These Arms Are Snakes – This Was Meant To Hurt You

3 out of 5

Label: Jade Tree

Produced by: Matt Bayles

My history with These Arms Are Snakes is kinda sorta about my history with coming to appreciate Chris Common’s production, which I know is incredibly exciting for you to read. So let’s get to it…

We are suckers for marketing. I mean, it’s why such a thing exists. So when a CD has a sticker on it that tells me that it has band members from so-and-so group that I like, well, consider my attention grabbed, and likely my wallet opened. I was (and still am) suspicious of Jade Tree, being mostly an emo label by my standards, but a sticker proclaiming Russian Circles and Botch connections was enough for me, as was the presence of Matt Bayles – a common fixture on a lot of music I like – on production.

It would take this EP and subsequent album for TAAS to finally find their sound on Easter, one of, to me, the most brilliant hardcore records of all times, equally in terms of lyrics, composition, and the production. I would say the group “transformed” from a more typical math-core sound to something that combined post-rock with punk and hardcore and math and the band’s own special blend of various influences – indie, pop – but in retrospect, those tendencies were very present even on this first official release. Unfortunately, those tendencies were somewhat curtailed by working with Bayles, who may’ve directly or indirectly encouraged that mathcore sound, which would then dominate their debut release, Oxeneers. The difference between this and that, then, is that the album leaned into it; here, it’s a mixed bag of the two styles, ultimately making the five tracks somewhat underwhelming.

Half the time it’s bravado; these tracks admittedly work well. The other half, you can hear the more nuanced guitar / bass / drums interplay fighting against the digital-sounding production, Steve Snere’s speak-talk poetry distilled in effect by the same approach. That the originality of the sound, and the undercurrent of viciousness and power in Steve’s words, are all apparent despite this wishy-washiness speaks to their potential, which would thankfully be achieved a couple albums on. At this point, it’s a bit too easy to relegate this to an also-rans pile of side projects, and though I obviously prefer the shift in sound that occurred when working with Common, I would credit Bayles with streamlining elements from this EP into the stronger album that followed.