June 27, 2010

Album Review: "House With a Curse" by Coliseum

What separates Coliseum from the majority of other hardcore bands in the world is their obvious love of groove-laden alternative rock such as Queens of the Stone Age. Most of their songs are catchy, with great hooks and interesting structures. The genre fusion they utilize likens their sound more to stoner rock bands like The Sword, Baroness, and Cursed than hardcore bands. However, while that new approach does help them to stand out from the pack, it also has the potential to alienate traditional hardcore fans looking for simplistic song structures and sing-along lyrics. Coliseum doesn't seem to care about that potential problem, though, forging ahead with their sludgy hardcore sound on House With a Curse, their first album for new label Temporary Residence Ltd.

Right from the start, it's clear that Coliseum has only increased the portions of groove rock in their sound. After the weird instrumental opening of "Introduction", the album jumps right into "Blind in One Eye", which sounds like it could be a B-side of The Sword's last album. It also quickly becomes evident that Coliseum is taking the Rage Against the Machine approach to instrumental mixing, making the bass just as prominent as the guitar throughout the album, sometimes even more prominent. "Cloaked in Red" is the obvious example of this, with Mike Pascal strumming his way through the entire lead line on bass, while the guitar is barely even noticeable for the first half of the song. The idea is to put the primary focus on the groove elements in the song, and it works well to that effect.

However, while genre diversity can and should be embraced, it becomes a problem when diversity leads to the appearance having no direction. The reason that Coliseum's previous two albums worked with this formula is that the hardcore parts were still the clear-cut foundation of the sound, with the groove parts mixed in to add variety. House With a Curse doesn't have such a foundation because it's unclear what should be the primary focus of the sound. The emphasis is clearly on the groove parts throughout the album, but the hardcore parts - repetitive riffs, simplified time structures and drum parts, and Ryan Patterson's acidic vocals - are all constants throughout the album as well.

Songs that go off the map like "Skeleton Smile" only complicate things even more, taking completely different approaches that don't center on either groove or hardcore centrally. Sharp-eared listeners will also catch additional instruments like organ, violin, accordion, and tambourine mixed into some songs, at which point it finally becomes clear that trying to give this album a genre classification is pointless. It's only then that listeners can really find enjoyment in this album and its purpose - experimentation purely for the sake of itself. Few can deny that, once these songs are accepted for what they are, they become fun and interesting.

Only over time and repeated listens does this album get more enjoyable and less confusing. But the first few listens will leave many feeling lost, because of the differences between House With a Curse and the band's first two albums. Fans going in expecting to hear the traditional Coliseum sound will walk away feeling disappointed. In that sense, this album is akin to Sepultura's first two albums with Derrick Green singing, because the sound changes take time to get used to. If you're hoping for a traditional hardcore album from Coliseum, you probably won't ever get it. But if you can devote the time and repeated listens to this album that it requires, you'll grow to like it over time.

Score: 6 out of 10

Track Listing

1. Introduction
2. Blind in One Eye
3. Everything to Everyone
4. Crime and the City
5. Cloaked in Red
6. Perimeter Man
7. Skeleton Smile
8. Isela Vega
9. Lost in Groningen
10. Statuary
11. Man Was Never Meant to Fly
12. Punk / Money

Album Personnel

Ryan Patterson - Lead vocals, guitar
Mike Pascal - Bass guitar, backing vocals
Carter Wilson - Drums

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