‘Dances/Curses’ is London psychedelic noise rock sextet Hey Colossus’ 13th album in 17 years of existence. This frequency of output is all the more impressive when you consider that the band’s members all hold down full-time jobs outside the band, as documented by bassist Joe Thompson in his excellent recent book, Sleevenotes. Their sound has evolved from sludge metal-ish early albums like ‘Project Death’ (2007) and ‘Happy Birthday’ (2008) to the kraut-tinged psychedelia of ‘In Black and Gold’ (2015) and ‘Radio Static High’ (2015) to the motorik-driven post-punk of more recent works like ‘The Guillotine’ (2017) and ‘Four Bibles’ (2019). It evolves further into more floaty, sometimes almost ethereal territory on this album, whilst crucially retaining a degree of tightness and discipline.
The first sound heard on the album is that of Thompson’s bass and Rhys Llewellyn’s drums working in deceptively tight lockstep with each other before the band’s three guitarists and lead singer Paul Sykes launch into the spacey melodies of ‘The Eyeball Dance’. ‘Donkey Jaw’ maintains a similar rhythm, but Bob Davis’ lead guitar sound is far more angular here than it is on the opening track. Fans who miss the heaviness of HC’s early work should enjoy the guitar-driven ‘Medal’ and ‘Nine is Nine’. By contrast, the spacey, melodic, and aptly titled ‘Dreamer is Lying in State’ is sandwiched in between these two songs. The real centrepiece of side one, though, is the jaw-dropping 16-minute epic ‘A Trembling Rose’, which brought the band’s set at the Tufnell Park Dome last year to a barnstorming conclusion. On record it is only slightly less impressive, maintaining a steady, insistent rhythm as the band’s three guitarists begin playing progressively louder and heavier, combining with Sykes’ vocals and Llewellyn’s drums to build to a thundering climax. The song is given a droney, stonery reprise immediately afterwards.
‘The Mirror’, ‘U Cowboy’, and ‘Stylites in Reverse’ have a pretty slow, almost hypnotic pace to them. The former song is bolstered by the inimitable spoken word stylings of Mark Lanegan. ‘Revelation Day’ revisits the post-punk sound of ‘Four Bibles’ (a sound of which I wasn’t hugely enamoured, honestly), but here develops and improves upon it by adding in multi-tracked vocals and guitars. It should be said that while a lot of these songs don’t include individual lead and rhythm lines, Hey Colossus’ use of three guitarists is absolutely necessary to give them their sonic due, with all three players frequently playing the same riff in concord with each other. This can lend some songs (and ‘Revelation Day’ is certainly among them) a near-orchestral feel.
‘Dead Songs for Dead Sires’ alters the tone of proceedings somewhat by featuring prominent gang vocals in the verses and a bassline from Thompson that (and this is a sentence I didn’t expect to write about a Hey Colossus song) borders on the funky at one point. This aspect of the song, combined with the fact that the gang vocals start to sound like they’re intoning something sinister towards the end, reflects the album’s title quite well. The slow, plodding pace of ‘Blood Red Madrigal’ does get quite boring after a while and is probably the album’s weakest song. Although it’s not the strongest selection on ‘Dances/Curses’, the nine-minute ‘Tied in a Firing Line’ makes for a very satisfying conclusion to this epic slab of contemporary psych.
Whilst this may not be my favourite Hey Colossus album by a long way (that honour would probably go to ‘Happy Birthday’), this is a collection of songs that by and large were a joy to hear emanate from my speakers. 17 years in, you can tell that this is a group of people who still really enjoy playing together. That is an achievement in and of itself. What’s more, they are still making music that’s exciting at times and always interesting. ‘The Guillotine’ will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the album that introduced me to them. After that, I started devouring their back catalogue. ‘Four Bibles’ got a little pedestrian and post-punk revivalesque in places for my tastes, but this record sees the band correct those leanings. It might not be as heavy as fans of their first four albums would like, but the anthemic, almost shamanic quality to the gang vocals on some songs takes it into some pretty dark territory, and the three-line attack delivered by guitarists Bob Davis, Will Pearce, and Chris Summerlin on songs like ‘A Trembling Rose’ and ‘Tied in a Firing Line’ is undeniably impressive. ‘Dances/Curses’ sees Hey Colossus consolidate their status as the UK’s best psychedelic noise rock band. It is released via Wrong Speed on November 6th and you can pre-order it here.