Snow Burial
Victory in Ruin

Chicago trio Snow Burial presents their first full-length Victory in Ruin after a pair of EPs.  The band’s history is something I can jive with as the fellas formed the band after attending a Shiner reunion show.  I’m a huge Shiner fan and Snow Burial has that same kind of effervescent, ever-changing sound that never sticks to one thematic element while unveiling a smorgasbord of prog-minded musical changes.  These cats are a lot heavier than Allen Epley’s gang and drench their Midwestern space signals in shades of violent noise-rock and thick, doom-y grooves yet the mindset is certainly kindred to the spacey grandiosity of the aforementioned Shiner as well as the like-minded rockers Hum, although Snow Burial tempers their caustic psychosis with touches of Neurosis, Hammerhead, Baboon, Tar, Akimbo, Rabies Caste, Am-Rep era Today is the Day, Godheadsilo, Unsane, etc..

“Buried in Ash” establishes itself as a gargantuan, lumbering giant of tone from the starting gun with sludgy, ocean dredging riffs unfolding over Brandon’s damnation drum beat (packed with tricky Am-Rep style fill work and lots of hits from way, way back) and bassist Andrew’s ultra-thick, ultra-clear dirge-laden low-end shoves.  Guitarist Ben proves to be a heavy rock chameleon early on with his riffs sucking the marrow from blown-out sludge but possessing the smarts to add drizzle to drought with ringing, minor-key melodies growing a plentiful crop of tuneful growth in barren fields.  The instrumental shifts are huge, tectonic slabs that spit in the face of traditional songwriting and take unexpected texture swerves throughout.  Everybody in the band sings at one point or another with a varied assault of roaring shouts/screams, throat wrangling melodies and downbeat ethereal chants all vying for soul control of the listener.  At 2:34 a crumbling, palm-muted chug stumbles into a drunken thrash-y progression backed by a polyrhythmic drum battery that’s soon cast into the pits of hell with an avalanche of head-nodding atonal rock riffs, white-wash noise guitar solos, feedback and a descent into mountain toppling sludge.

Entering on the haunches of a frenzied, punk rock snare smash “Price to Pay” storms the eardrums with hurried, urgent riffing and coronary causing bass to match as the band hold off the enemy in a spray of gunfire transmitted deep from the remains of the Am-Rep compound.  I’m hearing the nonstop riff plunder, throbbing bass and all over the place singing/ shouting/ yelling/ distorted vocals of Hammerhead circa Ethereal Killer, Willpower era Today is the Day and Rabies Caste’s underappreciated Let the Soul out and Cut the Vein.  This shit has that effect where so much is going on in terms of tone and oddball nuance that it literally feels like all of the sounds are ganging up on you like a pissed off pack of bikers that subsequently corner you and decided to beat the shit out of you behind some smoke-choked dive bar.  The riffs and arrangements are catchy, yet the guitars suffocate with riff after riff of factory smog, the bass is ungodly dense in the Godheadsilo tradition and Brandon’s drums melt the mind like acid rain mixed with H-bomb radiation.

A hypnotic, reverb-drenched guitar lick smothered in ample of amounts of delay and sheer melody does battle with jazzy, ghostly percussion and crystalline bass ebbing during “Zombie Arthropod Overlords” insanely infectious build-up.  Snow Burial is taking me back to the best parts of the 90s right here.  They construct a Babel-tall tower of melody that just sucks you into an endless vacuum of swirling, spinning sounds.  1:09 brings a staccato riff molding itself into a bending groove; setting the stage for a shape-shifting, time travelling sound that teleports from punk-addled forward thrust to cascading showers of glory bound melody and riff-y stoner chording that’s like a combo of Man’s Ruin and Am-Rep ideologies.  Not only does Ben’s guitar work constantly keep the music engaging but the rhythm section flips time and structure as much as an old 70s prog band.  It’s a powerful instrumental track that makes every single second of its 5+ minutes count.  The title cut kicks in with panic attack, anxiety-stricken fast picking buttressed by a doom-y bass line and Brandon’s free-form stick syncopation.  Classy, melodic Midwestern cosmic accoutrements splice melody into the madness with the vocals delving into agitated, distortion-coated spoken word, clean melodies and acerbic screams.  Once the vocals go off the deep-end the riffs impale themselves on jagged spike of noise-rock angularity and shit-kickin’ sludge slobber made even heavier thanks to Andrew’s bloated gut low-end pulverization.

Tipping the hat to the underrated early works of Steve Austin, “Thieves” milks a King Crimson gone wrong lead riff; it’s melodic and the arrangement is catchy but not in the traditional sense as the tone itself is scraped raw with sandpaper and the tempo is a terrifying prowler creep that really gets in your head.  The harmonic lead guitar component is frequently interrupted with churning, stop/start drum surgery (heavy on the jazz-style fills) and bass/guitar combo riffs that went down to the landfill and filled up a garbage truck full of sludge to dump in your backyard.  Literally, this is a song teeming with opposites that shouldn’t work but they do (even more straightforward melodic molestation appears later)!  “Hellscape’s” intro riff is an intricately picked, slightly Middle Eastern modulated Slayer afflicted thrash riff filtered through a Dischord Records’ layer of scratch n’ scrape.  The metallic elements are swallowed by the sea and plummet down to Atlantis in tidal splashes of riffage drowned in watery melodies and shipwrecked riffs of the sludgy, noise-rock persuasion.

Throaty clean vocals deliver psyched out musings but turn feral once the instrumentals evaporate into finger-plucked bass girth and demonic sleaze riffs bustling with begotten doom-y malice.  More vocal twists/turns are revealed with the howling hypertensive cleans introduced much later in the tune.  This track works as a companion piece to the immediately following “Man at Arms” which expands on the core musical elements of the preceding song to great effect.  Closer “Smoke Trails” is one of the album’s tightest tracks, benefitting from multi-layered vocals weaving three-part harmonies where each voice is distinct and individualistic.

The bass/drum shake-ups are impeccable here with the guitar initially coloring in the rhythmic canvas as death throes of droning, atmospheric psychedelic 6-string patterns tremble with minimalistic, melody-centered notations.  Sludgy, nihilistic riff runs focus equally on the bass as they do the guitars (the vocals staying largely melodic throughout) in the classic noise-rock/Midwestern space rock tradition; things taking a sharp turn midway through with a growling, punk-rock low end depth charge cueing a thrashing, palm-muted riff.  It’s a killer track that somehow manages the same level of intensity heard throughout the entire record while laying groundwork that is decidedly cleaner and less frenetic in terms of its riffing/distortion.

I had zero knowledge of Snow Burial before picking this promo out of a hat.  This was a rare case of the PR wire accurately enticing a potential audience to check the band out.  Despite the points of reference given, Victory in Ruin is an album with a ferociously original sound and a great combination of melody, destruction and sheer ear-bleeding noise.  Hypothetically speaking, if Hydrahead signed this band right now, they’d easily be one of the absolute best bands on the label.  As far as recent bands go, this would make an excellent back to back listen with Fell to Low’s Low in the Dust.  Great stuff all around!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
March 1st, 2016


  1. Commented by: Randum

    These guys are great – even better in a live setting! Great review and definitely recommend checking out their full library if you have the chance.

  2. Commented by: Jay

    I’d love to see them live! These guys hit a lot of peaks and valleys sonically, so this disc hit me immediately and kept me listening till the end (multiple times).

    I checked out the EPs prior to this and you’re certainly right. They were worth the investigation. Something tells me Snow Burial is going to chew up a lot of my listening time to come on headphones. This stuff sounds great dug in deep and just totally zoned in on the music.

    Thanks for the comment!

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