After listening to Seattle foursome These Arms are Snakes’ raucous new album Easter, several thoughts will no doubt resonate in everyone’s minds: firstly, who are these intriguingly noisy rockers, why do they have snakes instead of arms, and most importantly, what exactly is the relationship between “suspect animism, impending otherworldly doom and the ethereal battle between virtue and ruin,” as their MySpace page declares? “Oh” laughed guitarist Ryan Frederiksen, “[that] was mostly written by the publicist!…the writer went nuts. It’s totally rhetorical”.
Spawned from the ashes of their former bands Kill Sadie and Minus the Bear, These Arms are Snakes is a powerful testament to all things heavy, abrasive and experimental. Critics repeatedly characterize their sound as post-hardcore (and their verbose publicist agrees), but elements of punk and industrial are also alluded to. “I can see the punk aspect, because [our music is] obnoxious, but I can’t say I see the industrial side of it. I don’t know why [people would say that], it’s not like we’re Ministry” remarked Frederiksen. Ministry they are not, but similar acts such as At the Drive-In and The Blood Brothers draw a close comparison. Call them hardcore, call them punk, but if you really want Frederiksen to like you, call them Abba. “NO!!” wailed Frederiksen with a laugh. Rather, Led Zeppelin is for him the highest praise you could ever bestow on them.
Despite coming from different bands and cities, the four eventually all got together in Seattle. “I’ve known [bassist] Brian for a long time, both our previous bands used to play together.” said Frederisksen. “[Vocalist] Steve moved to Seattle with his old band, and that’s how we met him. Then all those bands broke up.[by now] we went through four drummers We met [current drummer and producer] Chris through Minus the Bear. He moved to Seattle, we asked him to join, and he kindly obliged”. Brian Cook, along with Frederiksen, take on dual roles of keyboardist and organist.
In 2003, the band released their debut full-length Oxeneers, or The Lion Sleeps When its Antelope Go Home, followed by the 5 track EP This Is Meant to Hurt You. Three years later, Easter took shape, an album that promises to differ in that it is paradoxically more structured yet experimental: “We spent a lot more time writing and recording.this time around, we actually had a real drummer, a phenomenal drummer; he helped us. We spent more time in the studio, [had] more time to reflect on songs, and if it wasn’t working we had the time to change it.” That the album title connotes re-birth and renewal although the band described the record as “hostile”, makes it clear that the notion of contradiction is something the band consciously wants to interpolate into the album. “This is the paradox.This record is a little more confrontational. Things have gone a little strangely in the punk rock world, Christianity made its way into the mainstream.[it] seems ironic to us, a little weird. I guess this is our answer to that. We touch loosely on all religion, a lot of those subjects. [We] took the idea behind Oxeneers and delved a little further into the darker side of things.”
Indeed, a lot of what These Arms Are Snakes do is rather somber, musically and lyrically, but this certainly doesn’t detract from the craftsmanship, which is tight, intricately layered and produced to near perfection. Equally impressive is the actual diversity of all 12 tracks, so you don’t risk losing interest too quickly. A song like “Horse Girl” rages with continual momentum while “Hell’s Bank Notes” provides a quiet 45 second mid-album interlude of sorts until the last second when “Abracadabraca” seriously explodes likes a dysfunctional clown crashing a children’s party. The only real deviation from the heavy formula is the acoustic “Perpetual Bris”, a calmer piece filled with haunting organs and Biblically-referenced lyrics.
If you can’t tell already, Frekeriksen is a funny, laid-back kind of guy. In fact, with a band name such as theirs, it’s difficult to think that any of these guys take themselves too seriously, which begs the question: which one of them is the anatomical phenomenon with snakes instead of arms? “All of us! It’s very useful” Frederiksen said. “Other times, not so much. We all fully represent!” Given the unanimous success the band has seen with Easter, clearly it’s time to ditch band practice and go get yourself some snakes for arms!
These Arms Are Snakes play le Petite Campus Oct. 28.
57 Prince Arthur East.
Mouth of the Architect
Tickets are $13