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Deep Cuts #18: Coliseum – 'Sister Faith'
Moody Louisville punk rock with a sensual post-punk verve.
Album: Sister Faith
Release: April 30th, 2013
Label: Temporary Residence Ltd.
In his scene report for Bandcamp titled “A Guide to Louisville Post-Hardcore,” Kevin Warwick outlines how the bustling Kentucky hub worked to distinguish itself from other alternative American hotspots like Seattle, Washington and San Diego during the major-label clamouring years of the 90s and 00s.
Warwick’s piece hits all the big names you’d expect—June of 44, Rodan, The For Carnation, and luminaries Slint—while also nodding to more contemporary acts who kept the city’s distinct and eclectic brand of post-hardcore alive: Crain, Elliott, The National Acrobat, and Young Widows.
And along with that storied list of Kentucky road dogs, you’ll also find mention of Coliseum: a hardcore punk trio that spent twelve restless years on stage and in the studio, thrashing and mutating themselves through bursts of metallic-tinged fury to meditative punk and sensual indie.
Yet the one release that stands tall above their substantial discography is the trio’s incredible fourth album, Sister Faith.
For any punk band worth their salt, the idea of remaining static and stylistically stagnant is an emphatic death knell. Creativity comes from growth; growth is found by continually pushing the sonic envelope, taking risks, and, ultimately, seeing what sticks.
“I don’t think that punk is an idea that is constraining in any way; that’s the beauty of it,” Coliseum frontman Ryan Patterson told Music & Riots magazine in 2015:
“Punk for me, is about thinking and living outside of the lines, looking at everything askew in order to find the beauty or ugliness in it all. That spirit is certainly there because it’s part of our DNA and it’s in our hearts, but we’ve always pushed ourselves to look to the future with our music. We’re far away from where we started, but that is still entirely us at the same time.”
Across their twelve-year career, it’s clear that Coliseum never felt constrained by genres or fan expectations. Their artistry was as much defined by profound desire as by genuine curiosity.
Starting out as a metal-tinged hardcore band in the vein of Cursed and American Nightmare, with heavy riffs, aggressive rhythms, and throat-shredding roars (see their essential 2005 Goddamage EP or 2007's No Salvation), things started to switch up with the release of their third full-length album, 2010’s House with a Curse.
The trio had found a way to weave a distinctly 90s post-hardcore verve into their abrasive yet eerily melodic punk rock fabric, with acclaimed producer J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Paint It Black) helping to mix the record.
This welcome change ultimately signalled a new direction for the group, one that harkened back to the glory days of the Dischord Records catalogue rather than the metal-centric wheelhouse of their former home, Relapse Records.
As Patterson confessed to BrooklynVegan in 2010:
“I pretty much always [wanted] to work with J. on everything... I love his music, I love his recordings, I love the guy. He and I have a pretty great connection that I appreciate very much, we seem to have a lot of similar influences and ideas about music, and of course, some of that is because of the fact that I am a huge fan of his bands and grew up listening to the music made by him and his contemporaries.”
With their J. connection now firmly established and solidified across several split releases and their Parasites (2011) companion EP, work began in earnest on LP#4 in 2012, alongside the inclusion of a new member, bassist Kayhan Vaziri.
Listening to Sister Faith, one first notices just how electric and lively the band’s sound had become. After a squall of feedback and crashing cymbals from drummer Carter Wilson on album opener “Disappear From Sight,” Patterson locks into a hypnotic groove that jangles throughout the tune, with occasional space for flashy notes and thick riff gestures. It’s a propulsive start but one that’s ultimately short-lived, lasting for three seconds shy of two minutes—a hardcore rager through and through.
Savouring this sense of raw momentum, “Last/Lost” and single “Doing Time” latch onto this rocking formula and run out the fucking door with it. Each track rests on simple yet effective riff progressions, with Vaziri and Wilson in tight lockstep, directed by the call-and-response of Patterson’s gravelly mid-range yell. And with a master like Robbins behind the boards, this instrumental texture works to rival the immediacy and chemistry of post-hardcore heights of acts like Fugazi and Hüsker Dü.
But it’s on “Love Under Will” where things start to get interesting. Patterson’s vocals move into a lower, more subdued register, with hushed lyrics that speak to the record’s existential ruminations on death, family, belonging, and ritual:
“Take down these words as written/
Love is the law.”
Sequenced directly after three Side A barnburners, this expansive five-minute number lets Coliseum slow right down and breathe with noticeably exhilarating results. Vaziri’s delicate finger plucking plods along patiently while Patterson’s riffs alternate between rippling shine and ecstatic crunch. As Evan Minsker notes in his Pitchfork review of Sister Faith:
“While every other song on the album ramps up both feedback and power, ‘Love Under Will’ smolders. Patterson’s growl is tempered, there’s more room between each drum hit, and everything is marked by more echo and empty space. Although it could easily be a metaphor for a crumbling relationship, it outlines the terrifying prospect of what love means when you believe in eternity.”
Stylistically, “Love Under Will” sounds like the band’s most stark detour yet, and it fits them like a glove—one they’re all too happy to try on repeatedly across the record, especially on cuts like the shimmering “Late Night Trains” and the anthemic love ballad “Everything In Glass”.
However, another aspect of Sister Faith that’s often occluded or outright ignored is just how damn fun it is. More than any other album in Coliseum’s broad back catalogue, this one understands the vibe and energy of a kick-ass punk rock show and nails the delivery.
Listen to the snarling lyricism of “Bad Will,” the cranking verse riff on “Used Blood,” or the Torche-esque stoner bulldozer “Fuzzbang,” and tell me you don’t immediately want to neck some pints and bang your head into oblivion. (Of course, you do.)
This vibe doesn’t get any more perfect than on “Black Magic Punks”—quite possibly the most complete and singular Coliseum track in existence.
While Patterson’s lyricism often skews towards inward dialogues of morality and questions of meaning through action, “Black Magic Punks” is pure punk rock escapism at its finest.
Off the back of Patterson’s swaggering surf rock riff, alongside Vaziri and Wilson’s playful stop-start antics, the track tells the story of occultist punks in “black jeans and the black t-shirts,” casting spells and bucking the man by harnessing the power “decades of sweat from punks unheard.”
It may feel a little goofy when stacked against Coliseum’s previous hardcore vitriol and middle-finder screeds, but it’s got hooks for days, and the band sounds positively alive with every chugging bar.
While Coliseum would ultimately go on to release their final LP, the pop-inflected Anxiety’s Kiss, in 2015 before quietly disbanding two years later (Patterson would go on to complete his artistic transformation with post-punk venture Fotocrime), Sister Faith remains the high water mark for a band that dared to be noisy, fearless, and vulnerable—often all at once.
As Baroness frontman John Dyer Baizley put it on their Bandcamp profile:
“Musical progression tends to come at the expense of quality or ethics, and Coliseum have sacrificed neither. Songwriting and emotional content have become their focus, and to that end they have gracefully transitioned from the unrelenting anger, rage, and rawness of youth to a more thought-provoking, yet no-less-powerful or insightful sound that is entirely their own.”
Whether you call it punk, indie, or something else entirely, Sister Faith remains a powerful testament to the spirit of full-blown, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.
You can find all of the albums in this series in the TPD // Deep Cuts playlist.