Hey Colossus are stalwarts of the UK’s vibrant psychedelic noise rock scene. Formed in London in 2003, and now based in various disparate corners of England, the band imbued their first nine albums with a sludge metal tint comparable to their friends and contemporaries in Camberwell bruisers Part Chimp. From tenth album Radio Static High (2015) onward, however, their music has taken on a more radio-friendly, post-punk sound. Despite all six members holding down full-time jobs, they’ve remained impressively prolific, recording and releasing 14 albums in their 20 years of existence. The latest Hey Colossus album, In Blood, marks the band’s return after three years, their longest gap between albums yet.
Lead vocalist Paul Sykes explained in a recent interview with The Quietus that the lyrics were inspired by “British lore and folk song, anonymous grief tales from Middle England, gruesome ghost tales from the Isle of Wight, and the like.” For Sykes, this has been a way of indirectly addressing the collective loss of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Opening track and lead single “My Name in Blood” sets the tone well with a counterintuitively downbeat and moody feel for an album-opener, Sykes describing its setting as “a miserable halfway house with a corrupted figure.” The considerably faster, more uptempo “I Could Almost Care” kicks things up a gear, before a comfortable, melodic pace sets in throughout “Perle,” “Can’t Feel Around Us” and “Curved in the Air.”
The songs on In Blood, with some deviations, generally get more upbeat and anthemic as the record progresses, in keeping with Sykes’ characterization of one of the album’s key themes as “regrowth after death, scratching through the knotty, coiled hedgerow of ghosts to find the new life.” A song like the somber “Avalon” feels like an outlier in this respect, possibly placed at this point in the album so that it could provide a stark contrast to the hard, fast, heavy “TV Alone” that follows it. Hey Colossus’ three-pronged guitar attack—here comprising Chris Summerlin, Robert Davis and Tim Farthing—has occasionally felt unnecessary in recent years as the band have been predominantly playing lighter songs. On “TV Alone,” though, it feels more vital than ever, with all three lead guitar parts contributing something essential to the thick, sludgy mix at the song’s core.
Sykes says In Blood “ends on a rush of positivity” with the seven-and-a-half-minute epic “Over Cedar Limb,” but musically, it sounds and feels overwhelmingly contemplative. While it could conceivably be viewed as communicating feelings of “positivity,” there is an air of uncertainty underpinning the song, as if the positive feelings being conveyed can only be short-lived.
In Blood is Hey Colossus’ best album since at least 2015’s In Black and Gold. It manages to successfully marry the heavy, chunky riffs of their earlier works like 2007’s Project: Death and the following year’s Happy Birthday with a more pronounced melodicism. The band have achieved a synthesis of these two opposing elements whereby they complement rather than conflict with each other. Sykes gives voice to his folklore-influenced words affectingly, while Summerlin, Davis, and Farthing put in some of their strongest work yet as a symbiotic, three-guitar unit. It is a tighter and more streamlined work than its lengthy, occasionally undisciplined predecessor, Dances/Curses (2020), and is all the better for that.
Label: Wrong Speed