Rites & Wrong ‘Uns: In Blood By Hey Colossus

The English post-rock sextet explore the eldritch mysteries of the landscape on a record as bleak and sinister as all hell, finds Oliver Cookson

Photo by Teresa Moody

This year sees DIY rock veterans Hey Colossus celebrating twenty years of life. Consistently delivering engaging and invigorating albums, the band reach dizzying peaks of creativity with each new release. Yet, far from jubilant, the mood of their new album In Blood is often gloomy, at times mournful. Tapping a rich seam of folk-horror and medieval mythology, In Blood sees the band channelling the darkness of English folklore into a slick, modern masterpiece of stirring, high-gain rock and roll. Both broodingly dark and brazenly melodic, In Blood draws on Britain’s wellspring of weirdness as a psychic tool with which to negotiate the perils and traumas of modern life.

Back in 2020 Hey Colossus gifted a locked-down public with their most ambitious, dynamic and well-realised album to date. Lush, triumphant and brimming with vibrant energy, Dances/Curses was a new high-water-mark for the band. With nods to the American alt-rock scene of the 90s and an album-highlight guest appearance from the late Mark Lanegan, the album was epic, expansive and cinematic in its scope. Enormously well-received, the glowing response to Dances/Curses felt like the ultimate vindication for the band after years of steadfast circumvention of the mainstream music industry. For a genuinely independent band doing things on their own terms, the successful execution of a project as rich and audacious as Dances/Curses was a truly special moment.

Unfortunately, like the rest of us, Hey Colossus were housebound and the possibility of debuting the songs live was an entirely abstract concept. For a band whose reputation was built, at the time, on almost two decades of dazzling live performances, the future of the group was called into question. However, as the old cliché goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Forced to exist as a recording outfit only, the band retreated into the studio and through a collaborative, session-based approach where band members old and new came and went, a new iteration of the group was born. In Blood is the fruit of their labour.

As with all great records, the initial clue to understanding what lies within is right there on the sleeve. A stark, abstract, black-and-white image – a hint of fur or perhaps bone marrow? It seems from the cover art that the world we’re entering is a bleak one. Vaguely reminiscent of the artwork on Bauhaus’ 1982 goth classic The Sky’s Gone Out, the cover is in dramatic contrast to the eye-popping cartoon goofiness that emblazoned Dances/Curses. Just like the monochrome horror of The Fall’s Dragnet, an album rich with ghosts, monsters and invocations of ‘the other side’, on In Blood, Hey Colossus invite us into a world teeming with the spectral and the eerie.

Dreamlike album-opener ‘My Name In Blood’ hits us right off the bat with the image of “a halfway house, a figure on all fours” and already we’re in sinister territory. What is this figure? A person? An animal? Something else? How did it end up there? The eldritch creep of the song’s crawling guitar riff gradually builds as Paul Sykes’ inimitable vocal soars effortlessly to an aching crescendo. Juxtaposition is clearly a prized weapon in the Hey Colossus arsenal and ‘I Could Almost Care’ moves us swiftly into driving, anthemic rock terrain. The contrast between the two tracks is further evidenced in their corresponding videos. One a spooky folk-horror affair full of bones, occult symbolism and pagan headwear, the other a jerky dash-cam jaunt through a city at night interspersed with images of lasers, computer code and slightly dated recording equipment. Clearly this isn’t mere revivalism; In Blood brings the ghostly and the haunted into uncannily modern relief.

‘Perle’ takes inspiration from the mystical 14th-century poem of the same name. The lyrics meditate on loss (“won’t someone stop me rolling down this hill”) while musically the band alternates between a sleazy, fuzzed-out march and chaotic, spiralling dissonance. Subtle textural additions like lilting slide-guitar and sweeping noise accentuate the contrasting sections nicely. The palm-muted chug of ‘Can’t Feel Around Us’ keeps the momentum up with lyrics riffing on the concept of growth in nature and perhaps human disconnect from the natural world. The title is certainly suggestive of a numbness familiar to many in an age of hijacked dopamine receptors and digital desensitisation.

‘Curved in the Air’ offers a hint of reprieve as the density of the instrumentation is partially stripped away and by the time we reach the restorative Arthurian realms of ‘Avalon’ we’re truly given room to breathe. This track bears the strongest resemblance to the more sumptuous moments on the band’s previous offering. Ironically for an album that came out at the height of the covid pandemic, Dances/Curses is the more technicolour of the two releases. Perhaps the strangely elastic nature of time during the initial lockdown period lent itself to the filmic grandeur of the former release. Now that reality has been resumed and the mundane drudgery of the quotidian firmly re-established, Hey Colossus have responded with a suitably taught statement. With that in mind, ‘TV Alone’ shatters the peace, riding its speedy desert-rock riff to teeth-grinding, white-knuckle heights.

Ghost stories, folklore and mythology guide much of the lyrical content on In Blood and public interest in such ideas seems higher than ever. Beliefs and practices once considered risible by many – esoteric spiritualism, obscure folk traditions, ritual magick, the tarot – are enjoying a reappraisal in popular culture. Whether it’s the paintings of Ben Edge documenting the striking oddness of English folk practices, Weird Walk zine advocating a re-engagement with the British landscape and its strange histories, or the writing of Benjamin Myers evoking the sinister power of the Yorkshire moors, clearly there is a thirst for the weird in modern Britain. Perhaps in an increasingly unreal and intangible world we’ve become more open to the idea of the supernatural. Or perhaps we recognise the utility of such thinking in the face of real-world trauma. Certainly In Blood never loses its sense of the physical. For Hey Colossus, it seems that the otherworldly provides a framework with which to navigate the ever-bloody mess of human living.

The album closes with the gorgeous ‘Over Cedar Limb’. A seven-and-a-half-minute elegy bookended by a beautifully layered guitar part that trills and loops like birdsong. Lyrically we arrive at the suitably pagan image of “that holy moon” and return to themes of loss and renewal. In tarot terms this album might best be represented by the Death card. Often misinterpreted, its true meaning is of change and rebirth, the end of one phase and the beginning of another. Just like the card, In Blood’s imagery is often alarming, but throughout the course of the album something is processed. By the time we encounter the closing track’s overwhelming crescendo, it’s impossible not to feel changed. Exactly where we end up is unclear but, as every grail-seeker knows, it’s about the journey not the destination. What a journey it is.

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