Although ‘World On Fire’ is the debut release from Californian metal band Sea of Snakes, the musicians involved are anything but fresh faced players just starting out. The core of the band have been fixtures on the stoner metal scene for years, but with ex-Saul of Taurus vocalist Tracy Steiger joining forces with Motorsickle guitarist Jim McCloskey and The Shrine’s Jeff Murray on drums, this is a band with the potential for outgrowing its roots. Sea of Snakes’ debut EP has moments that are far more intense than the gathered musos’ previous works allowed.
Throughout the five tracks, the Snakes – augmented by new bassist Mick Coffman – embark on a musical quest for heaviness, but often retain a sense of groove that so many stoner and sludge/doom bands seem to readily give up in the name of a riff. This results in a listen that, for lovers of early Corrosion of Conformity or the sounds of a 1990 ‘Make Them Die Slowly’ era White Zombie, could have a near timeless quality. There’s maybe even something of note here for keen ears looking for something akin to Trouble’s heavier side. Simply put, these songs bring plenty of entertainment by way of a classic sounding, stoner and doom infused riffs, but by leaving plenty of room for a little extra swagger and fuzz, there’s always a strong melody lurking beneath. This is essential to making this a fairly accessible listen for the style. Intentional or not, Sea of Snakes hit upon a winning musical formula; a sound which, in stoner terms, recycles the familiar without ever sounding lazy.
The riffs are often so good that it doesn’t seem to matter that Steiger isn’t in possession of the greatest voice. That said, his affected drawl carries so much volume, he at least sounds confident enough on the bulk of the material. Whether he’s accompanying a great band through the early White Zombie-ish swamp of ‘Let The Fire Burn’, where his slurred vocals actually lend an unsettling nature of their own, or howling like a whiskey soaked biker during the Corrosion of Conformity meets Trouble vibes of ‘Ride The Line’, he attacks each performance with the confidence of someone with three times his natural talent. This seems to work for Sea of Snakes, thankfully, even if guitarist McCloskey all too often seems to carry so much of the material with a terrific tone and presence, as well as a natural ability to throw out a great stoner riff. On ‘Son of Man’ especially, his straddling of metallic chug and grungy moodiness sounds like something derived from the Alice In Chains back catalogue and then reworked by Alabama Thunderpussy for extra grubbiness. In fact, this track’s effortless blend of different heavy influences is reworked so naturally, it would make so much of a better first impression than opener ‘Let The Fire Burn’…
There may only be five songs here, but it’s an EP that isn’t short of highlights. A fine stoner metal workout, ‘Fear Behind The Stare’ opts for an obvious Crowbar/Down homage, but played heavier for good measure – purely because these Snakes can. While the slow and oppressive mood throws light on some rather simplistic lyrics, the riffs are immense, and that’s more than enough to steer this track to glory. The way the sledgehammer groove is overlaid by harmonic tones and touches of dark psychedelia tips the hat to Zakk Wylde, suggesting that McCloskey has a few smarter musical ideas and abilities, while keeping a firm grip upon the sludge-fuelled stock sounds. There’s so much about this number that makes it archetypal Sea of Snakes material, even at this early stage – not least of all Steiger really giving his all when shouting the title for a lasting hook – that it deserves to become something of a signature piece. Capturing the band at their absolute sludgiest, ‘Drink Your Teeth’ revisits the early White Zombie moods of ‘Let The Fire Burn’ but works them far more effectively. The slow, repetitive dirge that plays out has all the weight of J. Yuenger circa 1990 and as if more than aware of this, Steiger adopts his very best Rob Zombie croon – and in an almost perfect reproduction of a pre-fame Rob, he nails a really sinister performance. A decent production job gives this a weight that the independent years of White Zombie never truly had, while an unexpectedly shrill lead guitar break further accentuates a feeling of urgency not always associated with this brand of metal. Overall, it’s a great performance – the pure White Zombie-ness of it all makes it an instant highlight, but Sea of Snakes have something even better up their collective sleeve.
Best of all, the aforementioned ‘Ride The Line’ presents Sea of Snakes in an uncharacteristically speed driven mood. Very much channelling the sounds of his own Motorsickle on a punchy verse, McCloskey throws out jagged notes that sound very much like Corrosion of Conformity jamming on an old Judas Priest classic, which would be enough alone to make this the stand out track. The band has far more up their sleeve than reworking an old 80s metal riff with a stoner angle, of course, and a stretched out mid section unexpectedly takes things into a hazy, retro space where Danzig meets The Doors. It’s a musical place where Tracy gets to work on a hard rock croon that might even be more sympathetic to his style, while the rhythm section get to experiment with something far looser. Although this is very much a product of two half formed ideas glued down the centre, it says everything about the Snakes’ confidence that it works anywhere near as well as it does. Even if the rest of the EP were only half as good as it is, ‘World On Fire’ would be worth hearing for this track alone.
On first listen, there’s a lot about this release from Sea of Snakes that borders on the generic in terms of melodic sludge, but it’s so well played, that really doesn’t matter. Subsequent listens uncover the more interesting twists. There’s nothing especially original about the material (those with a more optimistic viewpoint might prefer to think of it as “nostalgic”), but Sea of Snakes’ confidence and musical abilities makes it all work. With this debut, the band delivers an EP that more than shows why stoner metal – even in its most obvious and primal forms – never seems to go out of style. Recommended.
Find the band on Facebook here. The album can be picked up from the Bandcamp link below.