Hot Water Music - Feel The Void (Cover Artwork)

Hot Water Music

Feel The Void (2022)

Equal Vision Records

Hot Water Music sure set the bar confusingly high for their ninth release Feel The Void. Announced in November with a press picture including all four OG members and current touring guitarist Chris Cresswell from The Flatliners, Hot Water Music indicated this was going to be a new beginning of sorts for the band. Officially welcomed in recording on 2019’s underwhelming Shake Up The Shadows, Cresswell is now a full-fledged member alongside a returning Chris Wollard who is once again at equity with Chuck Ragan in terms of content. If that wasn’t enough, Brian McTernan is returning to the production boards for the first time since the band’s early 2000s Epitaph efforts. Finally, Feel The Void is the band’s first effort for seminal hardcore label Equal Vision Records.

Any one of those items could be the pull quote for the band’s accompanying press release, but for readers of Punknews, it’s akin to a Matt Skiba joining up with the dude in Goldfinger to help blink-182 to soldier on. I mean this in an entirely positive way given Hot Water Music’s long associations with OrgCore and the reverence their career deserves. Feel The Void’s impossible expectations finds the band sounding rejuvenated. Released as one of the first singles, Wollard’s “Collect Your Things and Run” is an early highlight bringing Hot Water Music back to their A Flight and A Crash approach. The throaty singing of Wollard garbling out, “I count to four, five, six / I feel like shit / I know” is classic Hot Water Music. McTernan’s are a welcome return.

The band’s notorious dual backing vocals are immediately improved upon with the three-singer attack Cresswell adds. While similar to Wollard enough, Cresswell brings his own vocal talents to the band. This is obviously most noticeable on “Turn The Dial” which finds him taking lead on his first Hot Water Music song, but is felt throughout. “Turn The Dial” is a welcome addition to the Hot Water Music canon if not a bit thrilling hearing Cresswell amongst the giants of Wollard and Ragan. It’s hard not to hear The Flatliners later-era influences shining through in the song. The call and response of “Killing Time” shows off the finest of this multi headed beast’s new stylings on record where the call and responses has the singer’s voices blending in and out of each other.

For Ragan’s contributions, it finds him once again swinging for the fences aiming for the type of anthemic songs he has bottom lined in Hot Water Music. “Habitual” and “Hearts Stay Gold” are two examples of this that work to varying degrees. On one hand, it’s impossible not to deeply connect with Ragan as he hollers, “Don’t shake me / Don’t wake me / I got a battle to win,” as the band cuts out, but sometimes its arena rock hooks can be a bit too familiar. It’s the Brian Fallon is always going to write songs like Brian Fallon effect. This slows down the back end of the album with mid-tempo efforts like “Ride High” that can drag. For contrast, efforts like “Newtown Scraper” find the band back at its most post-hardcore with angular riffage that sits right next to Existor’s “Drag My Body.”

“This is so much more than a band,” states Ragan in the previously referenced press materials. From aesthetic to choices to sound to members, Hot Water Music created an album sure to please fans. Feel The Void is the most vintage the band has sounded since Existor and listens like a band regenerated. Despite its familiar P.M.A. for barfly vibes it can give off, Hot Water Music succeeded where not many punk bands do when line-up changes; evolution that still finds the band being true to itself. That’s due to Wollard and Cresswell’s contributions to Feel The Void.