Los Angeles quartet Silver Snakes initially wowed alt rock crowds in their accentuating Coheed-inspired post-hardcore with the functional raucousness of Nirvana. Despite being a relatively recent act, their striving toward exploring fresh creative ground ceases to halt. What arose out of front man Alex Estrada’s mind after a typical writing retreat would be a complete reinvention of their sound. This time those same listeners will be prepared for Silver Snakes at their rawest, and much more. Just when their sonic capacity was thought to have been capped, it had simply refilled.
On Silver Snakes’ latest album, Saboteur, the blending of In Utero-era alienation with cold hard experimentation climbs its way to the forefront. Its cover art is depicted like a poster for a large-scale musical, a subtle contrast from the album’s content but fitting true punk rock flair nonetheless. In a press release, Estrada described this album as more socially oriented, and reminiscent of “a dirty city with broken infrastructure and people on the streets”. To bring that concept forward, there is a noticeably starker distinction between its two primary elements: Estrada’s Nine Inch Nails-hewn industrial textures and Jeremiah Bignell’s grunge riffs. Two years in the making, the album dares to ramp up its heaviness and yet is still incredibly accessible. All that breaks from stereos around the globe is blisteringly dark—bleakly detached while atmospheric when it needs to be. The fact that the guitars, bass, and drums are considerably louder might be a given, but a competent integration of textural depth places it in a league of its own. Kickstarting the first track, “Electricity,” the bashing snares of drummer Garrett Harney instantly give way to some serious rocking ahead. I liked how amidst the pounding beats, an additional bitcrushed rhythm eases its way into the mix. As the guitars jump in, not only do they have a juicy tone, but Mike Trujillo’s accompanying bass line is thick and frothing with low end. Estrada’s vocal identity also exhibits a newfound looseness throughout the track. One moment he pushes an honest alterna-grit, and then somehow effortlessly regains himself from a gut-churning screaming tone. The track to follow is the band’s most recent single, “Glass.” From this moment I began making note of how well the industrial components really work alongside the grunge. The buildup on the first verse is solidly executed by the combined bitcrushed percussion and the distortion effect on Estrada’s voice. With each vocal accentuation comes a gradual change in arrangement of the guitar melodies. By the chorus, everything is heard clearly, and it is rare to come across harmonies that have similar rawness to the overdriven guitars. The second verse exhibits more of an atmospheric approach, including sections of clean guitars in cave-like reverberation. However, it is not until the second chorus that all components fall into full cohesiveness. After an apt display of experimental energy, “Raindance” is the album’s only real ‘pop’ song. That is not a bad thing by any means, as it is in fact what introduced me to the band. I was initially drawn in by how much its riffs and structure were reminiscent of early to mid 90s grunge, while still emanating enough individuality. It is definitely the song I’d pass onto friends in order to them to get a taste of Silver Snakes in their current form. Such qualities are re-emphasized in “Devotion”. Once the song gets to the 2:55 mark, I really began to appreciate Estrada’s stationary vocal range and how his harmonies blend along the rest of the instrumentation. As the down-tuned bass backs the atmospheric progression, a whole new level of musicianship is revealed.
By this point the latter half is more straightforward in its presentation, feeling very much like a fresh start. The instrumental “Fire Cloud” goes into “Red Wolf” seamlessly as if to play like a single track, and that ultimately benefits the pacing of the album. At the same time the momentum turns up-tempo for a brief period, only to be succeeded by an experimental transition. Accordingly, the band makes effective utilization of hard-edged, abrasive, and incredibly hooky foundations on “The Charmer” and “La Dominadora”. Whereas the first of these tracks is dominated by a blunt synthesizer based sound and equally impassioned vocals, the second includes subdued vocals with a simpler melancholy chord progression. The longest track on the album, clocking in at over nine minutes, is the penultimate “Dresden”. Much like the album’s first track, the drums really take their time and get settled in. With the slower tempo I found myself really focusing on the nuances of its main riff. The vocals are also calm for the duration of the song, unexpectedly emitting a quality similar to that of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. Once the 4:15 mark hits, the bass and guitar lean toward a grinding sludge vibe. I felt the solo complemented it excellently, as its fluid and airy tone hovered above the heaviness. “The Loss,” the final track, reminds me of early Shiner by its choice of melodies. The second of the longer tracks, it delivers on its harmonized vocals during the verses and call-and-response aesthetic in the chorus. What really sets it apart from the rest of the album, though, is its second half—a developing wall of noise proving both stimulating and satisfying. In the last minute or so, it was clever of the band to work with a simple clapping groove. This was sort of a break from the album’s predominantly serious tone, and in a way, it seemed like a sufficient signifier of the album’s winding to a close.
Overall, Saboteur was a smart move in the band’s redefining their sound. I particularly enjoy its heavy and loud aspects, but also its ability to break bounds and be experimental in much the same way. Alex Estrada shows much promise in showcasing greater vocal identity, and a cohesive vibe between he and the rest of the band is established like never before. If you thought alternative rock was dead, let Saboteur be the album to kill that notion forever!
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Highlight track: “Raindance”