Review Summary: Imagine if crunchy technical death metal was scattered through a spaghetti western movie.
It seems like every time I say “Oh man, this album is the shortest LP I’ve listened to” there always seems to be one around the corner to beat it. At a slim 27 minutes, Above Snakes manages to deliver something that leaves a deep impression on the listener. And all without any lyrics which is an admirable feat. This album is brought to us by the progressive, fusion, and technical death metal band Sleep Terror, who have built themselves up a small, underground reputation of synergizing super chill and atmospheric surfer rock, blues, and 80s funk rock, with technical death metal. And boy, do they manage to deliver albums that make this unholy fusion of genres work well. It is really quite impressive.
On top of that, they do this in a way that (as far as I can tell) few other bands have attempted to do, breaking fresh new ground among progressive metal fusions. Opposed to the couple of beachy, surf rock albums that Sleep Terror released previously, Above Snakes takes a new stylistic approach. It’s country time! Yep, they manage to add another tool under their belt and combine the styles previously mentioned, with super over-the-top western country rock. No really, some of the peak moments in this album are like something out of a spaghetti western or Red Dead Redemption. You know an album manages to pull off a fusion well when the band makes it seem like the two genres were naturally meant to be together.
From beginning to end, this album oozes with a thick western atmosphere. From its gorgeous album artwork to the twang of the guitars, this is an album that takes you on a little detour into cowboy-land. But then again, this is still a tech death album. In most of the album, Sleep Terror alternates between soothing you with a western atmosphere and pummeling you with aggressive and crushing riffs. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that most of the tech death parts are mixed by the artists quite nicely, as the drums take up the forefront in the layers of instruments. They really deliver that “riding on a horseback in the middle of a stampede” kind of vibe. The song that particularly comes to mind is the title track that introduced you to some chill western guitar leads before erupting into absolute chaos with blastbeats, double bass drums, chuggy guitar riffs, and thick bass fills.
In Above Snakes, there are plenty of energetic, and fast-paced riffs that somehow still fit the overall vibe and sound of the album. This is a feat that can be accredited to skilled songwriting. Many of the songs have other unconventional instruments to add to the composition of the cinematic soundscape, such as the use of trumpets, castanets, whistling, and a panflute? The really cheesy western songs are some of my personal favorites, such as “Trail of Fears” and “Tabula Rasa” because of the way they build you up with a crescendo of many different sounds. It is also worth mentioning that some of the metal work on the technical parts also have hints of other genres, such as a couple of moments that lean toward deathcore and palm-muted riffs. These, however, are kept at a minimum but are present in a couple of sections of the album.
As cool as a concept that this album brings, it is not immune to criticism. There are no vocals on this album which will leave a lot of people who need that kind of thing underwhelmed. I personally really enjoy instrumental albums, and in general, am not usually much of a lyrics person, but I know a lot of people who need those kinds of things to get attached to. Additionally, this is a very compelling mix of sounds that are pulled off surprisingly well, but why is the album so short? If this album were able to maintain the consistency of quality in the instrumentation but diversified the song lengths a bit by pushing for some longer songs, and provided more content, this album could have been more valuable to the listeners who enjoy what it is. I think 27 minutes is somewhat pushing the lower boundary of what is considered an LP.
Overall, this is a very worthwhile effort from Sleep Terror. It is mixed fairly well, it's technical, and again, this is very innovative. I would be surprised if any of the readers have ever heard an album like this one. It is truly a unique experience and I recommend everyone to check this thing out.