Wildbirds & Peacedrums swung between playful, fragile pop and show-stopping outbursts on their debut album, Heartcore, but they channel their muse even more purely on The Snake. It's an apt title for this sleek yet intense collection of songs, which are driven by primal energy and tribal drama. All of this is on display on "Island," which begins the album with a wall of Mariam Wallentin's voice. Layered upon itself, intoning as she sings about a man who swam to Iceland, her vocals conjure a feeling of long ago and far away that winds through the rest of The Snake, particularly on "Great Lines," where her chanting is so spellbinding that when she rebels against its repetition with a flourish of autoharp, it feels like she's tearing the air around her. She and drummer Andreas Werliin take the explosiveness of Heartcore songs like "Doubt/Hope" to a volcanic extreme on "There Is No Light," one of many showcases for Werliin's powerful but impressionistic approach. As he moves from thunderous toms to delicate stick work, Wallentin matches him at every turn, wailing "my eyelids ache from too much darkness" and digging into a guttural style that echoes Tuvan throat singing. Somehow The Snake feels more direct than Heartcore, even though the instrumentation has expanded to steel drum, piano, marimba, and xylophone, most of which can be heard on "Chain of Steel," a tale of imprisonment that goes from light to gut-punching in a twinkling. While a lot of the album is dedicated to Wildbirds & Peacedrums' wildest side, there are a few tender moments, like the hushed, Eastern-tinged love song "Who Ho Ho Ho." The duo even finds room to revisit their blues and jazz inspirations on "Places"' soulful melody and "Liar Lion"'s playful scatting and big band-inspired drum rolls. However, they save the best for The Snake's final track, "My Heart," which captures the spirit, if not the sound, of gospel in its calls and responses and searching, searing joy. The spareness and strength of Wildbirds & Peacedrums' music was brave before, but it's even more confident here, marking a big step forward for an already striking band.