It’s been said that you can never truly hate something as much as someone that loves it. You can be disappointed by a band’s album, but not to same degree as someone who adores said act. It is with this mindset, and with the bands iconic logo carved into my arm, that I had to approach Hot Water Music’s first new album in eight years, Exister.
Through its lengthy career Hot Water Music went through various stylistic changes. Its early years drew heavily on hardcore bands such as a Fuel (the California hardcore band, not the alternative rock band of the same name) showing potential all along the way. It eventually delivered on this with a string of powerful releases between 1997 and 1999, cementing the group as one of post-hardcore’s most passionate acts.
But as all things eventually do, the group began to change. It signed to punk rock powerhouse Epitaph Records, and slowly the band’s sound streamlined into a poppier, more accessible punk sound. This was by no means a bad thing, as the three full-lengths that bared the Epitaph logo ranged from enjoyable to great. However, after the release of 2004’s The New What Next the band went on a hiatus before eventually disbanding. The members carried on in their own direction before reuniting in 2008 for some Hot Water Music shows.
Last year the group released a 7-inch of new material, signaling that after three years back together, new songs were surfacing. The Fire, the Steel, the Tread showed Chuck Ragan’s work as a folk artist bleeding into Hot Water Music, while the Chris Wollard led “Up to Nothing” showed the band still had the ability to write energetic anthems.
But Exister was the real test. Could the members of Hot Water Music produce a full-length that channeled all the energy and passion the band had in its earlier days? While not doing so entirely, Hot Water Music proved that even as the members age, its sound stays relatively fresh.
With help from Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at the Blasting Room, Exister proves to be Hot Water Music’s most polished record while never feeling overproduced. Opening track “Mainline” is a no-nonsense start, showing that the band has never lost its sense of self.
Peppered throughout Exister are songs that would stand alongside some of the best tracks from the band’s three albums on Epitaph – “Mainline,” “Drag My Body,” “Exister” – but the album is far from perfect. The album’s backend lags a bit, as songs such as “Take No Prisoners” and “Pledge Worn Thin” sound like full band versions of Ragan’s solo material.
The album is not without its faults, but overall it is another solid addition to Hot Water Music’s already large discography. The band doesn’t reinvent itself, and because of this it will do little to bring in those that were never all that interested in the first place. However, it proves that reunion records don’t always suck, and that although Hot Water Music will never revisit its Forever and Counting era sound, it doesn’t need to. This formula works pretty well too.
Hot Water Music Exister tracklist:
- “Boy, You’re Gonna Hurt Someone”
- “State of Grace”
- “Down In It”
- “Drag My Body”
- “Wrong Way”
- “Take No Prisoners”
- “Pledge Worn Thin”
- “No End Left in Sight”
- “The Traps”
- “Paid in Full”