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Album Review: Snake Bite Whisky – This Side of Hell

Snake Bite Whisky are an Australian outfit who channel 80s-inspired decadence, hook-laden songwriting, and most importantly, genuine rock n’ roll spirit. Formed in December 2014, the Brisbane quartet soon experienced success on an international level. Their first two self-releases – Two Steps to Oblivion and Dirty, both buzzing in 2016 – became hits in both the US and UK, eventually carrying the band to a steady home on American label Pavement Entertainment.

This year, the band’s debut album, This Side of Hell, does its part as a benchmark of their musical journey. The energies in the album’s initial tracks, “Damnation Alley,” and its prerelease single that follows, “Down in the Dirt,” both exhibit a fittingly dingy, and quite punkish feel to them. I appreciate the integration of reverb into the production aspect going forward, as it actually enhances the presentation of the vocals and drums, rather than come across like a simplistic glam metal cliché. The third track, “Ain’t Dead Yet,” took me by pleasant surprise in much the same way. Based on how its opening line, “Hit me with another shot of morphine” was sung, I expected the song to proceed with some kind of typically anthemic percussion, but instead, the momentum was kept intact.

It was at this point that I began focusing more toward the album’s thematic standpoint. There seems to be a notion of an ongoing wild ride, whereby one’s soul carries on even while they’re on the verge of meeting their demise. “Spin” and “B.A.M.” proceed to cap the first side with two distinct interpretation of excess. Whereas the first song centers on feeling the dizzying extent of its effects and is set to a party-fueled, danceable groove, the other fires off in pure adrenaline, expressing an illusion of feeling constantly high and mighty.

The latter half of the album refreshes that spirit with two up-tempo rockers, “Last Man Standing” and “Drinking For Two.” I like the transition between the initial straightforward heaviness and the looser, blues-driven style that follows. There seems to be more space in its approach to percussion, which gives way to its structure as representing a feelgood jam, more or less. By the time “Another Day” is heard, there’s a refreshing lull from the previous atmosphere coupled with a sensible buildup. Throughout the song is a newly somber chord sequence bolstering equally down-trodden, low-register vocals. It is the longest cut of the album, and its recurring bell hit wholly complements the mood as well as the key of the melody. The penultimate track, “New Revolution,” finds balance in the band’s signature intensity and the freshly implemented stationary vocal range. During the verses, there’s some serious Alice In Chains-esque vibes in how the vocals relate to the riffs, and the chorus feels especially full with those elements having led up to it. On the contrary, the final track, “She Likes Machines,” goes to show that there is still a party to be had, and the madness has plenty of room to ensue.

Overall, This Side of Hell marks Snake Bite Whisky’s signature sound making a solid transition into full-length territory. Its continuation of the throwback elements that have earned them their stature feels natural, with tumbling yet succinct heaviness at the forefront. For all the allusions of the past that the band has channeled, I notice definite growth in their sound and general identity and am already looking forward to the influences they’d implement next time around.

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About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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