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October 9, 2006

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Listen up, hardcore world. This may be your last warning.

In an era when hardcore and metal are nearly one and the same, when too-hot guitars make up for a lack of vision, when screaming and weird dynamics are mistaken for a sense of purpose and when hardcore, post-hardcore and metal-core's only hope is to overwhelm listeners in an avalanche of face-shearing noise, These Arms Are Snakes give the world a wake-up call with Easter. Working from the nearly forgotten notions that loud's only good when coupled with quiet, that a great song has something important to say and that you don't have to continually prove how hard you are in each song, These Arms Are Snakes delivers one of the best albums to come from the post-hardcore (or punk and hardcore, for that matter) underground his year.

Easter employs all those fleeting charms that made post-hardcore rockers like Fugazi, The Refused and Snapcase so important so many years ago, namely that hardcore should be more about brain than brawn. These Arms Are Snakes isn't afraid to rock you, and rock you hard, unloading enough flaying guitar and grinding rhythms to make any punk kid's ears ring, but the loud-and-proud isn't its only trick. "Subtle Body" and "Coporeal" rise and fall with swells of keyboards that don't just add atmosphere to the track, but offer a yin to the band's smoking guitars. "Desert Ghost" musters a haunting keyboard melody joined by goose-bump guitars and doses of electronics and static for a moody stretch of nocturnal glee. "Deer Lodge" and "Crazy Woman Dirty Train" offer limited doses of post-hardcore guitar brutality to prove the band's hardcore mettle, the acoustic/ambient combo of "Perpetual Bris" and the building pressure of "Child Chicken Play" take an ear for melody, dynamics and compositions usually overlooked by today's post-hardcore youngsters.

These Arms Are Snakes match its post-hardcore heights with an album that centers on the down sides of spirituality and religion: The notion of impending damnation, the struggle between good and evil and free will and predetermination. If spirituality's supposed to sooth a man's soul, These Arms Are Snakes find the down side, exploring the spiritual terrors, existential crises and corruption of religion. Whether it's encouraging doubt outright ("Perpetual Bris"), chronicling a loss of faith ("Lady North") or simply chronicling the limbo of mystical horrors that come with faith misplaced ("Horse Girl," "Crazy Woman Dirty Train" and "Child Chicken Play").

There was a brief moment when post-hardcore rescued the sound from the meatheads in the mosh pit, the fashion slaves in the wings and the professional recyclers on stage. With Easter, that spirit rises again, as These Arms Are Snakes prove the underpinnings of a great post-hardcore album are brains, vision and subtlety.


Matt Schild