Jericho Sirens rushes past like a massive wave of frenzy, panic and hysteria.
Rick Froberg and John Reis have been partners for so long that their first band, Pitchfork, predated the popular music website of the same name by about a decade. For over 30 years, this pair has delivered post-hardcore, expanding that genre with Drive Like Jehu and, most recently, as the creative force fronting Hot Snakes. Coming on the heels of Sub Pop’s re-releases of the band’s previous three albums from the early ‘00s, Hot Snakes is back with their first new music in 14 years.
Jericho Sirens is not their first nod to the Holy Land. “Ben Gurion,” from 2002’s Suicide Invoice, was titled after one of Israel’s pioneering Zionists, and it suggests fresh themes churning lyrically beneath their frenetic melodies. Meanwhile, Drive Like Jehu, with its own biblical phrase, constructed dense, hermetic and obsessive arrangements of what in the 1990s briefly flourished on indie labels as “post-rock.” Drive Like Jehu crashed its musical chariot in 1995. But the two Californians have never stayed apart long.
Upon resuming work together as Hot Snakes, three albums on the San Diego-based Swami Records followed. These punchy, riff-heavy collections heaved into two- or three-minute bursts of erudite snatches of rage beneath Froberg’s boyish howls, surf-rock tinged chords, brutal heavy metal hints and blunt production. Newcomers may want to start with many of their catchiest songs played for Australian radio and captured on live album Thunder Down Under. The band also delivered the last live-in-studio BBC sessions aired for John Peel’s venerable radio program before his death. By 2005, Hot Snakes were also moribund. A reunion tour in 2011 led to a return to recording for Jericho Sirens.
Hot Snakes compresses the sprawling, intricate interplay of Froberg and Reis on interlocking guitars into tracks half or a third as long as those created as Drive Like Jehu. What endures is the telegraphic, terse energy channeled into fragmented, explosive blasts. Hot Snakes shows Froberg’s refusal to let up, but their past albums suffered from their sequencing. Pulverizing punkish assaults marked their crest; moody, lumbering dirges signaled their ebb.
Jericho Sirens succeeds by building up tension and letting it loose in quick succession. Its first three tracks do not diverge from their sturdy sonic template, and all are respectable additions to the band’s repertoire. Then “Six Wave Hold-Down” incorporates, presumably, the album’s cover shot of a balding, aging surfer into its cryptic narrative. Whatever Froberg’s getting at, only bits of his yowling delivery can be deciphered. Whether this song’s inclusion of riffs from past songs “LAX” and “Suicide Invoice” is clever or lazy is left to the fan in the know to decide. After that, the title track nears four minutes, one of the longer tracks on this streamlined album. It lurches and sways. Encouragingly, from then on the pace speeds up.
“Death Camp Fantasy” erupts with the band’s distinctive knack for tunefulness within textured, brief and noisy layers of guitar-based concatenation. This dynamic momentum lifts the rest of the songs. They conclude with another nod to mortality, “Death of a Sportsman.” In its middle, a slight departure from Hot Snakes’ style lets some electronic space and an airy ambiance into their world.
Then it’s back to the mosh pit. Jericho Sirens rushes past like a massive wave of frenzy, panic and hysteria. Froberg’s rages and rants float in and out over his and Reis’ propulsive guitars. Their rhythm section, all veterans, enables Hot Snakes to succeed at a tricky endeavor: a reunion album that betters their previous discography.