We have all had these kinds of conversations before, in unkempt dorm rooms or over a brace of ill-gotten teenage beers: Is Joy Division a punk band? Are the Dead Kennedys punk or hardcore? Are Municipal Waste hardcore or metal? We all have deep convictions on these subjects and we are all empirically, undeniably correct. With their new record Anxiety’s Kiss, Coliseum seek to confuse these musing, youthful debates. Immature punk and hardcore purists might call it apostasy, an unacceptable gesture towards that foul corner of the world that wants more from its vocalists than maniacal screaming or hound-like baying. I call it one of the most well conceived albums of the year so far, and one of the most enjoyable.
The stew that Coliseum have constructed here is deceptively complicated. These songs are so fun and catchy that the listener might be forgiven for not perceiving all of the references and influences the first time around. Opening track “We Are the Water” starts off with a nice chugging bass line and rhythm guitar line that quickly opens up into a full-fledged rock song complete with big, soaring chorus and guitar tone that would not sound out of place on an early Interpol record. Ryan Patterson’s vocals are right on point here; he grunts and barks, but intelligibly, in a way that reminds me of the late, great Odorous Urungus. He even opens up his throat and does some actual singing, the one style moving effortlessly into the other. He also does some very effective speak-singing type stuff that suggests another very important reference point for this record: Nick Cave. Coliseum magnificently achieve the merger of Motörhead, a host of darker indie rock influences, and many of the major post-punk leaders, particularly Killing Joke, Joy Division, and several different eras of Nick Cave.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Anxiety’s Kiss is its control, economy, and brevity. It zips by in 38 minutes without a boring moment to be found anywhere. Sadly, too many punk and metal bands have never learned what we can call “The Reign in Blood Lesson”, which is that more is not necessarily more. Getting in, ripping the listener’s face off, and getting out while they are still squealing for more is a trick that never gets old, and Coliseum have learned it well. All ten of these tracks are distinctive, carefully written, and to the point. One moment Patterson is pumping his hips and moaning like Nick Cave on a Saturday night, the next we are locked into a cold, crusty groove that smells like an old hoodie with an Amebix back patch. For all of these gothy and post-punky reference points, Anxiety’s Kiss still manages to have a big, summery, fun feeling to it; this is definitely music for driving at top speed or attending keggers.
If the world were a just place, which clearly it is not, Anxiety’s Kiss would be Coliseum’s big breakout record. There is no reason why this material should not be winning over huge swathes of youth culture and banging heads from Iceland to Tasmania. This is hard rock music in 2015 at its most fun, relevant, and genre-crossing. Anxiety’s Kiss will certainly be found in some best of the year lists this year, but whether or not they will be invited to the Pitchfork Festival or All Tomorrow’s Parties next year is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure: my neighbors have not heard the last of Anxiety’s Kiss booming out my front door as I lounge around in the front lawn drinking beer and watching baseball.