Hot Water Music's follow up to 2012's "Exister" now stands in early 2018 as one of my top punk-oriented releases of the past year. The changes in vocal delivery and guitar sound are fully realized with this release, and do not sound like simple escapism from the emocore tag of their past. Both Chuck and Chris's voices have aged well, still gravelly but now with an increase of heartland soul and some vibrato ending many of Chuck's vocal lines. The melodies themselves don't follow their specific formula as we've heard on a number of their albums in the past. The guitar tones and riffs on this record are less cliche than past releases, and they all seem to weave together for the most part, given the variety of the content. The most noticeable change from the band's previous material is the skill on display during all of the backup vocals. We hear harmonies during many of the usual parts reserved for shouting along, giving the record an overall tinge of Bad Religion to it. Jason's instantly recognizable bass playing is a little less busy than normal, but his fills are all in the right places.

The opening track "Complicated" is straight up modern mid-tempo HWM, the opener we would hope for and that we deserve, with lush guitars and Chuck Ragan's usual brand of barking and howling. "Light It Up" the brief second track on the album reads as a love note to Bad Religion, employing quick chord changes and Greg Graffin-like vocal delivery. The next few tracks flow seamlessly, with a lyrical focus on positivity and not giving up. "Show Your Face, " "Never Going Back," and "Rabbit Key" are among their most straightforward rock songs they've done with similarities to The Loved Ones and The Gaslight Anthem at times. "Sympathizer" and "Vultures" sounded a bit out of place on the first listen, but fit the context of the entire record once becoming more familiar with the songs, at least in my case. "Bury Your Idols" employs a swinging soul rhythm and stresses the idea of being your own leader instead of merely a follower. "Overload," "High Class Catastrophe," and "Hold Out" keep the rhythm rolling along steadily, leading up to the best and final track, "Take You Away," which really showcases the talent in Chuck's vocals and is simply a well crafted and mature rock song.

If you are already a fan of Hot Water Music, you will not be disappointed with this release. It has enough of the speed and energy of their previous work, only now delivered in a more refined package. There's a lot of familiarity going on here, and the experimentation here isn't in the form of angular riffs and screaming matches. It's now found in the form of the composition and performance of a nearly perfect aggressive rock record.