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November 4, 2004

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Seattle's These Arms Are Snakes is the sound of 2004's last gasp. As the year swings to a close, folks are still shaking from the shock and awe of televised war and election year blues. These Arms' brand new record, "Oxeneers Or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home" (Jade Tree), sounds like the agony a lot of people are feeling — the frustration of screaming at a wall.

These Arms rages against that, among other things. When singer Steve Snere falls to the stage, bruising his elbows, skinning his knee, gasping and sweating after three hot minutes of hardcore trash, you see a man who feels beaten and drained and disillusioned. But he keeps it moving and the band leaves the clamor and segues into a chirping, crackling Pink Floyd simmer down. And the transition is natural: Wail and crash to groove and drone; Dinosauric guitar growls to oceanic pump organ and MicroKorg synth noise.

Since "Oxeneers" dropped, the band has been written up everywhere from Spin and Rolling Stone to countless photocopied 'zines. The hype is molasses thick, but the payoff is there — both live and recorded. Like their pals and city-mates the Blood Brothers, the boys from These Arms are gambling big on creative avant-hardcore. Feeding the masses a sound like this can either yield revolution or revulsion. Blood Brothers' new record, "Crimes," is out on Virgin Records' V2 label, so it's sink or swim for them. These Arms is in a safer spot with indie label Jade Tree.

But regardless of how the record-buying public responds, These Arms has made an ambitious, thundering debut. Like the gothic prog-rock operas of the '70s, this has the feel of something epic, theatrical and era-specific. It is a sound that both gives you hope and serves as a death march for your darkest days.

To call a band "the soundtrack to Armageddon" is played out and hyperbolic, but "Oxeneers" is definitely the pre-show entertainment.

Sign On San Diego

Adam Gnade