Black Cross Hotel – Hex Review

Is there anything better than a horror-themed album? I think not. But, being the mentally unstable King Diamond fan that I am, I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone. But you won’t find soaring falsettos and soloing as old as Steel on Black Cross Hotel’s debut record, Hex. Instead, you’ll discover Killing Joke-inspired industrial metal mingled with punky vocals and synths that you’d swear came from a John Carpenter movie. This unique sound comes from a special band. Black Cross Hotel is the brainchild of The Atlas Moth’s Andrew Ragin and his brother-in-law, Marcus Eliopulos (Stabbing Westward). Rounding out this interesting crew is the mighty Sanford Parker on bass, the vocal talents of Whipped’s Dee DeEmme, and The Atlas Moth’s Mike Miczek on drums. This bizarre combination of Chicago elite gives you electronic buzz and chunky guitar tones that paint a picture of ’80s horror movies from DeEmme’s non-binary perspective.

Throughout the album, you’ll step into the characters that gave us old guys nightmares as children. For instance, DeEmme’s lyrics explore Halloween from the confused and sickly mind of Michael Myers in “Shape” and “Fugitive.” The former as he stalks and contemplates his kill and the latter during the haunting chase scene in Halloween II. “Hitchhiker” relives another Jamie Lee Curtis movie as we follow Elizabeth Solley through fog and death. Other moments involve the trapped patrons in Demons, the goosebump-inducing mental ward in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and how the alien in The Thing must have felt frightened, alone, and trying to survive. The lyrics alone intrigued me, but there’s more to Hex than just heavy-metal movie trivia.

While Killing Joke greatly influences the music, DeEmme’s vocal approach is far from that of Jaz Coleman’s. Gruffer and more forceful, DeEmme’s voice adds a punky attitude mixed with the horror-themed character of Rob Zombie. But as you’ll find when you explore Hex, that’s a very simplistic description. The variation of vocal styles (with or without effects) helps to keep each song fresh each time you spin the album. For example, the opener “Shape” and closer “Hitchhiker” give off Zombie vibes. But where “Shape” is more straightforward, delivering a punky gruffness, DeEmme provides interesting vocal approaches in the closer. As the guitars, bass, and keys evolve along its six-minute mist trail, so do the vocals. They morph and evolve, building with the instrumentation to the climactic conclusion. Not to mention, the keys on “Hitchhiker” feel like the atmosphere of The Fog.

But it’s not all about the vocals here. The songwriting is unique in each song—never falling off the rails or exploring directions that don’t mesh with the theme. “Siren” uses spooky keys and somber guitars to retell a story that haunted my dreams for years. The vocals follow the instrumentation through foggy effect-laden moments and then erupt into a heart-wrenching chorus. The underrated 1985 movie, Demons inspires the title track. And like the characters in the film, this song screams desperation and feels like a thousand running feet. The chorus is even bigger than the one in “Siren” and drips with intense melancholy. But the album’s masterstroke is “Windows,” named after the character from The Thing. This song slithers up and down builds, intensified by the heartbeat rhythm of the bass. And if you thought the chorus on “Hex” was big, wait until you hear the one in “Windows.”

Hex is an addictive little album that stays on track throughout, delivering haunting atmospheres, powerful riffs, and memorable choruses. It’s a fantastic blend of Killing Joke, industrial-era Samael, Stabbing Westward-esque riffage, and punkish attitude. While “Hitchhiker” might overstay its welcome by a minute and the Misfits’ “We Are 138” collaboration with Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) might be unnecessary, Hex is this year’s greatest surprise. So much so that I can’t put it down. Give me ’80s horror, give me crunchy riffs, give me John Carpenter keys, give me passionate and powerful choruses. Here’s one for list season.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Self-Released
Releases Worldwide: November 11th, 2022

« »