The Patterson brothers have been staples of the Lousiville punk and hardcore scene for years now, but the past decade has produced what seems like a rivalry between the two. Each album from Evan’s and Ryan’s bands — Young Widows and Coliseum, respectively — seems like an attempt to top each of their previous efforts. As a result, they’re both pushing heavy music in thrilling new directions, fusing new techniques with reverent eyes toward the past. House With A Curse is Coliseum’s latest attempt at upping the ante.
The trio has always been the blunter of the Patterson bands, specializing in a Motorhead-meets-Discharge strain of hardcore punk since its 2004 debut album. 2007’s No Salvation saw the musicians dipping their toes a bit deeper into the metal side of things, with Chris Maggio’s ultra-technical drumming style at times making the album seem more a fireworks display than a musical experience. This time around, the trio has found a new label home in Temporary Residence, a new drummer in Carter Wilson, and a different lyrical perspective, diverting attention away from the larger world and emphasizing the personal. This results in the most audacious album in the band’s catalog, filled with summaries and enhancements of their past strengths and stretches into unfamiliar territory. It doesn’t always work, and long-time fans of the band are probably going to find things to complain about, but what remains is their most human and fully realized album to date.
If Coliseum only learned one thing from this album, it was the benefit of letting off of the gas pedal a bit. The songs here are slower, more groove based affairs, made strong by Wilson’s heavy hitting but varied drum style. Texture takes precedent over brute force, with Patterson writing some of the most layered and melodic guitar parts of his career, without sacrificing his increasingly glacier-thick tone. The skillful production, by the band members themselves (incidentally, J. Robbins mastered the album), allows the trio even more breathing room and finally does justice to bassist Mike Pascal, who would all too often get lost in the sonic mud on past Coliseum releases. All of these elements are apparent in opener “Blind In One Eye,” with its caterwauling guitar leads and measured stomp from Wilson, tied together with one of the most shout-along choruses of the year.
The album’s middle section clarifies the atmosphere of the entire record: one of Midwestern/Plains states desolation, all open fields and dark grey skies. “Perimeter Man” slinks around menacingly, telling the story of a Cormac McCarthy-like figure before ending in a rhythm-heavy section augmented by the bassist and drummer of Young Widows. It’s immediately followed by “Skeleton Smile,” which is lifted to a whole new level of creepiness by Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s mournful guest spot.
All of the thrilling things happening make the missteps more apparent. “Cloaked In Red” and “Man Was Never Meant To Fly” are the two longest songs in Coliseum’s catalog, and both of them go on for way longer than they should, stretching things into instrumental overdramatics, and Patterson’s gruff bark into unflattering poses. Simply put, Coliseum does not need to write songs this long. All of their past triumphs, and the successes on this album, happened because of the band’s finely tuned sense of economy. Even “Isela Vega,” the most “out there” song on this album, which stays quiet for most of its running time and features a weeping string section, is a mark in the win column because it knows exactly what it needs to get done and doesn’t wear out its welcome.
House With A Curse sets a new bar for Coliseum and shows the world a band completely unafraid to make sharp left turns with its established sound even if it doesn’t work, finding power in restraint when unchained anger worked for it so many times before. If my previously hypothesized rivalry between the Patterson brothers exists, the new Young Widows album is going to have some very stiff competition here.