[30 April 2013]
It’s been particularly interesting to watch Coliseum’s development over the past decade. Formed by vocalist and guitarist Ryan Patterson—who remains the only original member of this Kentucky three-piece—Coliseum has gone from being a volatile hardcore punk band to an essential alternative rock group. 2010’s House with a Curse was brilliant change of pace: a record where Coliseum wrote longer but no less passionate songs and placed more emphasis on melody than ever before. But most importantly, the band made sure the music, which now sounded distinctly like early ‘90s alternative rock and mid-‘80s post-punk, stayed true to Coliseum’s punk rock roots and hardcore sensibility.
Moving from the metal-centred Relapse Records to the post-rock haven of Temporary Residence and teaming with Jawbox main-man J.Robbins for the mixing of House with a Curse were also decisive factors. Robbins’ mix left the instrumentation sounding gritty, but he accentuated the newly acquired dynamics and made sure the melodies, no matter how grizzly and weather-beaten, were clearly defined. Robbins also added backing vocals to “Blind in One Eye”, a superb alt-rock anthem that stood as a perfect summation of the new direction Coliseum was embarking on. Since the release of House with a Curse, the band’s profile has enlarged due to Coliseum’s exposure to indie and alternative territories. As a result, the band’s second release for Temporary Residence, Sister Faith, comes highly anticipated by old and new fans of the band, and of genres as contrasting as extreme metal and indie rock.
Prior to hearing where Coliseum would take us on their new album, one would assume that the band would keep close to the style that they favored on House with a Curse. The changes the band implemented fit, and Coliseum appeared comfortable progressing beyond the sharp volley of hardcore heard on 2007’s No Salvation. When met by Sister Faith such an assumption would be correct as Coliseum has continued to furrow back to days when bands like Quicksand, Jawbox, and Rival Schools were on the cusp of serious mainstream success, but also mining the unspoken darkness of Killing Joke during the ‘80s.
J. Robbins also maintains his relationship with Patterson, which began over ten years ago when he recorded Patterson’s old band Black Cross. This time round he handles full production duties at the Magpie Cage, the same location that Jawbox recorded For Your Own Special Sweetheart back when it used to be known as Oz Recording Studio. And due to this long running friendship, Robbins has acquired a great understanding of what Coliseum want and need, and he has made Sister Faith sound warm, pleasing on the ear, yet still punk rock to its core.
Friendship also plays a significant role when it comes to the music of Sister Faith. Bassist Kayhan Vaziri joined the band last May and just so happens to be a childhood friend of drummer Carter Wilson. This duo has become an on-point rhythm section to back Patterson in Coliseum’s ten year existence. The chemistry between the two is instantaneously apparent on the Hot Snakes-esque opener “Disappear From Sight” and “Last/Lost”; both of which blur past in quick succession.
Carter plays around the kit during “Doing Time”, adding plenty of propulsion to the garage-grunge riffs, while Vaziri showcases a slinky sense of groove during the brooding album highlight “Love Under Will”; his bouyant bass-line playing a major role in this song’s structure. Such sturdy foundations for “Love Under Will” really allows Patterson to experiment with different textures. He carefully peppers shards of notes over this fluid drum and bass rhythm, and the moody atmosphere he creates with his guitar compliments his gruffly sung vocals melodies, which take a less boisterous more introspective turn during the album’s first half.
Patterson’s vocals abilities have continued to improve over the past few years. He has been growing in stature as a singer and his world-weary vocal chords match the lyrical themes of death, love, fear, passion, and the disparity between good and bad relationships, which he surveys across Sister Faith’s 13 songs. He hollers bear-like during “Under the Blood of the Moon”, a song that provides a malicious bent on post-punk motifs, and he matches his guitars for grave melancholy (“Late Night Trains” / “Everything In Glass”) and gravel-churned aggression (“Black Magic Punks” / “Bad Will”) depending on the mood of each song.
What links these tracks together, though, is the insidious darkness that burns through Coliseum’s music, just lingering beneath the surfaces, implicit regardless of whether the band is rolling at full pelt or peering internally. But there is a duality at play from the Patterson created artwork of a skull with a flower growing on top of it, to the music and the lyrics. And like all great art, the darkness needs to be offset by the light in order for both shades to exude with equal force.
Sister Faith radiates right from the first listen, and this record has picked up where House with a Curse left off back in 2010. The fact that indie fans have started to latch on to what is, in essence, an uncompromising punk rock band is indicative of the quality of the songwriting and Coliseum’s nods to post-punk’s dark-hearted brethren, Killing Joke, Joy Division and The Cure. When a band like Coliseum unites distinct sectors of the music community, you better believe there is something special going on. If you have yet to visit this Coliseum, Sister Faith is a perfect place to start; lest you look ridiculous when this band garners the full attention it so rightfully demands.