Review & Video Premiere: Snail, Fractal Altar

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on April 26th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

snail fractal altar

[Click play above to stream the premiere of Snail’s video for ‘Mission From God.’ New album, Fractal Altar, releases April 30 on Argonauta Records. Video edited by Matt Lynch with footage by Kevin Spencer, Jennifer Hendrix-Johnson, Weston Radcliffe, and Laura Chavez and art by Ella Lynch.]

It is fitting and perhaps not coincidental that  Snail‘s fifth album, Fractal Altar, should arrive on the cusp of the band celebrating their 30th anniversary next year, since it is arguably most the work they’ve done since to harken back to their beginnings as a band. Their 1993 self-titled debut (review here) and 1994’s All Channels Are Open EP document those early days and even as its Seldon Hunt/Ella Lynch front and back covers embrace a yet-unseen complexity of design, the eight songs of the release itself work to in part to pare down some of the layering aspects and push the buzz tone of Mark Johnson‘s guitar to the fore with Matt Lynch‘s bass and Marty Dodson‘s drums accompanying with punkish speed on opening duo “Mission From God” and the righteously Fu Manchu-y “Nothing Left for You” — the latter also previously released as a single — before “Not Two” urges with proto-grunge-meets-desert-rock backing, “Bring your appetite/And we’ll devour each other.”

Of course, Fractal Altar, which is released through Argonauta Records some six years after Feral (review here) came out on Small Stone, has its dynamic and still finds the band trying new things. With recording by Lynch at All Welcome Records in Inglewood, California, and mixing/mastering at his own Mysterious Mammal studio, as well as some home recording by Jennifer Hendrix-Johnson in Seattle, and Lynch‘s daughter handling the back cover, Fractal Altar is nothing if not a family affair, but that perhaps emphasizes how much the band itself has become a kind of family, if one spread between Los Angeles (Lynch), San Diego (Dodson) and Seattle (Johnson), and it makes the elements of growth they showcase in their songwriting, be it in more nuanced arrangements of backing vocals from Lynch in “Hold On” or the subsequent “The False Lack,” or the rhythmic patience that allows for a sense of space in the latter there without resorting to an effects barrage, feel suitably homegrown.

No doubt part of the idea that Snail have stripped down somewhat on Fractal Altar comes from the fact that, at eight tracks and 37 minutes, the record is a full 10 minutes shorter than was Feral, but it’s also the band’s second long-player since returning to a three-piece configuration, their lineup having included guitarist Eric Clausen for their 2009 return-from-ether second album, Blood (review here) and its 2012 follow-up, Terminus (review here). To listen to the relative sprint with which they execute “Mission From God” at the outset or the later mellow-Nirvana-into-rolling-nod of the penultimate “Draining White,” Snail don’t sound like anything so much as themselves, and they sound free in terms of their craft. On their fourth release since coming back from a 16-year break, the most immediate attitude one can glean from listening is that they’re doing what they want to do.

snail fractal altar back

It’s not necessarily a turn toward the humble, but as the video for “Mission From God” finds Johnson playing the lead role of someone having taken enough acid to meet with the divine, the band come across as both willing to have fun — see also the Queens of the Stone Age-style handclaps and strum as “Not Two” approaches its midpoint and the all-out low-end-showcase lumber of the eight-plus-minute closing title-track, on which no less than Ed Mundell turns in a guest appearance on backward guitar — and aware of what they want to do and who they want to be as songwriters. “When the Tree Spoke,” which follows “The False Lack” and opens side B, is elemental Snail through and through. Johnson‘s vocals are melodic and laid back, topping a fervent but not necessarily aggressive groove, and the tones are subtly rich without being overdone. There’s flourish of keys and backward sampling and a call and response hook, but nothing that couldn’t be reproduced faithfully on stage, and they bring it all back around to the chorus in a way that’s atmospheric without veering into such overly cerebral fare as to be inconsistent with earlier pieces.

Further evidence that Snail know exactly what they’re doing here? The progression of the album. Even Feral, which was their most accomplished record to this point, didn’t draw the listener in with as much clarity of purpose as does Fractal Altar, and speaking as a fan of the band, these songs are a trip that’s a pleasure to take, from the hestitate-to-call-them-“simple”-bit-will-anyway-for-the-turn-of-phrase simple pleasures of the choruses in “Mission From God” and “Nothing Left for You,” down through the slowdown in “Not Two” and the bit of Pacific Northwest that shows up in “Hold On” (that main riff calling to mind earlier Red Fang all the more with the backing vocal treatment) ahead of “The False Lack” and “When the Tree Spoke” setting up the longer-unfolding “Draining White” and “Fractal Altar” itself, which, true to classic LP structure, prove to be as stratosphere-bound as Snail push on the album.

