Experimental metal is a tricky genre. For one, it’s defined by indefinability. Where do you draw the line between progressive, simply odd, and truly experimental? What do you call it when a band emulates another’s experimental sound? And, the further off the beaten path a band walks, the smaller the prospective audience is likely to get. Nonetheless, I applaud bands who try to go beyond thinking out of the box and disregard the box altogether. If nothing else, it’ll always have a unique sound, something the majority of bands will never be able to lay claim to. Grimoire Records is a label dedicated to bonkers ideas, and their latest release is In Chaos, Solace, by self-proclaimed post-hardcore jazz fusion band Snakefeast, who try to lay claim to the throne of weirdos.
The jazz fusion label, at the very least, is accurate. Rather than employing boring old guitars as the lead instrument, Snakefeast deals almost exclusively in brass: Alan Keating on tenor saxophone, to be exact. With naught but drums, bass and vocals to round off the band, the sax is the biggest unique selling point, and it is in near-constant employment, blaring busily through crowded compositions. Everything is in continuous motion, perpetually shifting through melodies, tempos, and moods. The drums and bass don’t play second fiddle in this regard, loading the eclectic tablature with jazzy wizardry that can stop and change on a dime, trusting the sax to provide a modicum of hooks when it’s not spinning out of control in lunatic solos.
With no guitar and this amount of jazz in the compositions, one wonders whether this counts as metal, and you’d get little from me but an emphatic shrug and slightly confused “eh?” Snakefeast anticipated this attitude and added some extreme texture with the vocals, which I hereby dub “Screeching Wind.” Screeching Wind utilizes hardcore vocals in a strange, obtuse way, screaming long, whispy and indecipherable syllables from a distance, detached from the music. Rather than an asset, they are a nuisance, a distracting blare that takes away from the inventive compositions, as if someone is drilling the wall in the apartment next door while you’re trying to get some work done. This fly in the ointment brings down the entire album with its needless, constant irritation. Here’s an album that would have been better off as an instrumental.
Sadly, the rest of the material is not strong enough to pull the album out of the swamp Screeching Wind screamed it into. The complex compositions are technically very proficient, and the use of the tenor sax is original and superficially enticing, but with vocals and sax and bass all trying to muscle into the spotlight, the jazzy barrage melts into a maelstrom difficult to penetrate. While the sax hooks and prominent bass alleviate the problem, the production undermines the alleviation. For such a defining instrument, the sax is fairly low in the mix, as is the distant Screeching Wind, regularly finding themselves overpowered by the bass (a sentence I never thought I’d write) and drums. With such intricate arrangements all violently battling for attention, the lack of breathing room in the mix makes for a confounding experience, even though the mastering is not disagreeable, providing ample depth to the rhythm section particularly.
Experimental metal is tricky. It’s divisive and every choice is as likely to put off the listener as it is to attract new ones. Snakefeast has interesting ideas and plenty of skill to bring to the table, but their own compositions trip them up, resulting in a 30-minute bombardment of instrumental arrangements overlaid with a detached, distracting scream. A replacement or rearrangement of the vocals and introducing more dynamic songwriting would have gotten this album much further. Despite enjoyable individual bits and hooks, and the effective shake-up of the tenor sax, the whole of In Chaos, Solace is a messy affair that’s thoroughly puzzling and regularly irritating.