Hot Snakes Are at the Intersection of Refined and Primal

According to the singer of Meat Wave, the band's latest album, Jericho Sirens, is violent in its glow.

I’m usually not that easily excitable. I have trouble listing favorite movies or albums when approached by strangers at parties, but I’m pretty certain I like Hot Snakes. (Disclaimer: I fucking love Hot Snakes.)

I’m 27, and missed our heroes when they were first an active band (1999-2005). I first heard the band circa 2006 while sitting in traffic, driving into Chicago from the northwest suburbs, listening to a mix CD my friend Kyle made me. I only remember two songs on that CD-R. One was a song by the Marked Men; the other was “Our Work Fills the Pews” by Hot Snakes. The latter was mischievous, sinister, and evocative. In the subsequent years, I’ve listened to Hot Snakes LPs more than most things.

And now there is a new Hot Snakes album in the world, Jericho Sirens. Their last record, Audit in Progress, was released 14 years ago, and remains one of my favorite albums, which might be controversial among fellow Hot Snakes enthusiasts. (Most people I encounter kneel at the throne of Hot Snakes’ first album, 2000’s Automatic Midnight. I don’t blame ’em.) But now I don’t know what to believe. Jericho Sirens might be the best thing the band has ever done; time will tell. Many bands will tarnish any form of a “legacy” they may or may not have by reuniting, making new music without that initial spirit or flame, and cashing in. In this case, the flame burns brighter, hotter. It sears flesh. Melts steel. It is violent in its glow. The type of ferocity that you hear on this recording is nearly nonexistent in today’s musical landscape.  Jericho Sirens is like an old friend returning from a stint in jail, buff as fuck and kind of terrifying. He’s seen some shit.

The first three tracks on Jericho Sirens are pure, relentless badassery. They just go. They sound like the band barreling down the 5, thirsty for blood and Modelo, kicking up gravel into everyone’s windshield. When I heard this record for the first time, I was just laughing to myself, like, This shit is crazy. “I Need a Doctor” is immediate and evil. I read that the song is about the band’s singer and guitarist Rick Froberg trying to get a doctor’s note to skip a work function. I don’t think that’s true, but I love it; it sounds way more urgent than that. Dude needs a fucking doctor. The second track, “Candid Cameras,” may be the most abrasive Hot Snakes song I’ve ever heard. As it trudges on, it grows more melodic by employing the signature chord progression changes they’ve always used, which always work (like “10th Planet” from Automatic Midnight or “Hi-Lites” from Audit in Progress, for reference). “Why Don’t It Sink In?” is maniacally, brutally insane. It’s 78 seconds long. An ugly, pounding rage. Just bonkers, really. This introductory suite starts the record off tightly wound, void of slack or sigh. You’re more so holding your breath. Clenching your teeth and fists. Floored.

I’d like to hear this album played by an orchestra. Any of their records would do, really. Can someone arrange that for me? Thanks. While I know virtually nothing about classical music, I’ve always thought that the songs of Hot Snakes sound more like movements—whimsical, moody, dramatic, even emotional. One of the tropes that rewards a Hot Snakes listener is this building tension, as if the whole thing is about to fly off the rails, culminating in a unanimous release. Descending and ascending symphonically, a ping-ponging of abrasion and ecstasy. I often work for eight hours in a warehouse with a migraine, only to feel that strong, refreshing breeze upon exiting. You need to be locked away for a minute in order to feel free. For this reason, the music Hot Snakes create is innately human in its ebbs and flows. Four real people making visceral, yet apathetic art (five, if you happen to catch them with one of their tag-team drummers). No smoke, mirrors, or fucks given.

The seven remaining tracks on Jericho Sirens are classic Hot Snakes, accompanied with newfound vigor. “Six Wave Hold-Down” is a radio smash hit (in an alternate universe where everything played on the radio is remotely tasteful, innovative, or at least interesting). The next song, “Jericho Sirens,” is another quintessential Hot Snakes title track in the bank alongside the few that have come before it. It sounds like a song played at a stadium filled with shirtless drunks watching a really violent sport that doesn’t exist. Along with the chorus in “Psychoactive,” vocalist Rick Froberg flexes his cut-through-aluminum howl, sounding nearly identical to motherfucking Bon Scott from AC/DC.

At age 11, my father gifted me an anonymously branded acoustic guitar, accompanied with an AC/DC tablature book. (Tabs: reading music for dorks who can’t actually read music. Also, do you know how basically impossible it is to play “Riff Raff” on acoustic? Botch City.) Anyway, I was obsessed with the band as a child. I don’t think Hot Snakes sound that much like AC/DC—their music is kind of the antithesis of AC/DC in a way: admittedly defeated, existential, less horny—but the formulas aren’t too far off. It’s that juxtaposition of dark, winding riffs and a melodic, searing snarl. Pouty-lipped strut. It’s minor chordclad rock ’n’ roll, baby. I will be bold and say that if AC/DC (and the amalgamation of San Diego, Dischord, and Homestead bands that have influenced Hot Snakes) are the prototype, Hot Snakes have transcended and evolved the genre: more sophisticated, peculiar, interestingly melodic and relentless. They’re right at the intersection of refined and primal, the sweet and sour spot. 14 years later and we find Hot Snakes still providing ripper after ripper, spitting in the face of gloom, doom, and dread.  

In World War II, the Germans flew dive bombers that had extremely loud, wailing sirens called Jericho trumpets. According to Wikipedia, these were “used to weaken enemy morale and enhance the intimidation of dive-bombing.” How incredibly terrifying. A proper warning that you are about to die. Jericho Sirens reverberates a paranoia of death. Whether genuine or sarcastic, it’s all the same in the world of our heroes. If Froberg heard the Jericho trumpets in the distance, wailing to his imminent death, perhaps he’d just light a cigarette and shrug. It’s too late, anyway. Humans have already ruined everything. Might as well just sit back and take it for what it’s worth. I think I can actually kind of hear them now.

Chris Sutter plays in Meat Wave and lives in Chicago, Illinois.