In 2015, the multi-national post-punk supergroup Tau Cross captured our ears and hearts with their self-titled debut, blending the crustiness of classic British punk rock with the soul of Killing Joke and the nigh-shamanistic vocals of former Amebix frontman/bassist, Rob “The Baron” Miller. So effective was this mix that their debut found its way to my #2 slot of my Top Ten(ish) list of 2015. Two years later, and with a slight line-up change that sees Miller handing his bass duties to Tom Radio (Frustration), the band returns with their eagerly-awaited follow-up, Pillar of Fire. Have they tempered their formula to a fine sheen, or has the magic worn itself out after burning ever so bright?
While similar in style and quality, the biggest difference between Pillar of Fire and the debut is in the pacing. Whereas the debut exploded out of the gates with primal energy and vigor, Pillar prefers a slower, consistently-growing burn. In fact, the album doesn’t really find its groove until the third track, the explosive “On The Water,” which could easily be the album’s anthemic answer to the debut’s catchy “Hangmans Hyll,” complete with awesome final chants and the heavy, driving rhythms displayed by Radio and Voivod skinsman, Michel “Away” Langevin. That’s not to say the first two tracks are negligible, but rather they help temper the fire that slowly builds and intensifies as the album progresses further.
And man, does it ever intensify. From “On The Water” on forward, Tau Cross humbly reminds the listener that the power of the chord, the beat, and the voice, when in perfect harmony, can stir powerful emotions. “Pillar of Fire,” one of the few somber ballads on here, hits you straight in the heart with lyrics like “I’m looking down at a body on a table, looking up/I’m looking down at a body on a table, giving up.” Elsewhere, Miller’s sometimes acidic, sometimes somber, but always passionate vocals deliver amazing lines with both venom and soul like during “The Big House” (“Somebody’s son, these boxes!”) and the fastest track on the album, “RFID.” And in what I hope is a Tau Cross tradition of closing out the album with the most somber cut, “What Is A Man” reminds me of a more Celtic “I Ain’t No Nice Guy” by Motörhead, complete with bagpipes and one of Miller’s best vocal performances to date. And like Motörhead, when Tau Cross rages, they go for the throat and refuse to let go. But when they go for the heart, they also refuse to let go, and with Miller’s almost sage-like delivery and the beautiful guitar work of Andy Lefton and Jon Misery, you wouldn’t want them to.
That’s not to say that the album is all roses. The production has some brickwalling and distortion issues, especially when it comes to Langevin’s cymbals. Elsewhere, during “Bread and Circuses,” Miller tries to aim for a higher register during one of the passages that should have been better left on the cutting room floor. Also, some of the songs do feel like they outstay their welcome, with “Bread and Circuses” and “Seven Wheels” being chief among them. That said, the album, like its predecessor, grew on me with each listen, but while the debut was a case of love at first listen, Pillar exemplifies what a grower entails, with each spin unearthing nuances that I didn’t experience before. As such, Pillar stuck with me more as the week progressed, and the songs dug their barbs deeper into my psyche.
Like many of you out there, I miss Amebix tremendously, but with Tau Cross, not only is the spirit still there in the voice of The Baron, but it comes with generous heaps of maturity and a dash of honest introspection. Like Amebix, Tau Cross rages, but with tempered intensity and a controlled, focused fire. May that fire continue to burn bright, and the travels always continue.