There’s honestly no telling how well a supergroup will work out. What may sound like a match made in heaven on paper may very well suffer from a severe lack of chemistry when brought into the real world, just as a combination that may sound like an awkward fit in principle may just come to fruition seamlessly in execution. This can surely be applied across the board, but when it comes to metal supergroups, there arguably exists a lot more leeway than amongst collaborations across other genres, with even metal musicians known for following very different stylistic principles being more than able to locate the common ground between them, as relates to their shared sense of brutality, experimentation or angularity. This year alone has witnessed records from Iron Reagan, Ayreon, Vallenfyre and BALFOR released to generally warm receptions from both critics and fans, and even if one finds themselves largely lukewarm towards any of these projects — as I found myself to be towards Iron Reagan’s Crossover Ministry — one can at least appreciate that the artists involved conveyed a clear understanding of one another’s strengths as musicians and songwriters. Of course, every once in a while, there will surface a heavy metal supergroup such as Adrenaline Mob, whose album from earlier this year, We The People, ironically displayed nothing at all resembling a perfect union of its members, but many will agree that, taking into consideration the likes of ABBATH and Bloodbath, the overall standards for metal supergroups is relatively high. As such, upon the announcement of a newly-founded heavy metal supergroup in the form of Dead Cross, consisting of infamous eccentric Mike Patton of Faith No More fame, as well as legendary thrash metal drummer Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits and Fantômas, and guitarist Mike Crain and bassist Justin Pearson of Retox, with the latter also currently active as a member of both The Locust and Head Wound City, hopes seemed generally high amongst the metal and hardcore punk communities that their debut, self-titled record could yield some fascinating results.
Unquestionably, any band with Patton grappling the microphone is sure to produce something interesting to say the least, and although the singer’s notorious idiosyncrasies as a vocalist have lent themselves to some clumsy collaborative projects in the past, his contributions to groups such as mathcore icons The Dillinger Escape Plan and funk metal avant-gardists Mr. Bungle have bestowed the world of experimental metal with some of its most legendary and influential releases. With Lombardo having recently shifted his focus back onto the world of thrash metal, following a stint of lending his skills behind the kit to everyone from jazz rock innovator John Zorn to experimental hip hop turntablist DJ Spooky, the prospect of the prized percussionist pledging some of his time to an entirely new metal project seemed promising. Indeed, Dead Cross’ debut undoubtedly strikes some similar thrash and crossover thrash tones to the works of Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies, just as Patton’s artistic voice can be heard through the jagged experimentation brought to the table not only through his wild performances, but also through some of the record’s rather obtuse compositional ideas, through which Pearson’s musical roots, as a member of grindcore oddity The Locust, also become apparent. The end product, therefore, whilst clearly being inclined to many of the same stylistic touchstones that are commonly referenced by the heavy metal, thrash metal and hardcore punk acts from whom Dead Cross are likely taking cues, nevertheless carves out somewhat of a definitive musical identity for the band through the application of some of their own experimental tendencies. Whilst Dead Cross’ first full-length effort can surely be given credit in this regard, however, there are most definitely some points of improvement evident in the outfit’s stylings as they stand now. Of the more individual and peculiar songwriting sensibilities featured throughout the tracklisting, not every experimental endeavour is executed as effectively as those that comprise the album’s most innovative and interesting moments, just as there are also points wherein Dead Cross could do more to differentiate themselves from the stylistic model around which their sound is based. Overall, however, although somewhat of a sum of the parts that one would typically expect to encompass such a group, Dead Cross’ debut release undoubtedly touches on some compelling ideas that, if expanded on with more focus and refinement, could afford the band a refreshing and novel sound to potently distinguish themselves from their metal and punk peers.
