From Motörhead-inflected hardcore to post-rock atmospherics, Coliseum has covered a lot of ground over the past 10 years. But if there’s one thing the stalwart Louisville trio has learned after 2010’s sprawling House With A Curse, it’s how to edit. On Sister Faith, Coliseum’s fourth full-length, frontman Ryan Patterson and crew pare their sound to the core. That disc’s 13 songs rarely veer from a strict—and sometimes stiff—interpretation of Patterson’s jittery, jabbing riffage and hoarse-throated doom-saying. The focus is intense; the songs, for the most part, follow suit.
Where Sister Faith falls short is in the full use of its resources. Keyboards pop up throughout the album, although they’re rarely audible. Patterson’s Fugazi-and-Hot Snakes-inspired guitar is an angular, bracing change of pace from the heavier sounds the band has trafficked in before—but it also borders on monotonous, especially considering how drummer Carter Wilson and new bassist Kayhan Vaziri padlock themselves to a steady, chugging rhythm. Sister Faith’s least-utilized elements, however, are its guests. Ex-Sarge leader Elizabeth Elmore (last heard on The Hold Steady’s Boys And Girls In America), J. Robbins of Jawbox (who also produces the disc), Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh, and Wata of Boris all contribute guest vocals, but they’re barely discernable. Only Wata’s sporadic flashes of eerie, echoing guitar seem to justify the roll call.
Coliseum’s keen editing eye may have relegated these X factors to the background, but overall it serves the group well. Sister Faith opens and closes with a barrage of songs that bust in, do damage, and self-destruct. “Last/Lost” is a prickly, barking attack that armors a tender look backward at youth, one eaten by regret; “Black Magic Punks” siphons a bit of anthemic fuel from Queens Of The Stone Age. It’s the middle of the album, though, that truly grips. Dynamically sweeping and impeccably segued, the five-song sequence from “Love Under Will” through “Everything In Glass” sees Coliseum opening up—incorporating everything from subdued, brooding balladry to Killing Joke-esque chill to old-school noise-rock. It’s clear Patterson put a lot of thought into Sister Faith, but a looser hand on the reins might have allowed for a more precarious, thrillingly unstable balance between post-hardcore and the world beyond.