When they released their eponymous debut nine years ago, Coliseum showed that a marriage between sludge metal and punk was not just possible, but pleasurable. The Louisville trio found its foothold by using the meaty riffs and growls of frontman Ryan Patterson as a tool for vulcanizing punk’s din into a sturdy, muddy machine. While the band’s framework has undergone a few tweaks over its decade-long career—a post-rock texture here, a melodic venture there—the underlying mechanics are still, more or less, the same: gristly bass undercurrents, periodic thrash tantrums, and faint slivers of melodies buried beneath all the muck.
With Sister Faith, their fourth album in nine years, Coliseum offers up its most palatable set of tunes yet, a continuation of the dirty-pop paradigms set in place by 2010’s House With A Curse, and the Parasites EP released the following year. And man, can they write some great rock songs. With its false starts, sucker-punch hooks, and full-throttle melodies, “Fuzzbang” is a sugary slap of a lead single will leave you smarting and smiling for days. The Torche-esque giddiness seems almost unfathomable for a band this traditionally murky, but Patterson leads the band’s latest incarnation in earnest.
Newly-recruited bassist Kayhan Vaziri takes propulsive initiative early and often, backed by the sturdy, no-frills drumming of Carter Wilson; together, they set the baseline for the record’s catchy, carefully-constructed chaos. They give us the surfy “Black Magic Punks,” a silly song about the dudes “with the black jeans and the black t-shirts” who wear “decades of sweat from punks unheard,” but also “Love Under Will,” a post-punk-tinged ballad about the strain (or is it salvation?) of everlasting love. Musically, Sister Faith is unmistakably diverse, featuring everything from death ‘n’ roll to stoner rock.
Despite this variety, the band does have the tendency to repeat itself. Tracks four through six—“Love Under Will,” “Under The Blood Of The Moon,” and “Used Blood”—all open with killer bass solos, but the instrumentation loses its potency when the songs are stacked back-to-back. Occasional guests enter the conversation to provide vocal cameos—Sebadoh’s Jason Loewenstein, Boris’ Wata, and Jawbox’s J. Robbins (who’s responsible for the deliciously crunchy production)—but they might as well be ghosts, because you have to listen very, very closely to discern them from the surrounding instrumental maelstrom.
A stronger sense of thematic unity comes through in the album’s lyrics. Sister Faith is largely concerned with the inevitability of death, as well as the oscillation between affirmation and despair that becomes more and more fervent as the end approaches. “Disappear From Sight,” the album’s Black Flag-inflected opening salvo, starts off the conversation on a bright note, expressing hope about the persistence of memory. “We’ll disappear from sight/But you’re never far from my mind,” Patterson yelps, later bellowing “We never let it die.” The optimism is ephemeral; the following track, “Last/Lost” hurls the argument in the other direction, into a vortex fueled by failure. This existential storm rages through the rest of the album, as Patterson struggles to find something that will persevere, be it love, faith, or his own cynicism.
In the end, he decides to accept the end of days for what it is, and throw a huge party—that party being “Fuzzbang.” Such a thematic conclusion feels bit stale, but then again, it’s emphatically human. Our ancient ancestors realized that worrying about the reaper wouldn’t scare him away, so they decided to stage a noisy, writhing rebellion. And that’s just what Sister Faith is.