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Album Of The Week

The Lead Review: Noel Gardner On Hey Colossus' Radio Static High
Noel Gardner , October 2nd, 2015 08:53

Following on from the release of In Black And Gold earlier this year, Noel Gardener examines the group's continual moving further away from big riffs and sludge metal, into hypnotic melodies, creamy bliss, and giving breathing space to tangible human emotions

If this review made a point of praising Hey Colossus for embarking on their own stylistic path, while so many try weaselishly to fit into moulds carved by others, it would run the risk of selling them short. This is because they're not a ragtag group of rootless nomads, but an affable – if ear-bleeding – British heavy rock band who, since forming in the early part of the millennium, have operated on principles derived from DIY punk culture, and have equally taken from and given back to a community of likeminded souls. Except if I were to hold up Radio Static High as a shining example of the greatness produced by the UK […] scene (the blank space is because it's never really been given a name that stuck, as far as I know), that too would feel slightly demeaning towards this marvellous album.

Circular logic be damned, let's get orbiting. Radio Static High is the ninth full-length, non-collaborative album in twelve years by this sextet, London-born as a band but now living between Watford, Somerset and the capital. It's also their second album of 2015, following February's In Black And Gold. That album felt like a watershed release of sorts, in that the twisted metallurgy previously found front and centre on Hey Colossus records had taken a back seat, with blackly shimmering synth parts now given their due. The album highlight, though, a dancefloor-ready pop belter by the standards HC have established, was 'Eat It', which was part glam, part surf and part Butthole Surfers. (One of Radio Static High's finest moments, in fact, feels like the successor to 'Eat It' , which I'll return to shortly.) Wildly prolific by the standards of a rock band in the 21st century – they even managed to release a split twelve-inch during summer without this alleged fan noticing – at no point does this resemble half-hearted or dashed-off product.

Now, Hey Colossus rarely, if ever, came on like a straight-laced doom or sludge metal band, if there is such a thing. ...Hates You, their 2003 debut LP, served Killdozer-type cretin-blues squall via major label-era Melvins boisterousness on the five-song A-side; punishingly zonged-out drone doom (from a time when anyone hip to Sunn O))) didn't get that way by reading about them in a broadsheet newspaper) on the one-song, 18-minute B-side. Over time, and employing stops on the road like yes-we-Can space-spinner 'How To Tell Time With Jesus', from 2013's Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo, they made peace with the notion that rock music doesn't need monster riffs to be heavy or intense. Something cemented over many of Radio Static High's ten songs (which average slightly over four minutes, unheard-of brevity in their catalogue to date): there's Krauty chug, 90s-suggestive alt, psychedelia both old and new-styled, even brief recourse to noiserock skree, but nowt for dedicated doom demons.

'Radio Static High' the song is a slowly winding and fairly incongruous choice of opener; frontloading an LP can be dangerous, but it feels like it would more naturally flourish as a penultimate album track. It's pretty fare, though, akin to something from the less gimlet-eyed end of 90s alt-rock. In Paul Sykes' vocals – wistful, singsongy and clean, in a way that wouldn't have got near a finished HC album mix back in the day – there's echoes of Thurston Moore, perhaps on a Sonic Youth album like Washing Machine. An atmosphere instantly usurped by 'March Of The Headaches', a black-booted quasi-industrial crunch. By contrast, Sykes reverts to his distortion-lathered cackle of old for some excitingly meaning-free lyrics: "If you want to know where white light goes, it's down, down down / Out of control, it's burning a hole, taking my mind to town" (I especially enjoyed this for the brief period where I thought the lyric was "taking my mum to town"). The descendant of 'Eat It' I mentioned, an especially curdled type of glam rock lurks in its genes, like a much heavier Glitter Band or, especially, Earl Brutus.

Apparently awarded the passport to glory that is daytime 6 Music radio play, 'Hop The Railings' is Krautrock-derived, shaggy-brained spacerock that stakes out similar territory to the last Hookworms LP, while being better than anything that had to offer. The way Sykes yelps "OUT!" in the refrain "can't afford to get out" lends the song a frisson of bad-trip desperation (NB: Hey Colossus are not a 'drugs band' in any overt way), but for the most part, when songs on Radio Static High have a crack at altering minds, they do it in a locked-in, shamanic kinda fashion. 'Numbed Out' pits Joe Thompson's overdriven, rumbling bass against hypnotic, vaguely Eastern guitar and gets Sykes to intone over both. The effect here is evocative of Lungfish, a Baltimore band who palled around with the Dischord Records scene but played an unparalleled, tranced-out form of punk rock. This album's two closing songs, the segued-together 'Hesitation Time' and 'Honey', maintain this vibe: guitarists Bob Davies and Jonathan Richards do the Lord's work here, melodically speaking, while Sykes clambers to the mountain's peak and wails about "fire" and "time" through the clamour.

At Radio Static High's centre, there is creamy bliss. 'Memories Of Wonder' and 'The Mourning Gong' both remind me of Black Mountain, except with more shoegaze reverb, although by extension this traces its ancestry to any amount of hairy 70s rock marginalia. 'Snapping Undone' is a nostalgic bliss-sigh ("Stay up / Listening for hours / Devil's in the details") which I would, in my probable ignorance, have sent to 6 Music for airplay instead of 'Hop The Railings'. And giving breathing space to tangible human emotions – not something Hey Colossus have generally seemed too bothered by – 'Another Head' puzzles, "There's a ghost in my room / That swallows my dreams / If I keep my eyes closed / Will it stop what I've seen?" over an earworm garage-psych chime-riff.

Forty-two minutes of profound pleasure all in all, which both challenges the clichés of guitar-based heaviness and mines them for their ore. It’s tempting to suggest that Radio Static High is the culmination of what Hey Colossus have been working towards for the last twelve years, but thoughts of "career arcs" and suchlike don't really jibe with such an un-careerist band. In a certain respect, though, they are standard-bearers for post-millennial British music which is au fait with punk and hardcore while not being punk or hardcore, stylistically.

It would have been easy for this scene to wither in the face of a culture which makes it increasingly hard to operate a band, even at this essentially hobbyist level, but people have found ways to thrive in their own various niches. Namechecks of their peer group might be useful here: That Fucking Tank, Bilge Pump, I'm Being Good and The Heads are all at least as venerable as Hey Colossus, while others have called time on great bands and started other great ones, like how Lords begat Kogumaza and Hunting Lodge begat Dethscalator begat Sex Swing. Without wishing to drift into patriotic whimsy and painting these lot as footsoldiers in some kind of doughty UK Rock Vanguard – you might be reading elsewhere in the world; you might not care much about rock music – right now there's a wealth of great music being produced in a country which often feels like a pretty shit place to live. Here's the newest addition to it.