Individuality is everything to me. I neither desire nor strive to be anything other than whatever I feel like being in any given moment, and it creeps the everloving fuck right outta me to witness people forcing themselves to fit into a predetermined role simply because it worked for someone else. Hive-minded fashion trends, movie references in lieu of actual jokes, and viral video memery in general; these are a few of my least favorite things that people often use to fill the voids where their personalities should be. And, as a reviewer, the sonic equivalent — blatantly aping any given artist and avoiding originality altogether — makes me fucking sick. If you’re not a ____ tribute band, don’t try to be _____1. My point: if something shamelessly strives to sound indistinguishable to someone else’s sound, I typically want nothing to do with it, which is why I want to take Snøgg‘s debut full-length Chhinnamasta out to a dark, secluded forest and get it pregnant.
Before we get too far, I’m not declaring Snøgg to be without distinct points of reference. Names will be dropped in the making of this review, such as Opeth, Chimaira, Behemoth, and probably something random just cuz I’m weird like that. There are clear influences to be heard and recognized along Chhinnamasta‘s 42-minute journey, but they simultaneously branch out and intersect into something of an alternate route, exploring connecting trails to make for a refreshing and scenic trip home. Much like Gaerea‘s Unsettling Whispers, Chhinnamasta incorporates choice elements of extreme metal without strictly adhering to any one school ov brutality, creating not so much a reinvented wheel but rather an upgraded one, one comprising spokes of prior models and designed to explore more sonic ground than its components typically cover.
Seconds into the opening track, “Y (Ddraig Goch),” Snøgg pitch their first curveball from the rhythm section, presenting a meaty, de-tuned groove much more akin to tail-end Chimaira than anything typically found in black metal. Things coalesce into blackened death metal when vocalist/everything-but-the-drummerer Ulv tears into the track and his vocal cords with a palpable fury, only to transform once more into eery O
ldpethian prog towards the track’s end. “Phantom Mountain,” on the other hand, charts a more ov a left-hand path to its goal, invoking the sonic spirits of such sinister yet disparate souls as Mayhem and Behemoth to lead the way. Throughout the album’s five tracks, listeners are also treated to dark ambient tranquility, haunting Winterfylleth-ian chants, and various shades ov blackened goodness along the way. The vocals are slightly less exploratory, but Ulv’s is a solid performance nonetheless, sounding suitably wrathful and demonic. A standard high shriek/low growl dynamic can accomplish a lot with proper compositional coordination, and the dude definitely knows his way around the instrumental framework.
As enjoyable as the dense dark grooves of blackened Chimairic death prog can be, the songs on Chhinnamasta have a tendency to revel in their own glory just a tad too long, occasionally overstaying their welcome and somewhat weakening an otherwise exhilarating experience. A relatively minor crime, given the overall strength of these Slovenian’s song crafting abilities, but its impact is unfortunately augmented by the ambient “Void of Valor;” though the track presents a well-timed moment of respite from the preceding violence, its six-minute stretch of serene stillness somewhat saps the strength of the surrounding storm with its sustained suspension of sonic activity. Chhinnamasta is hardly a bloated thing of mindless self-indulgence, yet nonetheless Snøgg could stand to take a little more time to trim the fat next time around — particularly in the booty department, as the songs are most wont to wallow and waffle about at the ass end of things, consequentially choking a bit on their own chub. That said, with some fine-tuning and experiential adjustments to their compositional approach I suspect that Snøgg stand a solid chance of serving up something seriously special on Chhinnamasta’s successor.
If Chhinnamasta were to be reincarnated as a slightly more succinct and focused offering, perhaps by culling down the ambiance and presented as an EP, I would be happier than DJ Khaled2 at a Schlage warehouse. As it stands, Snøgg are a lesson in “less is more” or two away from being able to shout “We the best!” But if they stay out here grindin’ it’s not exactly a wild thought that all they’ll do is win. Whether or not Snøgg are takin’ over remains to be seen, but for now, they’re certainly welcome in my hood.