Though the signature sound of newly rekindled Kansas hardcore unit Coalesce — crushing grooves, mathy rhythms, and the trademark tracheal attack of vocalist Sean Ingram (shown left) — stands on its own as a pummeling wall of sound, many fans weren’t turned onto the group until Hydra Head Records released a seven-song cover disc of Led Zeppelin tunes in 1999.

The album, titled There is Nothing New Under the Sun, gave listeners a new way to enjoy songs such as “Heartbreaker,” “Black Dog,” and “Whole Lotta Love” — with Jimmy Page’s rock riffage turned heavy as hell and Ingram’s low-register lungs giving Robert Plant a growling sonic makeover.

So even though Coalesce released their defining full-length album, 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening (Relapse), later in ’99 before intra-band turmoil put the kibosh on them, it comes as no surprise that Hydra Head had always hoped to reissue the popular out-of-print disc. What few knew, however, is that some eight years later the re-release would become reality along with a full-fledged reembodiment, tour, and seven-inch record of new material.

Coalesce now has what must be considered its most stable lineup with the addition of drummer Nathan Richardson, Jr. and return of original guitarist Jes Steineger, both of whom joined Ingram and bassist Nathan Ellis (The Casket Lottery guitarist/vocalist) for a pair of “last” shows in 2005. The group, which made preparations to play the subsequently canceled 2005 Hellfest, then began writing said new material and even kicked around the idea of operating under a different moniker.

“We didn’t want the pressure of the record label or the fans,” Ingram said of the possible name change. “But the more we talked about it, the more it just [became obvious]. It felt right. It wasn’t going to be a different spirit. It was the exact same people.”

Ingram had tried in earnest to please those fans and push forward in 2002 without Steineger. But the national tour and short recordings that followed weren’t the same, and given the alleged cocaine addiction of former drummer James Dewees, the guttural singer opted to focus on his business ventures with screen-printing operation Blue Collar Press and music distribution company Blue Collar Distro.

People are quick to dismiss scripture…they want to reject it right away, and I know where that comes from because I watch the news too.

Everything changed, however, when Steineger, who lives in Chicago, agreed to the performances in ’05. As the longest running member of Coalesce other than Ingram, his presence wasn’t only necessary — it was vital. The band also cannot overstate its benefit from Richardson, who has spent tours of duty with melodic rockers The Casket Lottery and The Appleseed Cast. His inclusion steadied the rhythmic foundation of Coalesce, around which Steineger and Ellis have concocted their devastating doses of rock.

But the band’s rebirth also follows a spiritual transition to Christianity for Ingram, who struggled with his sense of identity after the band ceased functioning earlier in the decade.

“Coalesce isn’t a Christian band,” he said while stating the group’s religion-free agenda. “It was never about [advocating] whatever soapbox people think you’re a part of, whether it’s [being] straightedge, vegan, Christian, Krishna, Mormon — whatever weird things we’ve been into in the past. But as someone who studied scripture, I had to find a balance. Basically, I’m just narrating my life and the things I felt and saving them for posterity in a song.”

At the same time, though, Ingram is well aware of the travails that go with any sort of Christian lyricism.

“It’s a real slippery slope,” he said. “People are quick to [dismiss] scripture or anything with the Apostles. They want to reject it right away, and I know where that comes from because I watch the news too. They have every right to reject the Christian right.

“I rebelled very hard against the straightedge and vegan cultures, which consumed hardcore when Coalesce was active. And to say, ‘Okay, now I’m a Christian guy and I have to fill people in on these Christian ideas’ — that was never me. I always approached Coalesce as a personal conversation rather than a pamphlet that somebody can reference or quote.”

But regardless of personal beliefs, Coalesce’s aptly titled, self-released seven-inch, Salt and Passage, is the band at its meter-counting, neck-snapping best. Its two songs, “Son of Son of Man” and “I Am This,” don’t simply resume what the band last created; they raise the bar to a new level of achievement with metallic guitar tones that are more reminiscent of The Jesus Lizard or Shellac.

“(Jes) wanted to use less distortion,” Ingram said of the new sound. “His whole idea is that if a riff sounds bad ass on an acoustic guitar, then it’s a bad-ass riff. If you have to hide behind distortion, then it’s not a good riff and it’s not worth doing — at least the way he wants to write.”

Steineger’s work on Salt and Passage — cause for instantaneous head banging — sounds as though he had half a decade’s worth of bad-ass riffs pent up. The songs last for less than seven combined minutes but are utter proof that Coalesce is back to form.

In addition, Ingram pointed out that the group’s newfound functionality isn’t all that could conjure thoughts of the late ‘90s.

“If [ex-drummer] James Dewees had his act together, was clean and focused, and wanted to play drums, there would be two drum kits on stage,” he said. “We would find a spot for James Dewees in a heartbeat. He just got out of rehab and appears to be clean. I saw him and it was like seeing old James.”

Ingram went on to recount an in-studio dispute with Dewees, who is the man behind Reggie and the Full Effect and now a touring member of My Chemical Romance, relating to “Black Dog” while originally recording There is Nothing New Under the Sun.

“James was like, ‘All I can think of is some nasty stripper with a bucket of KFC sticking her crotch in my face.’ He didn’t say anything about it until he had to actually go and play the drum tracks in the studio.”

Thankfully, the rest of Coalesce prevailed, and “Black Dog” made its way onto the cover disc. The reissued album, which Hydra Head released at the end of August, includes an assortment of other out-of-print songs covering the likes of Black Sabbath, Boy Sets Fire, and The Get Up Kids.

It’s currently uncertain whether Relapse Records, which put out 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening, will fund future releases. But Coalesce did work on material during its August tour, and if the newest manifestation doesn’t burn out — far from a certainty given the band’s history — there should be some searing creations on the horizon.

– Story by Scott Morrow, photo by Thomas Park

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