I only really came across Hey Colossus a few years ago, when the band released two albums in quick succession ‘In Black and Gold’ and ‘Radio Static High’; both on Rocket Recordings. I thought that both of these were terrific and was excited to hear more. Then when last year’s pre-Rocket retrospective, ‘Dedicated To Uri Klangers (2003-2013)’, came out I became fully aware, not only of how good this band were, but the changes in sound that were being wrought over time. A process of change that continues with this new album ‘The Guillotine’.
But let’s step back a bit for a minute, because I never really got round to writing about ‘Uri Klangers’, in fact it seems that this is my first Hey Colossus album review; and I’m pretty late with this given I first picked up the vinyl at a gig in early May. Why is that? I can’t think of any other band that I have liked so much in recent years, yet in written so little. ‘Uri Klangers’ was a revelation to me… the noise, of my God, the noise… but noise that was somehow controlled and focussed. From the opening bars of ‘War Crows’ it’s four sides of sonic assault that, in another context, you’d be getting charged with GBH for. This peaks, for me, with the marvellously titled ‘Witchfinder General Hospital’ which imposes itself on you like a perv in a tight-fitting suit. From there you begin to see the direction change taking over to the point that the gap between last track ‘Final Turn’ and the Rocket albums is not too wide. I guess I’ve enjoyed discovering it far too much to get round to writing about it.
So the short message here is to dig your way into the Hey Colossus back catalogue both because you won’t regret it, and so you can see this latest offering in context. ‘The Guillotine’, then, is another move away from the psych/ noise from where the band came and if that has created something of a vacuum, then something more melodic has taken its place. What it left is the raw anger of that noise, expressed in a different way. Of the eight tracks here, only ‘Back In The Room’ explicitly harks back to that earlier sound, and even then there’s something crisper about the way it is played and mixed.
The rest of the album though… I’ve realised that I might not get round to reviewing Hey Colossus because there’s so much in every album that I’m always stuck with what on earth I’m going to leave out. The multitude of influences that are clearly at play here, the many ideas that have gone into each track… I frankly struggle to know where start.
So, in short, I’m going to step back from my usual ‘track by track’ style and say that this album is packed with songs that share a definite DNA, even with ‘War Crows’. There’s the wall of sound from the rhythm section that is cleverly adapted and retained, despite the ‘lighter’ feel to ‘The Guillotine’. What isn’t lighter is the lyrics, whose sharp and political edge give the album an added heft that more than compensates the relative absence of noise, and provides the listener with something with which to vent their rage at this time of terrible directionless governance, which has amazingly got far worse since this album was released.
Not only is this album one that you can politically get your teeth sharpened on though. The is a variety to the tracks here the even the previous Rocket albums have not alluded to. There are moments of stillness, such as on ‘Potions’ that are genuinely moving, reflecting the tragedy of many in our so called society. But the band saves the most bile for ‘Englishman’ which is a searing indictment of prevailing attitudes, which the outrageous events leading up to the crime of Grenfell Tower, and the hideous aftermath, only proves to validate.
This, then, is another album that has really hit the mark in 2017. With ‘The Guillotine’, Hey Colossus have hit a sweet spot of musical development and lyrical anger that raises this album above their previous already excellent offerings. This is an album that I am only just beginning to appreciate. It’s an album that I could listen to a hundred times and still see new ideas, hear new sounds, and feel new emotions. It’s yet another example of the way in which bands in the so-called psych scene are growing and developing, expanding the leftfield and challenging the status quo in several directions and dimensions.
‘The Guillotine’ is released by Rocket Recordings and is available from many of the usual outlets, including the Hey Colossus bandcamp page.