In a genre of (mostly) wordless songs comprised of effects-heavy guitars, atmospheric textures, angular rhythms, and cinematic dynamic shifts, it can be difficult for any individual acts to stand out among the crowd. This was displayed to great effect at Post Fest 2019, where I first saw Shy, Low—though I couldn’t tell you anything about their set. In a full festival of post rock bands, sets seem to bleed together in one’s memory. In the same way, bands swirl around ambiguously in the whirlpool of post rock, occasionally catching glimpses of differentiation, but ultimately all drawing the same comparisons to Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.
But within the first few seconds of Snake Behind the Sun, Shy, Low makes it clear that they’re not content to blur in with the miasma anymore.
Post rock is often treated like a delicate sonic balancing act. A single motif is introduced, often quietly, then instruments joinin one by one, adding more motifs with more intensity until a stunning cathartic climax where the entire structure erupts in flames. On this album, Shy, Low isn’t content to wait. They start with the explosion and build up from there. It’s not rare for post rock to get this loud, but it usually takes its time to get there. Here, many the songs start as heavy as other bands might finish them. Purists might deem this the result of a lack of patience and claim it makes for a cheap and boorish listen. But this record has all the same intricacies in composition of even the most patient and nuanced post rockers. Those intricacies are just a lot louder.
The line between post rock and post metal is already a blurry one (see: post metal act Russian Circles and post rockers If These Trees Could Talk), but Snake straddles that border like an expert jockey. There are blast beats, crunching palm muted riffs, and no shortage of amplifier feedback. However, those aggressive elements are kept from carrying the album into pure post metal territory by the subtle melodic sensibilities of the Richmond four piece. Chords are borrowed from other keys in ways that are almost reminiscent of The Beatles or Pink Floyd. But even the shifts into softer, more ambient passages feel far richer than similar moves on other post rock albums, no doubt thanks to the explosive energy the album carries.
As a massive post rock fan myself, I know how difficult it is for bands to tick all the right boxes while still maintaining your own unique voice. I have heard (and enjoyed, and purchased!) scores of generic post rock albums that sound pleasant without offering anything fresh.
But Snake Behind the Sun isn’t that album. Not by a long shot. This is the kind of album that makes a band’s reputation. And while Shy, Low is already beloved by the most devoted post rock acolytes, this has the potential to make them a huge name inside the scene.