Review Summary: Above Snakes, Above GodAbove Snakes
is the last record in a trilogy of releases that Technical Death Metal duo Sleep Terror kicked off with 2018's El Insomne
and continued with 2019's Abreaction
. Why these releases are supposed to be a trilogy is not readily apparent, as they don’t seem to be connected by their artwork and no overarching themes can be identified by looking at the song titles. The music is of course instrumental, so one could only speculate.
After losing its drummer to Cattle Decapitation, the project’s mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Luke Jaeger teamed up with prolific drummer Marco Pitruzzella in 2015. This serviceable partnership finds the duo sounding more crisp than ever on this release, with Pitruzzella’s impressive if clinical style remaining firmly in the shadow of Jaeger’s at times virtuosic displays.
Sleep Terror’s sound has always been a wacky mixture: At the core of it is still Technical Death Metal, although that core has been stripped back more and more with subsequent releases. In fact, three tracks on this eight-track and 27 minute-short LP forgo the Metal entirely in favour of a cinematic sound that’s somewhere between Tito and Tarantula playing at the Titty Twister in From Dusk till Dawn
and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns scored by Ennio Morricone, complete with whistling, trumpets and flutes - most likely synths. As hinted at with the cover art, these types of soundscapes are thematic for the LP and creep their way into every track, along with occasional forays into Mr. Bungle-esque Surf Rock and also Funk, most evident in the twangy, slappy bass playing. Then there's the middle section of No Rest for the Moral
, which goes into full-blown Blues mode and skilfully evokes Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The core Metal elements feature blisteringly fast passages of double bass, blast beats and palm muted chromatic runs, mixed in start/stop fashion with chuggy breakdown-style riffs rooted in Hardcore (Sixes and Sevens
), djenty, bouncy Meshuggah-influenced sections (No Rest for the Moral
) and some Southern Metal flavourings a la Pantera with a dose of RATM (Blatherskite
), but there's flirtations with Black (Above Snakes
) and Thrash Metal (No Rest for the Moral
) as well. These influences have been fully bastardized, garnished and tweaked, giving them a unique, quirky touch. Otherwise notable is an unusual scarcity of atonal material: A multitude of scales are utilized, lending most riffs a more musical quality and distinct expressive character, a tradeoff that comes at the cost of dark- and heaviness. The large variety of genres present on this release is also detrimental to its overall cohesion, a problem that naturally plagues most projects as out there as this one. Despite individual tracks being tied by the aforementioned cinematic theme, disparate elements struggle to come together, resulting in a listening experience that can be spastic, disjointed and difficult to connect with on an emotional level.
Nevertheless, Jaeger’s (lead) guitar playing is pretty much unparalleled in this subgenre and he shows enough restraint to prevent the material from devolving into wankery. Due to its idiosyncratic nature, it is doubtful this release will win the duo many new devotees, but the moody playfulness and expert skill with which it is arranged remain extremely impressive and fun to listen to.