The Perfect Album: Snakemother

The Perfect Album

Every time I listen to a new album, I’m looking for that one, that album that blows my expectations out of the water, makes me feel like I’m experiencing something extraordinary, makes me feel like it was written for me. I’m describing the perfect album, that one slab of sound that you can listen to, over and over, and not skip a note. They’re rare, but they do exist.

I read about Snakemother on the always reliable Desert Psychlist and a review written by Frazer Jones, which you should read here. It was enough to get me interested, especially the part about, “intriguing blend of stoner doom, proto-doom and occult/pagan rock tinted with splashes of exotic eastern promise and lysergic laced heavy psych over which strong lead and harmonised vocals waft with a fey ethereal elegance.

Indeed. Fey ethereal elegance will get me every time…


My expectations were pretty high, but I was totally unprepared for what I was about to hear. Snakemother does things in a decidedly non-traditional manner. I mean, who in their right mind opens a debut LP with a 10-minute song?

Crazy or not, they did it. Even crazier? They open it with an Eastern-European intro that would be at home in an emotional Russel Crowe scene. You know, the one where he’s touching fields of golden grain with an outstretched palm.

We’ve heard this a thousand times, which makes it a brave move on Snakemother’s part. A few things make this work, though. For one thing, Bianca Salinas does not have a cliched, detached delivery. Her voice warbles effortlessly, with a pitch-perfect vibrato that lilts in all the right places and with enough grit to make me think this isn’t auto-tuned. The harmonies highlight the main mode of the vocals, making it more intimate. It’s a performance in every sense of the word, full of vibrant, human twists and turns.

Secondly, the instrument accompanying Bianca isn’t some Middle-Eastern contraption that we can’t pronounce, nor is it a digitally sampled synthesizer-thingy. It’s an actual harmonium, which totally fits in with the Bulgarian Folk Song, “Izlel ye Delyo Haydutin” – made famous by Valya Mladenova Balkanska,” that this song is based on. (They’re really proud of this fact, as they gleefully informed me when I texted with them.)

At 1:56 into the song, we get to the Doom, and there’s a lot going on. The guitars and bass are dense walls of distortion, a stark contrast to the Fey ethereal elegance of the lilting harmonies and drone of the accordion. But what absorbs my attention, more after each listen, is the percussion work of Julia Arria. Her drums are played with near symphonic precision and power. No cymbals, no fancy kick drum blasting away. Her work is tribal, elemental and somehow refined.

At 2:46, things calm down abruptly, with Bianca’s voice gliding in a way that brings into mind the voice of Sara, from Messa. I’m not saying she sounds like Sara, but at less than three minutes into the song, she’s the only person good enough to compare Bianca to.

Even the song structure evokes Peter Lindgren-era Opeth, not because Snakemother is derivative in any sense, but because that’s the only incarnation of a band that I can think of that could pull this off.

At about 4 minutes in, the pace picks up to form of kind of dervish, an ecstatic and ancient dance. Ritual is 10 minutes of swings between tension and release that seem natural and unforced. Each listen reveals nuances of the performances, with Collie Sutter’s bass playing being deceptively understated yet potent.

The recording and production play a huge part in this as well. Effects from reverb to chorus are tastefully applied. Everything is carried out in aid of the song, and certainly not used in an effort to hide any blemishes. Because there aren’t any. It’s clearly a studio album, but manages to sound vibrant and alive without being over-produced in the same way that Faetooth’s stellar debut, Remnants of the Vessel managed to pull off.


I could write 2000 words on Ritual alone, but that’s another way in which Snakemother defies expectations. One might think that Ritual is as good as it’s gonna get, and one would be totally mistaken with that thought. I mean shoot, we really haven’t even heard lead guitarist Sammie Dee Wallinga do any shredding yet!

Sacrum starts out like a demented cross between Rush’s climactic ending of Cygnus X-1 and the opening of Opeth’s Godhead’s Lament from Still Life. There I go with another Opeth comparison, and it won’t be the last. I’ll also be so bold as to compare Julia to Martin Lopez, whose percussion work reset the bar for metal back in the early 2000’s. Both are way beyond simply being drummers. It’s just stellar work: musical and brutal, nuanced and pummeling on the turn of a dime.

Just when I’m ready to settle in, they do it again! Look, man, most of the bands I know would use a synth or a vocal effect for what happens next. At about 1:06, there’s this deep waaaaaaaaah sound, buried just beneath the mix and the Fey ethereal aaaaaaaah harmonies of Bianca and Collie. It’s real, moogerfooging TUVAN THROAT SINGING courtesy of Soriah! If you don’t know who that is, take a moment to click that link attached to his name.

Then, they fricking do it again! Instead of treating Soriah like a circus performer, they don’t even make it a special highlight, at all. His part is simply one piece within the song, adding atmosphere and texture. Bianca then soars above the whole thing with more of that Fey stuff that gets more fucking amazing every time I hear her phrasing. Then back to an Opeth-like acoustic guitar break followed by some of the finest Doom riffs I’ve ever heard. This is some serious head-banging stuff that a 60-year-old like me has to careful with.

Neck pain is real, bro.

And then…SURPRISE! Bianca then channels Susanna Hoffs with a clean and crisp performance that could easily fit in with a classic Bangles tune. I’m not kidding!

This facet of her voice could totally be used in a pop/rock song about beaches, volleyball and California sunshine. The very notion that it exists in one of the best, full-out Doom songs of the year is fucking astounding!

At around 4:50, lead guitarist Sammie Dee Wallinga is finally unleashed, revealing another facet of the band that works so well. For all their strengths, Snakemother don’t rely on one trick or element. Sammie’s guitar work is a great example of this, since up to this point the lead work is restrained and subdued, so when she lets loose and wails, it grabs your attention. The lead has meaning beyond shredding, and takes Sacrum to it’s logical conclusion. But make no mistake, Sammie can shred.


The last song I’ll look at is Circles. Just when I think Collie’s bass could be a bit more prominent, Snakemother gives us a slow, ominous bass intro. It’s creepy and menacing, the perfect foundation for another dose of Bianca’s exceptional vocal work.

This is pure Doom, and utterly beautiful. At the 4:16 mark, after a tasty retro nod to the likes of Trouble and even Pentagram, Circles launches into yet another bombastic and emotional close that’s so elegantly brutal that it’s painful to listen to, like getting choked up watching a perfect sunset or comprehending a masterwork of art.

So Much More

By now, I’m pretty sure you get the idea that I love this album, and if I gush over it any more it will be over kill. Reading over what I have so far, that line got crossed a while ago.

Yes, the music is next-level stuff. But there’s so much more to Snakemother than that. There’s a sense of playfulness and glee to it that I haven’t heard since Howling Giant and Sergeant Thunderhoof released Turned to Stone Chapter 2: Massamune & Muramase, which I wrote about a few years ago and you can read here. I sense the same joy at the creation of something elevated and personal from a band with the awareness to achieve what most of us only have in our heads. It makes for one hell of a ride!

As powerful and crushing as the music is, there’s a lightness and effortlessness to the performances that take it beyond the genre of “Doom”, while remaining unmistakably DOOM. Snakemother are like a combination of Faetooth meets Messa with a dose of Opeth, YOB and Trouble, a dash of The Bangles and a hint of Bananarama. It all comes together to form that most elusive gem: The Perfect Album.

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