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Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010

Coliseum Carves Out a Legacy

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Much has been made about Coliseum’s recent jump from metal-heavy Relapse Records to more indie-friendly Temporary Residence. The move is seen as symbolizing a transition for the Louisville-based band, an attempt to become more than just a loud—if innovative—hardcore punk band. June’s House With a Curse, as this narrative continues, is the band’s stab at “indie rock,” a record that is less Slayer and more Shellac.

I suppose there is some truth in such opinions, but all of the talk about label-hopping obscures the central truth of House With a Curse: It’s a damn good record. It’s genre-defying in a way that reminds me of SST’s mid-1980s catalog. Despite claims to the contrary, Coliseum remains rooted in the aggression of hardcore. But there is a certain maturity to the best material on the album that moves it beyond the realm of “shorter, faster, louder.”

As Coliseum vocalist/guitarist Ryan Patterson explains, “I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again.”

With that mentality, the band has drawn from a number of key influences (think of the canons of both Touch and Go and Dischord) in a way that only strengthens their own unique sound.

History may also loom large here because the band called upon a host of scene veterans to help make House With a Curse. J. Robbins (Jawbox), Will Oldham and Peter Searcy (of the underrated Louisville band Squirrel Bait) all make appearances throughout the album. Yet the decision to turn to such musicians was not rooted in some attempt to drum up interest in the record; it came out of wanting to work with their friends, particularly in what Patterson describes as the “close-knit” Louisville scene. According to Patterson, “The degrees of separation are so minor in Louisville” that it just made sense to include musicians like Oldham, who is “part of our community.”

But the presence of friends like Oldham in the studio did not turn the making of the album into a feel-good, all-star jam session; House With a Curse is a grim affair. Songs like “Blind in One Eye” (a steamroller of a track), “Skeleton Smile” and “Cloaked in Red” are replete with descriptions of time passing, of things dying—and the pull of both memory and memorial.

Such themes come to a head in “Statuary,” a song that appropriates lines originally penned by Vic Chesnutt and Rowland Stuart Howard, two artists who recently passed away.

“The lyrics for ‘Statuary’ were written after this time last year when a number of people I admired died,” Patterson explains.

Closer to home, Patterson found himself mourning the death of Sweet Cobra guitarist Mat Arluck, who lost his fight with cancer in November 2009. Yet out of such loss Patterson saw that the music of these artists would continue to exist. “Your name,” Patterson sings as if addressing his departed friends, “your word, your verse, your world, not lost to the statuary.”

In light of such events, Patterson is quick to admit that he does “think a lot about carving out a legacy” for both himself and his band. He wants to be able to look at the records Coliseum has put out and confidently say, “This is what I did. This is my imprint. This is my stamp.” It’s as if the events of the past year have made him aware of what music can do, both for himself and for others (it’s therefore not surprising that Patterson also explains House With a Curse as an attempt “to return the gift that inspired me”).

Such insight allowed Patterson to make House With a Curse on his own terms, and he is proud of the results. “I wanted to make a statement,” Patterson concludes, “and this record is a statement.” Message received.

Coliseum tops a 6 p.m. show at the Borg Ward Collective on Saturday, Aug. 28, with Burning Love, Fight Amp and Enabler.

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