Hey Colossus have many hard rock contemporaries, but have been suspiciously absent from broader conversation for the duration of their nine album career. They don’t have a Wikipedia article. Their presence in their home UK has always greatly outsized it elsewhere. Their records In Black and Gold and Radio Static High, secretly two of the smartest and best records of 2015, made few end of year lists. Why the band aren’t brought up in the same conversation as Electric Wizard, Sleep, or even Ty Segall is beyond this writer.
There’s a chance I’m getting all of this wrong, that they’re more than just a secret go-to for when I need a heavy fix. This would be in keeping with their general pastiche of totally kicking ass. Metal fans of the brazen drug abuse of Amon Duul II or the sludge pioneers of eighties black metal could find a nice home in the amounts of attention and creativity Hey Colossus add to their tones.
On top of everything, the band have been experimenting with each new release. The Guillotine is no exception. These recordings are crisper and more lyric-driven then their feedback-heavy past. To the record’s simultaneous likeability and demise, the process has become a little transparent. There are amazing songs on The Guillotine, but much of the fire of the band’s earlier work is missing.
‘Experts Toll’ was an excellent first taste. Taking cues from Radio Static highlight ‘Hop the Railings’, the band found a vocal comfort zone in the creeping build of the tune. The only difference is that ‘Experts Toll’ is less occupied with atmospherics. It’s the fourth of eight tracks presented here on the album, but is the last notable one in the running order. Speaking of atmospherics, there’s little to be found on the back half, but in a conversely negative way when compared to ‘Experts Toll’. ‘Englishman’ is over-encumbered by its flimsy lyrics. “We’re gonna call the boys at Scotland Yard/ and drive around this town in black tile cars,” group-sings the band on the title track over a bass dirge that goes on several minutes too long. Where past iterations would have been more interested in the power of their instruments, this Hey Colossus wants us to hear the songwriting. Sadly, the songs on the back half would sound much better as instrumentals. I miss the incoherent wailing of their 00s output.
The Guillotine remains a somewhat worthy listen via its front four tracks. ‘Honest to God’ is as wonderful an intro as they’ve ever put out. ‘Back in the Room’, despite its similarly loose lyrical themes, is a 7-minute marathon. With a melody that’s Swans-like in repetition, it builds on itself and begs to be played loud. ‘Experts Toll’ is the same way, but in a much tighter package. The two songs are split by ‘Calenture Boy’ which sounds like a cleaned up version of the slower songs on 2011’s RRR. It’s the ideal four-song sequence.
And that’s really all there is to say about The Guillotine. If the title track wrapped things up nicely, I’d mention it. If there were other lyrics on ‘Englishman’ that clarified the one above, I’d mention them as well. If the band come to my town, I’d love to see them (the rhythm section slays, after all). Sadly, these ifs are just ifs, and these songs didn’t need the nice, crisp production they were given.