All you really need to know about Feel The Void is that, nine albums in, Hot Water Music are still as excellent as ever. That’s not a particularly revelatory analysis, but that can be hard to come up with for a band almost three decades deep and who’ve barely put a foot wrong in that time. In the pantheon of modern punk lifers, Hot Water Music are as quintessential as they come, earthy and humble to a fault with the means of translating that into brilliant music, and who are still impressing with it even now. That’s because Hot Water Music’s core is stable to the point of unshakable now; the news of co-vocalist and guitarist Chris Wollard stepping back from live performances might have hung over this album somewhat (though nowhere near as much as most bands’ ‘internal shuffles’), but he’s still contributing to the music. There’s also The Flatliners’ Chris Cresswell joining the fold as an additional guitarist, but again, it isn’t shaking up the Hot Water Music formula in ways that aren’t necessary. It’s already been stated that Feel The Void is like a return to the band’s golden age from 2001 to 2004, and that can definitely be felt in a rawness that’s definitely more galvanised here. Vocally, this is a more Chuck Ragan-centric album, meaning that his throaty, hoary bellows have plenty of space to contribute to the overall weight, and sell a passion that he frequently excels at. The themes of perseverance help a lot with that, in territory that isn’t unfamiliar to Hot Water Music, but now comes imbued with experience and, on Habitual, the determination that comes from seeing a loved one suffer with cancer. It’s the ever-shorn artifice that sells it most vociferously, the heart-on-sleeve, throw-your-head-back-and-scream approach to punk that’s been Hot Water Music’s bread and butter since the start that colours the hooks of Killing Time, Ride High and indeed most of the album.
It comes through as more gruff and gritty at times than outright visceral, but that’s simply playing into Hot Water Music’s strengths. Outside of The Weeds which has a comparative thinness that’s definitely noticeable compared to what’s around it, Feel The Void is another headlong dive into an alt-punk well that’s near-guaranteed to hit, if only through how vibrant the no-frills approach is. They’re not a band to skimp on either texture or tone, and it’s honestly a near-perfect medium that they continue to hit; the bassline pulled out from Newtown Scraper is utterly tremendous, as are the triumphant rushes of guitar to complement Cresswell’s solo vocal turn on Turn The Dial that can almost sound like Coheed And Cambria at times. The usual pluses for Hot Water Music still stand too, in how heavy and earthy pretty much every instrumental turn is, and how that can really be leveraged when they do go more towards straight-up punk on Collect Your Things And Run for simultaneously a rush of nostalgia, and something that’s unequivocally appealing on its own merits. The golden era might be evoked but it’s not a crutch by any means, and there’s still plenty about Hot Water Music that works so many years later. More than anything, it speaks to how appealing their core formula continues to be, where they’re yet to shake it up all that much, but it never sounds stagnant or passé at any point. For a band who wrote their own legacy with the title of Trusty Chords over two decades ago, it’s still paying dividends now, as Hot Water Music continue to do nothing but play to their most key strengths and achieve so much for it. If it carries on like this (and there’s no doubt that it will), long may it continue.
For fans of: The Bouncing Souls, The Menzingers, Red City Radio
‘Feel The Void’ by Hot Water Music is released on 18th March on End Hits Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall