Coliseum: Course Correction

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Photo: Mickie Winters

“Humans hate change—they don’t accept it even 10 years later,” Coliseum guitarist and vocalist Ryan Patterson says. For nearly 20 years, Patterson has been making various forms of punk rock with the likes of National Acrobat, Black Cross and Black God among others, but it’s the early Motörhead-meets-Discharge material of Coliseum—who play Kilby Court July 26—that he seems to be most remembered for. “The history of the band is kind of a ball and chain that you drag around,” Patterson says. “Sometimes it feels like a legacy, and you’re treated with a certain reverence because you’ve been around so long, and that feels great, but other times, you’re like, ‘Jesus, I wish we could just be accepted on [our] own merits.’”

The band’s new album, Anxiety’s Kiss, is receiving loads of positive press—partly because it is so disparate from the band’s early material, even if Coliseum haven’t written a D-beat song for more than five years. “Most hardcore bands break up after a couple years, and most probably should,” Patterson says. “Something about how visceral that music is kind of makes it temporary, and I don’t think that’s bad—those blasts of energy are best executed in a quick manner,” Patterson says. “That’s why Goddamage is so well loved—it’s only 15 minutes. If we had been trying to replicate those 15 minutes for 10 years, it would’ve been really sad. You can have those 15 minutes—we’re moving on.”

Beginning with 2010’s House With a Curse, Patterson and Coliseum ditched the breakneck speed of their early material in favor of dark, moody post-punk. The grit, heavy riffs and Patterson’s gruff voice remained intact, but the addition of drummer Carter Wilson gave Coliseum a groove it never had before, allowing Patterson to explore the esoteric aspects of the band’s sound. After years of a revolving-door lineup, the addition of Kayhan Vaziri on bass for 2013’s Sister Faith, as well as the guidance of legendary producer J. Robbins, further cemented the current sound of Coliseum. “Having this steady lineup of these guys is amazing,” Patterson says. “It’s not a struggle like it was for a lot of years. There is a lot more conceptually going on with the band, and I’ve learned a lot more about what I want to do and what I want to represent, what I want to hear in music and how to approach my instrument and songwriting and my voice.”

Anxiety’s Kiss displays Coliseum as more comfortable with their sound than ever before, deeply indebted to bands like Killing Joke and on the same plane as like-minded contemporary post-punk punks Ceremony and Cold Cave. Subtle synthesizers provide a constant fuzz under Patterson’s stabbing guitar, and Wilson and Vaziri create solid, tense rhythms for Patterson’s vocals to work over—J. Robbins even provides guitar on one track. Even the cover artwork is a step away from the traditional Coliseum aesthetic of Patterson’s blown-out digital collages, featuring a stark, creepy photo of the band. “You wouldn’t expect us to have a photo of ourselves on a record cover, and that’s why we wanted to do it,” Patterson says. “I wanted it to be odd and mysterious. I felt that there’s a timelessness to it—the photography doesn’t really look modern. It helps to push myself as a person who struggles with my own insecurities, so to have yourself on the cover of a record is a challenge.”

Even with all this forward momentum, Coliseum has also been known to pay homage to their past, first by re-releasing their landmark EP Goddamage in 2012 via Temporary Residence Limited and reissuing their classic debut album last year on Deathwish. Patterson is a longtime friend of Deathwish head honcho Jacob Bannon, booking his band Converge on various Louisville shows over the past 15 years and releasing a Coliseum 7” on Deathwish in 2009. Much like Deathwish, Coliseum is a forward-thinking entity, pushing the boundaries of punk and shaping into something greater than where it started. “Deathwish is known for having a deep connection to the hardcore scene, but they’ve grown outward from there, so the reissue was kind of a celebration of our own history and also moving forward with Deathwish,” Patterson says. In addition to reissuing their first album via Deathwish last year, Coliseum played a 10th-anniversary show featuring previous members of the band and alsoreleased a special 12” remix version of “Black Magic Punks” from the Sister Faith album, featuring remixes by Cold Cave, and members of Boris and Godflesh, among others. All the while, the band was hard at work on Anxiety’s Kiss. “We did a lot of stuff under the guise of a 10th anniversary, including a 10th-anniversary show with a lot of the old members of the band, but when it was all over, I was so fucking tired of it,” Patterson says. “I didn’t really want to just talk about the old days, so when it was over I was happy.”

With Anxiety’s Kiss, Coliseum finally seems to have broken away from the specter of their early days. After years of being compared to their first two albums, the world finally seems to realize that the band has grown beyond their crusty roots. Coliseum will perform at Kilby Court July 26 with Arctic Flowers and locals La Verkin.