(Emo / Postpunk) What makes punk-rock important is that, unlike almost every other musical genre, it celebrates the everyman, with their secondhand instruments, questionable thrift shop style, and palpable sense of sincerity—no experience or expertise required.
This, of course, is what makes a band like Hot Mass so special—not that they are, indeed, regular blokes with guitars and impressive beards, but that their enormous brand of punk-rock, which simultaneously fulfills and challenges the genre’s expectations, is created by guys who serve your drinks, write computer code, or run the laser tag place down the street.
Singer and guitarist Rhys Jenkins started Hot Mass as his other band The Arteries slowed down. “It came from a need to still be creative,” he says. “I started writing my own songs not really knowing where it would go. I love The Clash, The Lemonheads and The Pixies, and my first ideas had started within that vein, which then developed into something heavier and faster once we got in the practice room. Hopefully that benchmark of melody and dissonance still holds true.”
Hot Mass’s second full-length, titled Happy, Smiling and Living the Dream, indeed succeeds at balancing melody and dissonance, combining churning chords and crashing drums with Jenkins’s throat-shredding singing style. Released by three labels (This Charming Man Records in Germany, Black Numbers in the U.S., and Brassneck Records in the U.K.), the album is a collage of different aggressive styles, but never loses its focus or power.
“Remember, The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You” opens the album with a series of sledgehammer chords that give way to full demolition, driven by a wall-battering beat. This song, paired with follow-up bruiser “Lung Capacity,” establish this as a purebred punk-rock album from the start. Still, songs like “Callous” and “AstroTurf” stagger like those grunge songs that wandered their way onto the radio in the 1990s, and closer “Ungkhali” and “Circadian Rhythms” showcase the sort of piercing post-hardcore chords and shouted lyrics of a Dischord band. Even “A Literal Century,” with its knots of glimmering, simmering chords and spoken lyrics, show that there’s more to Hot Mass than a single genre.
“I actually think for sure that everyone’s musical taste shines through in Hot Mass,” Jenkins says, stating that the band’s influences range from stoner rock to heavier hardcore bands, “but not so much to detract from the main sound. It’s pretty balanced and the big melting pot of influences keeps things sounding a little different.”
Though the songs may draw from different styles, Jenkins’s lyrics and fierce vocal delivery tie the album together. Though he hesitates to call Hot Mass a political band, Jenkins’s lyrics are a response to the times, whether it’s the decay of democracy in “Hell, Now” or the stress of
societal pressures. Even more intimate songs—!Lung Capacity,” about the futility of pursuing a passion, or !The Dissonant Four,” about losing a local venue—seem to be a personal response
to a broken world.
“I started to think more about modern life and current affairs,” Jenkins adds.”!It made lyric writing a lot less arduous as the words came easier. It felt good to sing about those things and I think I understood a little bit more about some of my core beliefs. Unfortunately for my friend,
the lyrics haven#t become anymore light hearted, but I feel they are now more fierce, open, reflective and hopefully more poignant.”
Happy, Smiling and Living the Dream may be a satirical statement about modern society, but it also may offer a way to survive such a society. “We all started playing together because we’re friends and wanted to play gigs, turn up loud in a practice room or on stage and just get creative,” Jenkins concludes. “For me at least, listening to music is cathartic but even more so playing it. Probably cheesy, but it’s true.”
Punk-rock, then, is important because it celebrates the everyman. Hot Mass shows us that, and also punk-rock’s importance as a means of the everyman’s cultural survival.
FFO: Weezer, Piebald