A supergroup is often anything other than super; in fact, they’re generally a terrible exercise in folly. But Dead Cross seem to have got things spot on. The original line up featured Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Fantomas, and of late Suicidal Tendencies), Justin Pearson (The Locust, Retox), guitarist Michael Crain (Retox, Festival of Dead Deer) and frontman Gabe Serbian (The Locust, Retox).But with the album recorded Serbian left the band, so Mike Patton (name a band, the Faith No More man’s probably been involved somewhere) was bought in to re-do the vocals.
Patton’s late addition might explain the band’s singularity of purpose. Where he and Lombardo once explored a vast array of musical soundscapes with Fantomas, and The Locust were given to inventive sonic assaults, Dead Cross is basically a straight up adventure into Hardcore. The result is an album that clocks in at under 30 minutes and doesn’t just sound dead cross, at times it’s positively furious. Over the course of the album’s half hour duration there are frequent blasts of intensity, anger and bang on political commentary, but not the sonic experimentalism that might be expected from the band’s constituent parts.
Still, they stick to the Hardcore template fairly rigidly, and in that context, Dead Cross is a perfectly exciting and vibrant album. Seizure And Desist mentions “pimps and johns and patriot scum” which in the current climate, is bang on the money. Lombardo’s brutal drumming is present and correct and calls to mind his Slayer days, whilst Patton, in the space of barely two minutes performs vocal acrobatics that range from nuanced harmonies, pig squeals, furious roars, and those quirky little ticks that he throws in from time to time that can’t help but raise a smile. Idiopathic touches on propaganda and corporate greed whilst throwing bizarre imagery and notions of revolution into the mix. It’s a frantic blast and that zips past in the blink of an eye, Lombardo’s ramming speed drumming is breathtaking as are Patton’s howls and occasional forays into melody, most notably when he finds just enough breathing space to croon “destroy everything”.
Destroying everything is pretty much at the heart of this album, which addresses the state of the world and sees almost nothing worth saving whilst noting that almost everything is covered in shit. Obedience School is yet another blindingly quick track, this time covering a quick lesson on the food chain, with Patton stating “your missing pets are on my plate”. The message isn’t particularly subtle, but it does hit home. Shillelagh sees the band taking the form of an wooden Irish cudgel and mercilessly beating their targets with a flurry of scatological gusto and old school punk riffing. Their cover of Bela Lugosi’s Dead is perhaps something of a dead end; it’s perfectly good fun, but it doesn’t really add anything to the album – if anything, it derails the band’s unrelenting attack by slowing the pace considerably.
Thankfully things get right back on track with Divine Filth, which draws comparisons between the corporate and the military world. With lines like “Chew the vote, win the race, electoral eats the puppet states”, it’s fairly clear what Grave Slave is addressing. When the line “white claws on the fuckin’ pigs” makes an appearance, it’s a perfect summation of historical and more disturbingly, current events in the USA. There’s a fair amount of toilet humour on display here too, just in case anybody was worried that it was getting a bit too political. Yet even with those elements thrown into the mix, it doesn’t dim the song’s message at all.
It’s here too that the band’s sound starts to morph somewhat, embracing the sharp turns and darkened ambience of Dillinger Escape Plan (another band that Patton has collaborated with). Gag Reflex explores similar avenues by backing off the onslaught for a moment and allowing Patton to croon in an oppressive cavern of noise. The Future Has Been Cancelled keeps the political messages coming. “Hate your country!” bellows Patton, before counter-balancing it with “LOVE!”, summing up the turmoil the Land Of The Free in a mere four words and then asking “where does the flagpole end and the arrogance begin?” Answers on a postcard for that particular poser.
They wrap things up with Church Of The Motherfuckers, another song that deviates from the hardcore template for a moment, favouring screes of guitars and haunted vocal harmonies. The subject matter, that of child abuse within religious institutions is not exactly ground that has not been covered before, but perhaps this is one of the most telling things about Dead Cross. Not only does it’s sound reference the past, but its targets and subject matter are the same as those addressed by the original Hardcore bands. The world has come a long way since Dead Kennedys released California Uber Alles (for example), but as recent events have shown time and time again, racism, corporate greed and political wrangling are still serious problems in this apparently new and forward thinking world. Sometimes a blast of righteous hardcore fury is exactly what is needed.