Punk rock is a young man’s game. Not only do its core values and lyrical tropes contain an immutable youthfulness, the majority of its brightest stars have been notoriously short-lived. The list is long and illustrious – The Sex Pistols barely made it 2 years before imploding, and Minor Threat lasted only 3. The Misfits somehow made it to the 6-year mark before disbanding (until Jerry Only dug up its corpse in the 90s to make it dance for money), and The Clash and Black Flag both slogged through an entire decade despite being out of steam by year 8. Sure, acts like the Ramones, Green Day and Bad Religion have had some longevity, but the latter portions of their careers have generally consisted of an interminable slew of middling-to-poor material that doesn’t even come close to their earlier classics.
If anyone should know this rule of thumb, it’s Rick Froberg and John Reis. By the time the duo formed Hot Snakes in 1999, they had already lived out the lifespans of two other groups (Pitchfork in the late 80s, and the seminal Drive Like Jehu in the early-to-mid-90s). Hot Snakes went on an indefinite hiatus in 2005 after three studio albums, and the punk world assumed Froberg and Reis had moved on to other projects. But in 2011, the band reunited for a series of tours, and with the resurrection of Drive Like Jehu in 2014, fans were faced with the possibility of new music from the forefathers of West Coast post-hardcore. Seven years later, that possibility has become a reality with the release of Jericho Sirens, the first Hot Snakes album since Audit in Progress nearly 14 years ago.
With Froberg and Reis both on the cusp of their fifties and their most-lauded works over 15 years behind them, Jericho Sirens could have easily become yet another example of why old guys shouldn’t play punk music. Luckily, the album sees Hot Snakes returning just as ferocious and caustic as ever. Album opener “I Need a Doctor” blasts out of the gate with jagged riffing, propulsive drums and Froberg’s signature shouting. The record amps up from there, with the wild math-punk workout “Candid Cameras” and 80-second thrasher “Why Don’t It Sink In?” matching and even exceeding the energy of their earlier material. The middle third of the record folds in some of their more melodic tendencies – “Six Wave Hold-Down” and the apocalyptic title track are both sticky enough to get stuck in the ol’ noggin – without sounding at all poppy or commercial. Same goes for late-game gems like “Death Doula” and “Psychoactive.”
The album’s only Achilles’ heel is Froberg’s lyrics, and even those aren’t bad, per se- They just don’t pack quite the punch the guitars, bass or drums do. The title track dramatizes tinnitus to excellent effect (aided by an eerie melodica), and “Having Another?” has a pretty kickass one-word refrain (“SCREWED!!!”), but other than that, the lyrics are mildly interesting at best, and almost completely superfluous at worst. Hot Snakes have always been more about energy and vibe than any sort of “message,” but if you prefer your punk on the cerebral side, you certainly won’t find much food for thought here.
All in all, Jericho Sirens is a nasty, writhing half-hour of post-hardcore that slots seamlessly alongside Froberg/Reis classics like Suicide Invoice and Yank Crime, abandoning all pretension in favor of the genre’s most visceral pleasures. Hot Snakes might be getting a little long in the tooth, but Jericho Sirens proves that they still know how to make music with bite.