on vocals, this live version also had Dot Allison singing in harmony along with 3D.
United Snakes would not be played live for another four years until the Castlefield Arena in Manchester, UK on the 6th September 2008 accompanied by a unique visual display involving a cinema like screen (covering the entire front of the stage) and projector combo designed by UVA (the designers of all of Massive Attack’s live visuals since 2003).
United Snakes finally entered the live setlist in a permenant fashion in 2010, where it was featured as the opening song on every Massive Attack show for that year, replacing the Heartcliffe Star opener from the 2009 shows setlist.
Shara Nelson recounts how she came up with basic melody for Unfinished Sympathy – “We were working on a track called It Will Rain, and bits of this other melody came into my mind. I could’nt shake it, so I took a break from recording, had a cup of tea, and stood in the corner and started singing it to myself to see if I could piece it together” [Spin Magazine – June 1996]
3D on how the strings arrangements for Unfinished Sympathy were written – “It was a exercise in deconstruction, as opposed to an experience in building this beautiful song. It was a song that came with verse-bridge-chorus, these three classic song-writing structures and we ended up taking half that out, leaving the chorus out and leaving a big space behind, and getting Will Malone to score the strings and building this giant swell of music, because it suddenly had space to build a string arrangement where you would’nt have that in a song normally. This is what gave the song it’s expanse” [Collected EPK – March 2006]
Blackbird. Blackbird. To my door. My door. Take it up with you. (? ? ? ? ? ?) For you oppose. It’s too hard. It’s too hard. Lost (for?) words. Blackbird. Their spies, their spies, their spies. Blackbird. To my door. Play it cool. Careful. When in charge. (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ) Take it up with you. (? ? ? ? ? ? ?) For you oppose. Their spies, their spies, their spies. Take it up with you. (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ) Take it up with you. (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ) For you oppose. Their spies (Repeat until end)
The visuals for Massive Attack’s song United Snakes were originally designed for the band’s live show at the Castlefield Arena, Manchester in September 2008, and were then compiled together into a loose form music video and released onto the internet overa year later in October 2009 in a blog post on the MassiveAttack.com blog.
Starting with rigid black and white stars and stripes, United Snakes quickly shifts to more organic shapes. The creation of these spontaneous forms was made possible by ‘sketching’ the outlines using Openframeworks software, developed by Dave Ferner who worked for UVA for several years.