Dead Cross play traditional hardcore with metal elements. Simple stuff, really, except under the surface it’s far from simple. Vocal acrobat Mike Patton growls, spits, bellows, shrieks, and unleashes varying degrees of primal and supernatural noises throughout this self-titled debut. Rejoining Patton is bandleader Dave Lombardo, a drummer whose name is introduction enough. Providing the stringed beef is Justin Pearson (you may know him from the hyper-weird The Locust) and Michael Crain. Dead Cross is a supergroup, of sorts, playing a style of music close to each member’s angry heart. All the Patton-isms are featured here: the nonsense lyrics, the gibberish sounds, the medley of singing styles. Lombardo, too, sounds like he’s back in the 80s, playing with joyous urgency. Supergroups are destined to fail though, right? Just like Fantomas sucked, right? Are we about to take a trip into the rotten realms of half-arsed nostalgia, or have Dead Cross constructed something freshly re-invigorating?
I’m happy to announce the latter, though I can see reception to this album swinging either way. Patton’s voice is the most striking feature on a first listen, however, the rest of the band provide strong dosages of aggression and swagger. In terms of production, Dead Cross have chosen not to replicate the muddy DIY sound of 80’s hardcore bands. In fact, the album sounds excellently crisp and dynamic. Riffs mostly circulate hardcore vistas, with Pearson and Crain providing stabs, slashes and bludgeoning leads that frequently morph and shift into either heavier or punkier territory. Of the ten songs, eight have a run-time of under three-minutes and each runs into the next like blood through veins: with smooth, life-affirming force.
Particularly strong are the surf-like grooves of “Obedience School” that breakdown into shards of rapid string-bends, slides, and licks. “Shillelagh,” riff-wise, is completely unoriginal, yet possess a head-banging neck-breaker energy that feels genuine, however, the album as a whole never falls into parody, keeping structures and riff-patterns fresh enough to avoid sounding forced or soulless. It’s not just pure pastiche though: their cover of Bauhaus‘ post-punk classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is a dark, echoing number reminiscent of doom as it ominously lumbers through; similarly, “Gag Reflex” has an initial sparse, down tuned tone before deteriorating into a rage of noise and grind. Closer “Church of the Motherfuckers” carries a tribal rhythm somewhat reminiscent of the hardcore tones of Neurosis as the bass cranks and pangs with menace, vocals take a sludgy weight, and drums circulate like a frenzy of deranged sharks.
I’ve always been a fan of Mike Patton and he sounds better than ever on this 27-minute rampage. Restraint and tact have been fired into the distance as Patton lets his lungs burst and throat shred. Segments of clean vocals in the style performed with Faith No More make cameo appearances, as do juts and segments of spoken word weirdness. Though it’s the hardcore vibe to Patton’s vocals that are the strongest here, and their unrestrained vibrancy provides grit and power to an album that possesses a lot of force already. The manic quick-fire vocals in opener “Seizure and Desist” morph from punky mid–range rasps into cartoonish high-pitched screams. “Grave Slave” is similarly versatile with Patton decorating the simple grooves and heavy breakdowns with primal exclamations and strange spoken–word interjections. Likewise, snappy clean interjections demanding we ‘destroy everything!’ in “Idiopathic” are placed between ping-pong vitriolic snarls and bellows.
Patton is loose and unstructured, sounding as if he wandered into the studio midway through a two–week bender and performed vocals in an unconscious deliriousness, and this serves the album brilliantly. Lyrically — from what is discernible — it’s all mostly nonsense: in “Shillelagh” he declares that he ‘took a pee and it came out red/took a dump and it came out dead/skinhead,’ in “Gag Reflex” he whispers “tampax” at random intervals, and throughout anti–church lines combine with provocative sexual imagery. Lombardo is all hands-on deck and his drumming is another highlight. Picture him sweat-drenched at his kit, blistering away with technical fills, grimacing as he taps away at his hi–hats, and providing constant oomph to the sound. The snare sounds somewhat quiet, which is a minuscule shame, but for the most part, the drums are full and interesting. And perhaps, on reflection, they do try to jostle somewhat for center-stage with Patton, however, the album is meant to be an auditory firework display, so their expressive force works.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this one. It clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously yet doesn’t breakdown into parodic, uninspired, or boring territories. It’s manic, aggressive, diverse (for the style) and catchy. With an excellent mix to boot, too, this super-group have proven super impressive.