Back in 1994, guitarist Jes Steineger, bassist Stacy Hilt, drummer James Redd and singer Sean Ingram began experimenting with a radical hybrid sound. They started with grindcore metal's drumbeats, which come so close to reaching the speed of sound that they occasionally vanish into a blur indistinguishable to human ears. They added vocals so raw that Ingram must have had to gargle with salt water after every verse. And they incorporated insane time signatures, tempo hiccups and riffing patterns that even the most ardent prog-rock disciple couldn't chart. Ultimately, Coalesce created an exponentially extreme attack that turned unprepared onlookers into Scanners victims. Noting the group's mind-blowing potential, metal mavens Earache Records agreed to release the band's three-song demo 002, then paired Coalesce with grind titans Napalm Death for a split EP.
Locally, the Kansas City-based quartet supported its releases with legendarily loud performances at now-defunct all-ages cubbyholes such as the Rhumba Box and the Daily Grind. The hardcore and metal scenes had not yet merged, so Coalesce drew roughly half the crowd it can command today.
"All of the subcategories have morphed into one," Ingram says. That includes emo, a relatively new genre into which Coalesce crosses over through its membership (Hilt plays in the Casket Lottery, as does his one-time replacement Nathan Ellis; drummer James Dewees is a Get Up Kid) and its lyrical content (literate songs such as "Sometimes Selling out Is Waking Up" and "Burn Everything That Bears Our Name" appeal more to bookworms than bullies). "We're the heavy band that it's cool for emo kids to like," Ingram says. "We've never had a tough-guy mentality or image."
Coalesce's current label, Relapse, home of its most recent release (1999's 012: Revolution in Just Listening), doesn't exactly deal in tough-guy groups, but it does offer grimly baroque black-metal ensembles and gorecore stage-blood splatterers. Coalesce has yet to tour with delegates from either of these categories, though it did have a revelatory experience while touring with Nile, Neurosis and Unsane.
"That was the first time we ever saw guys put a fan in front of them so their hair blows when they play guitar," Ingram marvels. "We'd never heard of such a thing, and we were laughing really hard at it. We didn't realize they were serious."
Follicle-freeing fans are child's play compared with Slipknot's full-scale circus, and persistent rumors have Coalesce opening for that truly insane clown posse. "There's just no fact to that at all," Ingram clarifies. "I'd love to open up for them, but it's totally false."
Still, the fact that Coalesce, a band once resigned to playing for modest crowds at makeshift venues, could even be proposed as an opener for a platinum-selling attraction points out how much progress its brand name has made during the group's hiatus from stages and studios.
Dewees, Coalesce's second drummer (after Redd's departure to attend school in Baltimore), became the Get Up Kids' keyboardist several years ago. He also assumed the role of Reggie, the charismatic costumed frontman of the Get Up-offshoot Reggie and the Full Effect. These high-profile positions attracted interest in his prior projects. Likewise, the Casket Lottery's regional appeal had Midwestern fans tracing the family trees of Hilt and Ellis. And Ingram created thousands of instant fans during his one-shot appearance as singer for Dillinger Escape Plan, the one existing band that comes close to approximating Coalesce's meticulously calculated chaos. After the Ingram Escape Plan show, as it has come to be known, the vocalist reconvened Hilt, Ellis (now playing guitar) and Dewees to discuss a reunion show. (Founding member Steineger parted ways amicably with the band, contrary to persistent Internet-fueled claims. "No controversy or dirt there," Ingram says.)