Every Record I Own - Day 243: Coalesce Functioning On Impatience
Some context for folks out there that follow this blog but might not know my backstory. At the end of the ‘90s, there was this little niche scene of progressive metallic hardcore bands that gained a fair amount of traction in the underground. Some of the bigger names in this community were Cave In, Converge, Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch (my band), and Coalesce.
Coalesce first popped on my radar in 1995 when their 002 EP showed up in my inbox at my college radio station. I saw them play a show at The Velvet Elvis in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood around that same time. They were thrashing around on stage so violently that they barely seemed to be playing music. The bass and guitar were more like percussion instruments, and rather than focusing on nailing notes, they seemed more intent on beating the shit out of their equipment while they flailed and jumped around the stage. It was loud and violent, and what they lacked in discipline they made up for knuckle-dragging sonic brutality. 002 reflected that. It was heavy and relentless, though at times it felt like every instrument was emulating a kick drum—all pure chest-pounding force but not much textural, tonal, or melodic variation. The fact that the songs were predicated on odd-time signatures and dizzying song structures made it even harder to grasp onto anything resembling a hook. It was exhilarating on a primal level, but I rarely made it through all three songs.
A year later Botch put out The John Birch Conspiracy Theory 7″. The title was a reference to the rise of right-wing politics in hardcore. One Life Crew had just put out an album with anti-immigration lyrics, hardline vegan bands were coming out as pro-life, and there was a growing Christian hardcore scene. The John Birch Society was a crazy far-right fringe group, so we figured we’d lampoon all these conservative hardcore bands by naming a record after an even nuttier ideology. Coalesce’s singer Sean Ingram took offense to this and wrote a pretty scathing review of our record in a fanzine, taking aim at the notion that hardcore had to be socially progressive. It winds up that Coalesce had some pretty conservative viewpoints, and I heard rumors later that the band had even considered signing to a big Christian record label but backed out when they were told they wouldn’t be allowed to use any swear words in their lyrics.
It was a disappointment. I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation at the time, and reading reactionary judgements of my work from my peers within this supposedly progressive community made the coming out process that much more difficult. Much like 002, I tried to get into their debut album Give Them Rope but my heart wasn’t in it, and I rarely made it past more than a few songs before my attention wandered and I put on something else.
Functioning On Impatience was their sophomore record, and it was a much more varied and dynamic album. I was still on the fence about the band due to their rumored behind-the-scenes politics, but it was pretty hard to deny the power of the album’s opening track “You Can’t Kill Us All”. Around this time Botch played with Coalesce and The Get Up Kids at The Velvet Elvis and the dudes were all super friendly and excited to play together. Coalesce drummer James Dewees would wind up joining The Get Up Kids shortly afterwards and a few years later Botch would wind up fist-fighting frat boys alongside them at a bar in Pittsburgh, with Dewees getting a few teeth knocked out in the process.
It’s hard to really figure out my feelings on Coalesce at this point. They were our peers, so I kept up with their records, but I also felt that there was an ideological divide between our bands. But I still cross paths with Dewees every few years and he’s always a total sweetheart. Maybe we’re all a little older and wiser these days, so maybe it’s time I revisit the Coalesce records in my collection.