Wailin Storms – The Silver Snake Unfolds Review

I liked a lot about Wailin Storms’ 2020 album Rattle. Reading back over my review, I mention doom metal, post-hardcore, the High Lonesome Sound, haunted hollers and swamps and David Eugene Edwards. I called it “fire-and-brimstone snake-handling speaking in tongues nightmare music,” and friends, that’s practically my erogenous zone. The major issue with Rattle was a dearth of compositional ideas. Still, they’re one of the few gothic Americana acts out there with a metal heart, so I had high hopes for any potential follow up. Now that The Silver Snake Unfolds has, uh, unfolded, I’m happy to report these North Carolinans have largely shored up the songwriting issues without losing their eyes-rolled-back-deliriously-raving-out-in-a-corn-field-past-midnight intensity.

The Silver Snake Unfolds doesn’t really change up the multi-pronged style Wailin Storms have been playing for the last 10 years or so, but there seems to be a little more separation between which way individual songs lean. “Drag” delivers the expected 16 Horsepower-inspired haunted country, but songs like “Broken Into Three” also lean hard into the ragged post-hardcore of At the Drive In. Where Rattle was almost post-y in its loud/quiet/loud dynamics, The Silver Snake Unfolds is much more jittery noise rock, especially on title track “The Silver Snake Unfolds and Swallows the Night Whole.” The album is bookended by two powerful doom rock cuts with “In the Heart of the Sea” and the seething closer “Carolina Moon.”

The high points here are higher than on the band’s last outing. Standouts “In the Heart of the Sea,” “Drag” and “Carolina Moon” are the kind of songs that stick in the craw. Each is, in turn, eerie, vicious and memorable, beginning with the watery grave refrain of “In the heart of the sea, we go down, down, down, just you and me,” sung in a wretched, reedy tenor by vocalist Justin Storms. In “Drag,” he strikes an almost pleading tone, delivering lyrics like “When the cops come ’round to take me, I’ll have to use my knife,” over ghostly baselines and pitching drum beat that builds to a full band onslaught of measured menace. Good as those tracks are, the real statement piece is “Carolina Moon,” a convulsing, country-fried doom nightmare full of particularly intense imagery. The repeated lyric “Sleep by the foot of your bed, even though you’re dead” instantly calls to mind the Irish traditional “I Am Stretched On Your Grave,” but when Storms incants “I’m in the back room drinking gasoline, said I can’t stand on my feet…I come up from the middle of the icy arms of Locust Creek,” it’s downright transporting.

For the uninitiated, it should be noted that Wailin Storms isn’t so much a band name as it is a matter-of-fact description. Mr. Storms’ primary vocal delivery is indeed something that approaches wailing. His pitch and intensity can push into yelp territory, which, as someone who has spent a not insignificant amount of time listening to old-timey Appalachian balladry, doesn’t bother me in the least, but mileage will likely vary. My own minor issue with The Silver Snake Unfolds is when it strays into pure noisy post-punk territory. “Broken Into Three” is decent, but it interrupts the tone set by the opener. “Who Took Our Drugs” is the low point of the album, both because the style is less interesting than the other material, and because it comes off like a song fragment that never finds its feet. This is followed by the title track, which feels like the kind of thing that probably kills live, but loses some intensity when put to record. 

If you’re the type who likes southern gothic flavor in your noise rock, The Silver Snake Unfolds is a brooding, barbed journey through dark swamps, fallow fields and unwelcoming tree lines where hidden hands wait to pull you under the soil. Wailin Storms certainly borrow aspects of The Denver Sound, but there are so many other influences roiling around, it never feels derivative. Through four albums, they’ve found their niche, and this stands as some of their best work.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Gilead Media
Websites: wailinstorms.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wailinstorms
Releases Worldwide: July 22nd, 2022

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