Lynch, who you’ll recall also mixed, seems to have been saving his bass punch for the start of the title cut, and fair enough. If the band are in direct conversation with Feral anywhere on Fractal Altar, it’s in the song that shares the release’s name, but they’re more willing to freak out in the apex here than they were on, say, “Thou Art That” or the similarly-extended thudder “Psilocybe” from the prior record. Ed Mundell shredding guitar in another dimension is never going to hurt either as regards setting that mood, and it’s as fitting as anything could hope to be that they end the lysergic march with a sudden stop as though, having finally tipped off the end of the world, there’s nothing left to greet them but vacuum. One wonders how long that section actually went, but cutting it cold serves its purpose, and perhaps the last message they’re sending to their audience is that Snail realize that too. Fractal Altar is the offering through which they are most themselves in songwriting and performance. They may dip here and there in terms of influences or pick out aspects and vibes as they go from others — hello, Blues Brothers — but there is no master being served here more than the songs, and that is as emblematic of their work on the whole as anything could be. Far out.

Snail, Fractal Altar (2021)

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Snail Sign to Argonauta Records; Fractal Altar Due This Spring

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 14th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

West Coast fuzz heavies Snail will release their new album, Fractal Altar, through Argonauta Records. The announcement and pickup comes after the Spring 2020 unveiling of the single “Nothing Left for You” (posted here), which will also feature as the second cut on the eight-song long-player. The Los Angeles and Washington-based trio’s last full-length was 2015’s Feral (review here), so they’re well enough due an album, particularly as they’re approaching the 30th anniversary of their originally getting together in 1992 — their self-titled debut (review here) came out in ’93, the All Channels are Open EP (review here) followed in ’94 and then they disbanded until 2009’s Blood (review here; discussed here) — and as a fan of their work across the board, news of a fifth full-length is only welcome as far as I’m concerned.

Spring release, so maybe April? May? Whenever it arrives, it will be greeted as a fuzzy liberator.

From the PR wire:


SNAIL Signs Worldwide Deal With Argonauta Records! New album “Fractal Altar” due out in Spring 2021!

Six years since their last album, heavy psych prophets SNAIL have announced the worldwide signing with Argonauta Records for the release of a new and hotly-anticipated full-length studio album!

Entitled “Fractal Altar” and slated for a release in the Spring of 2021, SNAIL’s forthcoming, fifth record picks up where their last LP “Feral” left off — heavy, fuzzy melodic tunes with floating harmonies and lyrics that explore both inner and outer space. But this time, the band comes recharged and rejuvenated, enthusiastically triumphing over their dark side and reveling in their power trio roots.

Six years in gestation, recording for “Fractal Altar” led all three original SNAIL members Marty Dodson, Mark Johnson and Matt Lynch to convene the brotherhood to record their new album at All Welcome Records in Inglewood, CA. Since the members are spread out all over the West Coast ranging from Seattle to Los Angeles and San Diego, the proceedings took on the air of an astrological event. SNAIL in the studio is a celebration of both sonics and friendship, and after 30 years of playing together, it didn’t take long to lock in and feel the synergy ignite.

During the last year, the masters of heavy slowness have already shared a sneak peak of the fruits of their labors, but showcasing faster driving rhythms and Stooges-style leads with the track “Nothing Left for You”.

“We are very excited to be working with Argonauta and feel honored to be a part of their amazing roster of talent.” SNAIL comments. “Their enthusiasm and dedication to realizing our vision for this release means so much to us and we can’t wait to deliver this new record to our fans all over the world.”

Dropping the needle on the LP’s opening track “Mission from God”, the listener gets a nod to the Blues Brothers, while the song turns the line on its head with a hard rocking tune about going “far out” to bring back the psych knowledge for the less experienced masses. After ranging from poppy jangle to fuzzy singalongs and Camaro rocking proto-metal, the record closes with the album’s title song, “Fractal Altar”, a nine minute sludge behemoth that will leave listeners renewed and satisfied that they sat down to commune with the elders.

Welcome back the kings of fuzz, and stay tuned for many more details and new tracks to follow in the weeks ahead!

Snail is:
Matt Lynch (Bass/Vocals)
Marty Dodson (Drums)
Mark Johnson (Lead Vocals/Guitar)

Snail, Nothing Left for You / Fearless (2020)

Snail, “Nothing Left for You” official video

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