Until, a decade and a half after the fact, Snail released their second full-length album, Blood, on MeteorCity last year, the Seattle outfit was more or less a footnote in the history of American stoner rock. Their lone self-titled full-length was released in 1993 on Big Deal Records amidst a growing Seattle-based climate of grunge, and the All Channels are Open EP that followed the next year would prove to be the last Snail would have to say in that century.
Now remastered by bassist Matt Lynch in his own Mysterious Mammal Recording studios, Snail has been made available by the band as a pay download through their website. Its 11 tracks of high dose drug rock sound crisp, and of course loud, but more interesting to the ear than the once-over they’ve been given are the songs themselves, which fit intriguingly with their era — that is, they’ve got a little flannel in them — but even then Snail were clearly coming from someplace else sonically. The then-trio of Lynch, guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson and drummer Marty Dodson had more in common with what Monster Magnet was doing at the time than Nirvana or Alice in Chains, though elements of those bands’ formative days can also be heard in cuts like “O.D.,” “Sprain,” or “Intuition.”
Basically, it’s all about the drugs. With the exception of “Intuition” — and even that’s questionable — each track on Snail can be read as drug innuendo (instrumental/noise closer “R=Theta” not being completely exempt), though most of them come right out with it. A personal favorite is “Chewing Aspirin,” which, with a somewhat slower pace and echoing vocals, will no doubt please those who, like myself, got their first exposure to the band with Blood. Johnson’s guitar tone throughout the album keeps a fuzz that borders on buzzsaw, resulting in a constant hum along with the riffs that sounds otherworldly. Something like it, unless purposefully captured in the name of retro worship, simply wouldn’t happen on a modern recording, and on that level, it’s a joy to the ear.
I’ll say honestly that there are some rough spots on the album, but its triumphant moments — the driving riff of “Hard Lung,” or the slow build to chaos of “Your Song,” for example — more than compensate for any missteps Snail may have made. Obviously the appeal of this reissue is going to be a niche within a niche, namely those who heard Blood and want to understand where the band came from, but for them and whoever else might happen upon it, Snail encapsulates its time excellently while also making the listener wonder where the trio (who’ve since added guitarist Eric Clausen to their ranks) might have gone sound-wise had they been able to make it work at least a couple more years. The up side is, now that they’re back together and writing new material, we get to find out.MeteorCity, Seattle, Snail