Whether it be crooning away on the salacious Lovage album, unleashing a vocal firestorm via Fantomas or concocting the sort of creepy pop album that would happily sit at number one in hell with Peeping Tom, Mike Patton has never sat on the musical fence and his involvement with Dead Cross (in which Patton replaced former singer Gabe Serbian) feels like a natural, almost inevitable collaboration. A supergroup, Dead Cross features the combined talents of Patton, drummer Dave Lombardo (long a colleague of Patton’s in Fantomas), guitarist Mike Crain (retox) and bassist Justin Person (Retox, the locust) and describe themselves as a hardcore punk outfit. Although the band has more in common with the musical insanity of Fantomas and early Dillinger Escape Plan than the surging, streetwise punk of Black Flag or Minor Threat, you could argue that the don’t-give-a-fuck attitude has its lineage in the hardcore movement and the lyrics certainly spill a good deal of socio-political blood. Produced by Ross Robinson and mixed by Mike Balboa, the band’s self-titled album is an angular beast of awkward riffing, thunderous percussion and Patton’s unhinged vocalisations.
Kicking off with ‘Seizure and desist’, a mire of static and noise gives way to a white-hot blast of atonal riffing underpinned by Lombardo’s torrential outpouring of percussive noise. Patton, whose ability to craft melody even in the midst of a sonic white-out, veers between percussive yelps and a smoother vocal style that helps to bring order from the chaos swirling around him one minute, only to add to it the next. ‘Idiopathic’ is no less insane, and is also marked out as the only song to feature vocals from the band’s former vocalist, Serbian. It is here, with Mike’s barely coherent guitar and the paired vocals that the band’s claim to being a hardcore punk band holds strongest, not least because of the ferociously pointed lyrics which skewer the modern ‘fake-news’ phenomenon, only for ‘Obedience school’ to send the senses spinning out of control with handclaps, disjointed vocals and the sort of angular riffing that recalls DEP’s Patton-guesting ‘Irony is a dead scene’ EP. ‘Shillelagh’ initially hits all the hardcore buttons only to head off down a wind-tunnel of weird, ‘ghost town’ esque melodies and lysergic noise, and so it falls to a meaty cover of Bauhaus’ ‘Bela Lugosi’s dead’ (also covered by Sepultura), to bring some semblance of normality back to proceedings thanks to Lombardo’s tribal rhythms and Justin’s creeping bass lines.
Staccato and full of hate, ‘Divine filth’ is punk-infused hyper thrash delivered like a diamond bullet to the temple, and yet it’s also surprisingly catchy with Patton delivering a chorus that verges on the singalong. It’s an album highlight and, if the solo does slither into the land of pure madness, there’s always Lombardo’s impossibly tight drumming to bring it all back on track. ‘Grave slave’ is similarly brilliant, with elastic riffing and, arguably, Patton’s most straightforward performance on the album drawing the listener into Dead Cross’ disturbing world. The nihilistic menace of ‘the future has been cancelled’ sounds like Faith no More’s ‘King for a day’ put into a cement mixer and played at warp speed whilst the aptly titled ‘gag reflex’ is a near epic at almost four minutes in length. Slowed to a deadly crawl, the band wrong foot the listener, neatly segueing into a relentless riff that threatens to tear the moorings of reality down. It leaves only the echoing horror of ‘church of the motherfuckers’ to close the album, with layers of noise and a hate-fuelled vocal that stands alongside Faith no More’s ‘Jizzlobber’ as one of Mike Patton’s most versatile and astonishing performances. With the lyrics uncomfortable to say the least, as they tear into the economic-might of organised religion juxtaposed with the horrific allegations of sexual deviancy, it’s a fitting ending to an album that does not once stray away from skewering socially uncomfortable themes.
Not for the weak willed, Dead Cross may not sound like any hardcore punk band out there, but their very perversity is what aligns this album more closely with the spirit of punk than any number of three-chord merchants out there. Short, sharp and unfeasibly violent, Dead Cross successfully captivates the listener for the duration of its short run time before leaving you enervated and alone, shaken by the intensity of it all. Mike Patton undoubtedly draws the attention, but listen closer and you’ll feel the nervy intensity of Mike Crain’s riffing and the pummelling might of Dave Lombardo, surely one of the planet’s finest drummers. In short, this is an ensemble piece that shatters the senses in a manner of which most hardcore bands can only dream. 9