Hot Water Music, “Vows”

The punk outfit’s hallmarks remain as powerful as ever on their guest-heavy tenth record, which feels less like a swan song than a reassertion of intent.

Hot Water Music, Vows

The punk outfit’s hallmarks remain as powerful as ever on their guest-heavy tenth record, which feels less like a swan song than a reassertion of intent.

Words: Mischa Pearlman

May 20, 2024

Hot Water Music

Purists might say otherwise, but Hot Water Music’s last album, 2022’s Feel the Void, is one of the best of their storied career. Given there were eight before it, and the punk/post-hardcore outfit’s reputation as trailblazers within those genres has already been solidified, that’s no small feat. Regardless, the band—augmented from a four-piece to a fivesome with the now-permanent addition of The Flatliners’ Chris Cresswell—sounded refreshed and rejuvenated as guitarists/vocalists Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard, bassist Jason Black, and drummer George Rebelo surged with a newfound sense of purpose that bristled with the kind of energy musicians two decades their junior fail to muster. 

Two years on, and marking the project’s 30th anniversary, Vows picks up exactly where that album left off. As ever, the central focus of these news songs, which were produced by longtime collaborator Brian McTernan, is the throaty vocals of Ragan and Wollard, both demanding the listener’s attention from the moment their powerful rasps leave their lips, adding an extra layer of dark emotion to the already darkly emotional songs driven home by Black and Rebelo. Whether that’s Ragan on impassioned opener “Menace” or Wollard on the emphatic rush of “Chewing on Broken Glass,” the hallmarks of classic Hot Water Music remain intact and as powerful as ever here. 

Yet while the two of them remain the band’s vocal powerhouses, Cresswell takes lead on three tracks here—the jittery “Burn Forever,” the hypnotic “Side of the Road,” and the frenetic “Touch the Sun”—as opposed to just one on the previous record. That, then, is a solidification of the new formula for Hot Water Music, a band who aren’t just resting on their laurels, but constantly pushing forward. They also do so here with the help of some guests—Thrice, The Interrupters, City and Colour and Alexisonfire vocalist Dallas Green, Turnstile’s Brendan Yates and Daniel Fang, and Popeye Vogelsang of Farside and Calling Hours all appear across the record—which demonstrates the influence Hot Water Music have had (and continue to have) three decades later. 

Not that they need help. “Bury Us All,” with its simultaneously hopeful and hopeless soaring chorus, is one of the standout tracks of the band’s career, and is just the five of them. It sounds like a song lost in time, one that’s always been part of their repertoire. It serves to show that the rebirth of Hot Water Music is still in full force. For while there’s wisdom and experience and pain and sorrow here—all the stuff that comes with age—this is less a swan song than a reassertion of intent. It’s not that the last 30 years haven’t happened, but that they’ve grown stronger having lived through them. May we all aspire to do the same.