Rhythmic, violent and distinctly memorable, Hot Snakes‘ brand of punk and post-hardcore experimentation emerges from a 14-year slumber with a fruitful and ceaseless assault. The band’s last LP, 2004’s Audit in Progress, was a move toward a primal, raw execution in terms of song construction. In comparison, its long-awaited (and for a long time, unexpected) follow-up Jericho Sirens, the band’s first to be released via Sub Pop, is a refinement of the concepts introduced by their first three LPs. That concept being, more specifically, experimentation within an a aggressive and direct songwriting approach.
The 10 tracks here are particularly compressed, lean, terse and vibrant, with expected but exceptional rhythmic guitar work. The album starts strong, never letting up thereafter, with the mesmerizing “I Need a Doctor,” a track laden with machine-gun-fire riffs, choking melodies and Rick Froberg’s gymnastic vocals alternating between lung-shattering screams and smooth growls. The low-end of the opening track produces a punchiness that the band has occasionally emphasized but never with such fidelity, Gar Wood’s bass providing a solid current of deep, clean basslines that end up becoming especially potent on the closer “Death of a Sportsman.”
“Why Don’t It Sink In?” demonstrates the same flexibility in sound that Froberg’s vocals displays, commanding a particular punk-blues sound, albeit much more darker in tone, and utterly severe in its truncated length (just 1:18). That experimentation continues throughout the album, with occasionaly focused, brighter tones shining through a surface of relentless aggression, such as on the post-punk derived “Six Wave Hold-Down,” while manic energy becomes a prominent aspect on tracks like “Having Another?”.
It’s worth observing the lyrical component of this album, with Froberg’s prior efforts being odd or symbolic in construction, similar to dadaist musings. He’s taken on topics that ardent fans are sure to search for meaning in, pondering a grander tapestry to their mystery, when in truth it’s just another facet of the noise itself—another instrument. There’s some refinement here, with greater articulation throughout, but the coherent theme is summed up “Deathcamp Fantasy”’s chain-gang vocals: “Have I been prayed upon?”
Hot Snakes don’t seem to have set out to release something founded upon innovation or bold exploration. A statement like that might indicate stagnation or mere comfort. However, the sonic efficiency and quality of songwriting is undeniably stellar. This is a band at the apex of their sound. Engineered to sound complex, yet unabashedly chaotic with darkly mesmerizing choruses of spittle-laced shouts and growls, dueling tones and crunching rhythms, Jericho Sirens is a deeply physical work. It’s a suplex to your ears, a fire in your spirit, a get-up-and-go, absolutely run-wild affair. It’s what Hot Snakes has always been, and always will be: masters of primal, visceral aesthetics.