London/Somerset experimental scuzz unit Hey Colossus – not to be confused with Hot Colossus, the latest nom de guerre assumed by friend-of-Thumped and all round decent fella Gaz LeRock – have been knocking around for a decade now in the noisier end of the noise rock spectrum. Now an eight-piece ensemble (or rocktopus, if you will) of indeterminate membership, they’ve put their years of experience over albums, splits and live shows into record number 10, Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo.
This new one harkens back to the lucky dip of feedback-laden ragers, crunchy doom workouts and noisy ambient passages last heard on 2008’s Happy Birthday, rather than the extended dirges that comprised 2011’s effort RRR. And they’ve moved up in the world production-wise, swapping the murk of old for a higher fidelity sound that creates space for each instrument in the mix (and there are a lot of them). But more than that, Cuckoo is brimming with proper ‘songs’ from start to finish.
On opener ‘Hot Grave‘, keyboard lines shimmer above and at odds with the band’s newfound muscle and swagger, multiple guitar lines chugging and riffing away with vocal rants that recall Tad Doyle at his screamiest. If RRR lacked hooks, this thing’s feckin’ festooned with them. Yes, their stock in trade is still sludgy as ever, but no longer as meandering as their recent records have tended to be – and refreshingly so. Maybe that’s down to the addition of new drummer Tim Cedar (frontman of the late, lamented Part Chimp) whose tight, solid playing brings a focus and a structure to compositions that might disintegrate in other circumstances.
Anchored by some seriously bowel-bothering bass, ‘Oktave Dokkter‘ echoes the Melvins at their creepiest, crawling like that scary girl who slithers out of the TV in Ringu. It’s just one riff repeated for seven minutes, but these guys know how to build the tension as the volume and aggression increase with every lurch forward. Completing the side, snatches of lines from ‘My Favourite Things’ make up the lyrical content of ‘How to tell time with Jesus‘, where the band let their psych rock freak flag fly. They do well to warp the space-time continuum and make 10 minutes feel like three, as manifold voices and melodic guitar figures drift in and out of phase, though it does leave one wanting for a Kawabata Makoto or someone to step in and lay down some insane soloing.
Side two leads with the earth-moving doom fest ‘Leather Lake‘ that segues into the malevolent humming guitar/synth swarm of ‘English Flesh‘, where the driving motorik beat runs off a cliff into beautiful clouds of feedback. And for the closer ‘Pit and Hope‘, the octet allows some indulgence with a drifting stoner prog dirge that still remembers to crest and break at the right moments.
Simultaneously looking to the past (it’s their most song-based collection since first album proper Hey Colossus II) and thrusting into a sharper, high-definition future, Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo is the work of a band with a reanimated love for what they do. Does the cleaner production take the edge off? If anything it’s sharper, as it crystallises the Hey Colossus sound into a stronger, more precious commodity. That’s more than a fair trade.