My roommate in college was very distraught when he found out that These Arms Are Snakes had broken up. This was a couple of years ago, and I simply recall paying for half of the noise-rock band’s debut EP, This Is Meant to Hurt You, cover image displaying a girl gagged with Christmas lights—not exactly my tastes. Therefore, I did not find the breakup of TAAS too alarming, but only later did we find out that my roommate was reading a very presumptive article: the group was in the midst of releasing their debut full-length not too long after, and one can argue that inter-band turmoil ensued with the departure of drummer Ben Verellen, but when Chris Common came in and doubled as drummer and producer for this album, the band got more than they could ask for.
Yet was my roommate’s quandary justified? Were These Arms Are Snakes truly adding a level of distortion to the hardcore indie scene that it was sorely lacking? In listening to Easter, the answer becomes quite obvious: yes.
Hardcore has got a large shot in the arm recently, and it isn’t horribly surprising to find that Easter didn’t exactly top critics’ Best Of lists at the end of 2006, seeing as how it stood in the shadow of a true screamo masterpiece: the Blood Brothers’ Young Machetes. Yet that alone is a shame, because Easter is like the Blood Bros if they weren’t too enraptured in their own screaming or continual quest to break the land-speed tempo barrier—it’s also a tamer version of Snakes, as well, no longer having to “prove” that they’re hardcore. The death chords are still around, but this time scrappier and more immediate. It’s the sound of a band that can find a Tool-sized melodic hook in closer “Crazy Woman Dirty Train” and, half-way through, turn it around into a desert-rock riff that would put Queens of the Stone Age to shame. They jumped through the hoops they had to jump through, and are now doing what they want.
When “Lady North” rolls around, guitarist Ryan Frederiksen manages to take a plucking that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a country song and works it into a rock context, but retains the backwoods flair. So when vocalist Steve Snere comes around and screams out “It makes no difference anyway / And we are all on the list of names”, it’s more the sound of a man yelling out the fate of souls to an audience of none instead of a packed rock club, and that alone becomes a profoundly poetic gesture. It’s here, too, where Snere’s lyrics deserve a positive Blood Brothers comparison as well—he may not be audible half the time, but listeners who take the time will find his prose meaningful and pointed (if at times only slightly confusing):
Eyes swollen over halfway shut.
It works well this way
Looking into walls
Fishing for humans in a moat
With this it never gets done
With this it never gets done
It’s open like deep skies falling on the pillars of demon gods
Sometimes the hands just fall on the book of a god
Clenching your teeth hoping he’d finally give you a nod
Save me please
The prose, much like the songs, can at times collide and mesh with each other (“Abracadabra” has one of the album’s lesser hooks), which is why simple, almost soothing instrumentals like “Desert Ghost” are brought in to break up the action.
Overall, Easter manages to be These Arms Are Snakes’ strongest statement, showing a hardcore band that is done with the hardcore scene, still making heavy music but on their own terms. There are still many flaws (picking “Mescaline Eyes” as an opener is one of the most blaring ones), but few bands can pull off the incredible feat of downshifting without losing any of their edge. Now my college roommate would in fact have something to be sad about if TAAS indeed broke up: the loss of a truly great band.