Album Review: Svneatr – “Chinook” 8/10 (Black Metal)

Written by Kep

Black metal from British Columbia, Canada
Released May 28 via independent/self-release

If you look up Svneatr on the Metal Archives, you’ll find them listed as an outfit that plays black metal. This is fair and true, because they’re a black metal band. But it doesn’t paint the full picture of what you can expect to hear when you press play on Chinook, their most recent EP. These guys dwell in that wonderful sort of second-wave place where tasty riffs meet and mingle with the icy fury, and they have something to say that’s extremely worth hearing on both a musical and lyrical level.

My first experience with the Vancouver-based four-piece was with their debut LP The Howl, the Whisper, the Hunt, and it impressed the hell out of me with its varied palette of sounds and structures. Chinook is a step up from that album in every way, and it’s a record that you should be checking out even if you’re not normally a stan of the black metal style. There’s nothing manufactured or performative about what Svneatr does, and that wonderful authenticity permeates their work top to bottom.

Let’s start with the production, which balances that unflinching realness with a pleasing amount of clarity, especially considering that the band recorded their own instruments. If you like to complain that black metal sounds like shit, then there’s no room to moan here, because Svneatr’s production closer to a modern take on old school doom metal sound than traditional black metal. They use a classic, no-frills heavy metal lineup, with two guitars, bass, drums, vocals, no synth, but there’s a twist: bassist Shawn Hillman plays a fretless bass. His work is heavily featured to great effect, and it elevates their songs tremendously. The production is matched to that mostly old school mindset perfectly: it leans dry, so there’s no atmospheric blur, fuzzy low compression, or sin-covering reverb, and the instruments sound authentic, like they’re being played live on a stage just in front of you. Mixing and mastering was done by Ryan Shepard, who should be commended for not getting distracted by the second-wave vibes and keeping the bass properly leveled. 

When it comes to the songwriting, though, that’s where Svneatr really shines. Their spectrum of sounds on Chinook is so rangy and their influences so diverse that no song feels alike, even though they all fit comfortably under the black metal umbrella. Of course, there are plenty of passages with tremolo-picked riffs from guitarists James Readman and Vitharr Monteith (who’s also on vocals) and speedy blast beats in Matt Logan’s drums, like the one that grabbed my attention a minute deep into opener “The Wind Stirs”. And sure, Vitharr screams his lungs out across the majority of the runtime (his hoarse, harrowing approach is ideal for the venom of the lyrics, but more on that later). But sometimes Svneatr does things you’d never expect, like the soulful, downright bluesy solo in “The Veins of the Earth”, or the damn Judas Priest riff that starts “Lavender”. You’ll find a number of places where Hillman shows off bass licks that pull from funk and jazz, and just in case that wasn’t enough variety for you, Vitharr throws in somber clean vocals more than once, down in his calm lower register. There are chugs with stellar melodic solos over top (check out the one in “Erasure”), fiery riffy moments that would slay in any war metal album (there’s a great one in “The Consequence of Fear”), and loads of mean grooves with the bass in the driver’s seat. Chinook is a real cornucopia of approaches to the black metal sound. 

Lyrically, the material is mostly blistering. There’s tangible spite in Vitharr’s voice as he delivers lines like “Beaten down, like a fucking dog / Its hatred viewed with pity / Whipped to serve, master learned / Will can be fucked with by force” (in “The Wind Stirs”) and “In the belly of the wolf / Fester and writhe in your fear” (“The Consequence of Fear”). Their are also moments of inward-facing sorrow and thoughtfulness in “Mourning Sun” and “Lavender”. Most interesting to me, though, are final two tracks “The Veins of the Earth” and “Erasure”, where the lyrics come down with palpable hatred on the consuming monster of capitalism and with understandably passionate frustration toward ecosystem destruction. This is the crux of what Svneatr is all about, and undoubtedly the thing that most listeners will walk away remembering. “The veins of the earth / They bleed forever / Greed swallows them” is a line that hits hard and sticks deep on every listen. But my pick for the lyrics that I won’t ever forget is in the first section of closer “Erasure”: “New life born with no eyes / Gagging on our exhaust / Children dance in gasmasks / Imagining dead pets could breathe”. Shit, man.

Dig into Chinook and be prepared to be impressed—I certainly was. It’s available now via Bandcamp and streaming services. It’s a damn good record, solidly paced and excellently written, and it’s absolutely worth the purchase. I can’t wait to see where Svneatr goes from here. 

Favorite track: The Veins of the Earth

Score 8/10

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