Proto-metal is a bit of a strange moniker to apply to modern-day bands. The “proto” prefix literally means “first” or “common ancestor,” so linguistically it makes little sense to apply it to any band past 1975. Yet with the popularity of everything retro, plenty of bands try to recreate that pre-metal hard rock sound that laid the foundations of our favorite genre. Hot Lunch are as proto as proto gets, despite first appearing with their self-titled debut in 2013. With the sophomore slab, appropriately titled Seconds, can they function as the time machine they aim to be?
Yes, they bloody well can! Everything about Seconds screams late ’60s, early ’70s, when fuzz and distortion were like, totally rad, from the jangling guitars to Eric Shea’s hoarse, acerbic, bluesy vocals. In fact, in all their grimy, squealing jams, one might be led to believe the acid rock half of MC5 has crawled out of the grave again, ripping with renewed punk spunk and liquor-soaked vigor. “Smoke Ring” doesn’t waste time, barging in the door with high energy and dusty old amps that draw the most wonderful classic fuzz from the guitars. By the halfway point the tempo winds down and a bluesy, semi-improvisational composition that smells like The Doors lights up a blunt and goes through a hazy blues jam until it briefly returns to the main riff.
Much of the remainder of the album transpires in such a loosely composed manner. There’s a devil-may-care skate punk attitude to the song structure. The guitars will let loose a flourish here and there, just because it can. The drums whip out fills without feeling forced, the bass bobbing playfully underneath. There’s an attractive quality in this jam-session atmosphere. The band is having fun and letting you in on that. And because the band has eclectic tastes and likes to switch things up, Seconds is also quite dynamic in its delivery, from The Rolling Stones blues-rock passages to car driving hard rock Deep Purple riffs.
Sometimes, though, the compositions are a little too loose. The jamming can get out of hand and become aimless and though this occurs sporadically across the album, the final track “Skulled to Neptune” is the most obvious example. The 14-minute track is actually several shorter tracks with varying quality, and it seems to be the heap where miscellaneous ideas were thrown because they couldn’t make proper tracks out of them. A bit of snipping and tightening would not have gone amiss, even though the offhand songwriting is part of the appeal. The production, on the other hand, strikes the balance between suitably raw and pleasantly polished well. The guitar sound is a highlight, with its perfect retro fuzz, and the mix is spot on.
One might be tempted to ask: how much value is there in a band that keeps lockstep with the masters of old when we can still listen to those? I’ve never held much stock in such ideas however, as bands without dozens if not hundreds of equivalents are few and far between. Hot Lunch are simply in love with the early ’70s acid rock scene and refuse to update it to the modern era. They gave it more teeth and a swig of whiskey, and played the sound straight, grabbing bits and pieces from a multitude of bands to construct an unabashedly fun piece of proto-metal that’s as retro as tie-dye. They don’t care about being original, they’re just having tons of fun jamming the night away. We’re just along for the ride.