Seminal Gainesville post-hardcore crew make a welcome return.
Alistair Lawrence 2012
Eight years is a long time in punk rock. When Hot Water Music effectively signed off in 2004 with their previous album, The New What Next, its title a dig about fleeting, facile trends that the band considered to be dominating popular rock music.
A group with a distinctive sound and a loyal following, dual frontmen Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard each went solo and drummer George Rebelo joined Against Me! in the meantime. But by breaking up before they became jaded and cynical, it was always possible that they would return.
A clutch of younger bands have since appeared, bearing the mark of Hot Water Music's Leatherface-inspired gruff punk as a primary influence – most notably now-labelmates Make Do and Mend. However, Exister allows Hot Water Music to stand apart from their peers and acolytes once again.
Granted, it has its faults, the main one being that the vocals aren’t mixed as clearly as their excellent last two albums. There’s also a temptation to criticise the way in which these songs don’t rip and scream with the same hooks and burning refrains of old.
A little of this niggling frustration sticks, but for the most part Exister subsequently reveals itself as a more positive, uplifting record than its predecessors, adding something new to the band’s eight-strong studio album canon.
That many of its songs smoulder rather than scorch belies the fact that the band appears to be looking to the future. A rejuvenation no doubt born from their time apart, their decision to start working on the album separately before pooling their ideas certainly doesn’t show.
Also, between the swaggering riffs of Boy, You’re Gonna Hurt Someone, Safety and the closing flurry of Paid in Full, there are adrenaline rushes to be had. Pledge Wore Thin, State of Grace and the title-track are triumphs, as they prefer life-affirming bolts of energy to pure catharsis.
As a result, it doesn’t disappoint. They’ve returned older, wiser and as fine exponents of post-hardcore for grown-ups.