Oh boy! Another Mike Patton project! Well, yes and no.
Although Dead Cross wasn’t conceived by Patton, it’s hard not to evaluate – or even listen to – this band without considering him and his many, many other projects. Like most music he’s involved with, the Faith No More frontman’s vocals and his widespread, unhinged style(s) are front-and-center here. This is not to minimize the other members of Dead Cross because they, too, come with their own styles and skills established over several years of playing in handfuls of bands. Dave Lombardo (most famously from Slayer, but most relevantly from Fantômas, another Patton project) plays drums, Mike Crain (from Retox) plays guitars, and Justin Pearson (also from Retox, The Locust and Head Wound City) contributes bass. Across all members, this band has more pedigree than a dog food aisle at the grocery store.
Dead Cross sounds like what might happen if Fantômas got a lot less ambient and experimental, and more focused on a smaller set of ideas. The result is an eclectic, dissonant meat grinder of an album with Patton’s trademark vocals tapdancing on top of the enjoyable mess that’s made.
(Fair warning: the first two videos in this review are NSFW, the one for “Obedience School” especially as it depicts cockfighting in the Philippines on a brutal, graphic level — viewer discretion advised)
The album starts off with distorted emergency broadcast noises, which are fitting because the whole album sounds incredibly urgent and demanding of your full attention. Patton’s cadence here ranges from clear-as-day harmonic singing to indecipherable, shrill shrieks and everything in between. The guitars snap from grindcore-esque quickness to punk chords and riffs that fit seamlessly with the rhythm section. It’s like the vocals and guitars are entrenched in a ceaseless battle to be the wildest element of the music on each track. The drums are serviceable Dave Lombardo™ style and the bass, in typical hardcore punk fashion, is just audible enough to notice it keeping rhythm under the vocals and guitar. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some truly flashy moments on the album.
The punky guitar riff and drumming in the intro of “Obedience School” is reminiscent of the Mutoid Man album I reviewed earlier this year. The tone of the song is punctuated by yelps of ‘food chain!’ and Lombardo’s signature thrash drum beats honed over his years of tenure in Slayer. The chorus of ‘Your missing pets are on my plate’ is sickeningly infectious. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is eerie, with Patton adopting an ambiguous accent and a lower, bassier register in order to tell us that the Hungarian-American actor most famous for playing Dracula in the 1931 eponymous film is, in fact, dead.
It’s this song and the next two, “Divine Filth” and “Grave Slave”, which form the apex of Patton weirdness that will be familiar to his fans even though it eludes clean definition. The former track of the two has the most off-kilter vocals of the whole album, but appealingly so. Multitracking on the vocals creates an uneasy feeling for the listener. One thing I’ve always loved Patton’s singing for is its ability to make abrasion palpable and catchy; “Divine Filth” accomplishes this in spades. “Grave Slave” is a ripper of a track. The opening vocals are the shrillest they’ve ever been, to the point where you will need a lyric sheet if you hope to understand them. The guitars are noisy as hell, reminding me of The Dillinger Escape Plan. This is the shortest track, coming in at just under two minutes. What this track lacks in coherence, it makes up for in hyper-compressed energy.
“Church of the Motherfuckers” is the closer of the album, and what a note to leave on. The track starts out with buzzing, pulsating guitars and reverb-heavy howling in the background before Patton starts crooning to the listener (or perhaps his congregation?). The crooning gives way to screaming and then to authoritative spoken word to tell us about the aberrant place of worship the song is titled after. The vocal pacing on this track is great, resembling the highs and lows of a roller coaster. The drums are fill-heavy, never resting and unpredictable. The guitars create a melody with Patton’s voice in between frantically shredding through some high, banshee-like notes. In the final minute, everyone gives their loudest stuff and the album trails off just as quickly as it came in.
A consistent lyrical theme throughout the album seems to be religion. The lyrics (at least the ones I could understand) mention a god, church, heathens, allusions to an apocalypse and other themes adjacent to the topic. It’s like Dead Cross set out to create a perverse, depraved take on the subject. Sonically, the album matches that theme very well. This is the type of album you listen to when you’re in the mood for hectic fun that’s varied and complex enough to hold the attention of extreme music aficionados and palpable enough to be pull in people on the other side of the spectrum, especially if they’ve already been primed on Patton and his idiosyncrasies. With that said, if this band intends on continuing on and producing more music, I would like to see them get even wilder, maybe experimenting more. The mix is also pretty muddy in areas and threatens to bury the bass as a lot of bands of this style tend to do.
I like this album, a lot. Its dissonance is reminiscent of a heavier band like Wormrot (and of course Fantômas and Retox). I highly recommend it to fans of Mike Patton that want to hear him on a more focused project. I apologize if my harping on Patton has been grating, but as I said before, it’s very hard to not focus on him. He is arguably the best part of the music, and the overall sound begs comparison to his other projects due to similarities and the fact that not only are these four gents all labelmates from various bands on Ipecac Recordings (Patton’s own label), but that Patton and Lombardo previously collaborated in Fantômas. That familiarity really informed the sound of this band. The pedigree I mentioned earlier creates a breed of heavy music that may not be uniquely theirs, but is still a great demonstration of what a modern supergroup can be in terms of melding styles and remaining complementary to each other. Give this a shot; even if you don’t like it, the most you lose is 27 minutes of your time!
Notable Tracks: “Obedience School”; “Divine Filth”; “Church of the Motherfuckers”
FFO: Fantômas, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Retox, Mike Patton in general
Dead Cross comes out August 4 on Ipecac Recordings and can be preordered through a number of sites all accessible through here. Follow the band on Facebook and check them out when they embark on a US tour starting August 10 in support of the album!