Being only 10 tracks long with a total runtime that falls short even of the 30-minute mark in true hardcore punk style, Dead Cross only have a limited amount of time to convey the idiosyncratic intensity for which they seem to be striving and, at the best of times, Patton et al. are more than capable of cramming as much explosive experimentation into a single two-minute long song as is humanly possible for a punk outfit. Although not a single one of the band’s members is at all a stranger to experimental territory across the metal and punk maps, many of their previous avant-garde undertakings have been confined to more progressive weirdness than the lightning-fast hardcore onslaught that comprises much of this record’s brief existence, as it runs circles around the listener. Taking a track such as Idiopathic as an example, its squealing guitars, furious drum kit gymnastics and Patton’s schizophrenic caterwauls are light years apart from the ska-infused circus music of Mr. Bungle’s Quote Unquote or Patton’s interchanging staccato rapping and nasal crooning on the rap and funk metal infusion of Faith No More’s Epic. Indeed, although Dead Cross’ stylings play more towards the territory of Crain and Pearson’s output in more punk-orientated outfits like Retox and The Locust, the definitive musicianship of both Patton and Lombardo nevertheless shines through rather forcefully across much of Dead Cross, making for some electrifyingly kooky moments. Drawing attention back to Idiopathic, the fact that the flurries of sawtooth drum fills and discordant guitar incidentals man the helm whilst Patton offers the listener the odd moment of respite from his multiple personality vocal performances, which swing between unstable vibrato, waspish shrieks and straight-up, hardcore punk yells, veers the track away from being too cluttered with headlong insanity to convey even an ounce of coherency, instead striking an impressive balance between each member’s individual input into the cut’s relentless lunacy. The same could be said of Shillelagh, whose propulsive, hardcore punk groove is supplemented with freakish outbursts from Patton, whilst the punctuated chugging of the refrain is lined with some eerie, howling backing vocals that maintain a semblance of off-putting sinisterness even during this comparatively tamer passage. Of course, whilst the grating guitar stabs and Patton’s seeming impersonation of Chip King from The Body on a cut like Grave Slave or the electronic fuzz, doom metal dirge and haunting hymn-like backing vocals of Gag Reflex comprise some of the most captivatingly crazy and cockeyed moments in the tracklisting, that’s not to say that such displays of sheer strangeness overshadow some of the most orthodox forays into hardcore punk. Of course, the extent to which tracks like Seizure and Desist, Divine Filth or The Future Has Been Cancelled can be characterised as conventional is made far more limited upon the bombastic entrance of Patton’s erratic vocals, but the instrumentals of these songs follow a more familiar formula that would potentially even satisfy many a punk purist. If anything, I would argue that the balance of breakneck blast beats and propulsive hardcore grooves with Patton’s provocative hoots on Divine Filth or his triumphant, yet spine-chilling, harmonies on Seizure and Desist is what makes Dead Cross’ style of experimental punk so thrilling. Indeed, when the band is willing to straddle the line between more traditional hardcore punk, heavy metal and thrash metal stylings and their own abrupt blazes of uncompromising creativity and erraticism, they pen some of the record’s most digestibly eccentric moments.
However, there are nonetheless a handful of moments across the album wherein Dead Cross seem to struggle to strike the same balance that makes many of the tracklisting’s best songs so forceful, and a significant portion of this cycles back to Patton’s cohesion with the rest of the group. The singer most definitely acts as the primary driving force behind many of the fieriest and generally most potently offbeat moments across Dead Cross, but to say that his vocal acrobatics always stick the landing is most definitely debatable. The closing track, Church of the Motherfuckers, for example, despite brandishing some grippingly gritty guitar fuzz and pummelling percussive work, sees Patton attempt a dirty, devilish snarl towards the beginning of the cut that comes across as a bit too forced, whilst his borderline spoken-word delivery atop the compellingly creepy tangles of guitar during the pre-chorus are simply drowned out and are missing the sense of character that he usually brings into the fold without fail. This also leads into a rather glaring issue with the songwriting across the album, that being that Patton and Lombardo’s contributions to the compositions are usually far more apparent and integral than those of Crain and Pearson. Whilst the guitarist and bassist unequivocally shine at certain points in the tracklisting, with Church of the Motherfuckers being one of the better examples, many of the more orthodox hardcore punk cuts witness both Crain and Pearson simply go through the motions for the most part, with the bizarreness of much of the record stemming almost entirely from Patton and occasionally from Lombardo’s frenetic drumming abilities. Even songs that are perfectly tight and cohesive from a compositional perspective, such as Seizure and Desist or Divine Filth, could have surely been taken to another level entirely were the guitarist and bassist more willing to weave their own unique whiffs of peculiar licks and deviant phrases into the mix. As such, whilst no song on Dead Cross is markedly bad by any means, there nevertheless seem to be numerous gaps left open wherein some truly fascinating melodic ideas could have been inserted as to elevate Dead Cross’ stylings to an unrivalled musical plateau that is entirely their own.
For their first time coming together as a group, Dead Cross’ debut is undoubtedly a strong indicator that Patton, Pearson, Lombardo and Crain have captured a great deal of chemistry in a studio setting and could most definitely capitalise on this on any future output, as to fully unlock the potential of their peculiar punk and metal stylings. Although each member could likely go slightly further to bolster the strengths of their collaborators, particularly in the case of Crain and Pearson, the idiosyncrasy captured on tape here proves the group more than capable of playing to one another’s fortes, as is shown by the cogency with which Patton’s vocal freak-outs are interlaced amongst the broader songwriting styles on certain tracks. Whilst it would be far more promising were Crain and Pearson to have translated a much louder and more convincing voice in the compositional process, and although Patton’s vocal acrobatics could do to be at least somewhat more grounded at times, there is unequivocally a defined chemistry to Dead Cross’ performances across the album that bodes well for further refinement of their sound and the unleashing of a style that is as singular to them as it is endearingly strange.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10