Six years ago, it was announced that Hot Water Music “as we knew it” was over. Though Chuck Ragan never officially drew a line under the band with his statement, many thought they wouldn’t see Hot Water Music again. Sure we got (and continue to get) Chuck’s solo efforts and The Draft and, while that’s all well and good, it just wasn’t the same. Thankfully the hiatus lasted all of two years (which meant yours truly could actually see them live), but still no new material surfaced. Four years after their return, we have a new Hot Water Music record. It’s certainly been worth the wait.
It’s clear that a lot has changed in the band’s time apart and, obviously, there’s going to be some big differences when you’ve not released a record in eight years (The New What Next was released in 2004). However, that’s not to say this has had a negative effect. Far from it. Tracks like ‘State Of Grace’ and ‘Take No Prisoners’ show a clear progression in songwriting, with Chuck Ragan seemingly adapting elements used in his solo material to fit in with Hot Water Music’s repertoire. In turn, this has created a clearer divide between Ragan’s songs and those of Chris Wollard. Whereas Chuck’s songs are more complex, Wollard’s are for the most part, straight forward, no nonsense, punk songs. Though this meant Chuck’s stuck with me more, Wollard’s are sure to become new live anthems for Hot Water Music fans the world over.
Regardless of any lyrical differences, the instrumentation is still well within that familiar Hot Water Music wheelhouse. It’s that fast, hard, punk rock that makes the blood boil and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That’s not to say, that it doesn’t have it’s more chilled out moments. Grungy and downbeat, ‘No End Left In Sight’ is the perfect example. Though all who’ve worked on this record – especially Bill Stevenson (Descendents/ALL) for his production job – need commending, Jason Black deserves major credit. It’s an understatement to say the man is a fantastic bass player, but on Exister his work really stands out. I mean, just listen to the opening of ‘Drag My Body’. Need I say more? Wollard and Ragan are also on fine form. Their dual vocals on the album’s title track are awe-inspiring, and make it my favorite track on the album.
Still, the question remains, after eight years, was Exister worth the wait? The answer there is a resounding yes. It’s certainly a more progressive record and, although it feels weird to say, it sounds like a more mature Hot Water Music. However, despite the few ‘misses’ contained within these thirteen songs, Exister is a record I have no trouble recommending. It’s clear that their time apart and side projects have made a difference, but everything has worked in their favour. This is most definitely a Hot Water Music record, and fans of their previous work will not be disappointed.