Album of the Day: Hot Snakes, “Jericho Sirens”

Throughout the 30 minutes of Jericho Sirens, Hot Snakes’ first full-length release in 14 years, the San Diego quintet sound as if they’re pushed to their limits. Hot Snakes have always been a loud and abrasive band, but there’s a manic energy at work on their fourth album that feels unexpectedly urgent for a band who have spent the better part of the past decade-and-a-half offstage and out of the studio. On the 78-second standout “Why Don’t It Sink In?”, John Reis’s guitar sounds lethal in its barbed-wire scrape, and vocalist Rick Froberg screeches out the song’s title. A song this brief, noisy, and unrelenting doesn’t offer the listener much of a chance to let anything sink in—you just endure and survive it.

Much like their short, explosive songs, the first wave of Hot Snakes’ career was also brief and concentrated: three albums in five years and an unceremonious (if temporary) end, brought about by grown-up responsibilities like fatherhood. Within six years, the band slowly made their way back to festival stages, eventually followed by the unlikely reunion of Froberg and Reis’s other band, Drive Like Jehu, before Hot Snakes finally made it to the studio six years into their comeback. And it’s hard not to hear that band’s complex post-hardcore sensibility seething through the twisted time signatures and discordance of tracks like “Candid Cameras.”

At its core, Jericho Sirens bears all of the elements that made up Hot Snakes’ excellent first trio of albums: a sharp clash of guitars, pummeling punk-rock rhythms, and Froberg’s frantic, strained bark. Yet there’s even more tension and agitation than usual, even for a band whose discography is founded on that very agitation. On “Psychoactive,” the band’s wall of guitars is dense and imposing, while the churning title track evokes the nickname of German propaganda symbol in an ominous metaphor for Trump’s America: “Started as a whisper / Now it’s a campaign.” Only closing track “Death of a Sportsman” allows much space in, an ominous organ riff reminiscent of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” rumbling under the feedback and reverb. But even that comes roaring back seemingly more potent than how it began. It’s a fitting metaphor for the band itself, who prove that which burns brightest can still be reignited.

-Jeff Terich

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