Some NBA fans feel the game has become boring to watch. The gamesmanship of swapping elite players between teams until you reach a god-tier lineup has given the whole affair a rigged feeling – what’s the point of even having a league when Golden State can just pay Kevin Durant to come on board and crack skulls? The outcome is assured. Is it even fun to watch when there’s literally nothing at stake?
It depends. Alfred Hitchcock’s ideology was that suspense is more exciting than surprise. The key difference being, when you know an event is going to happen, the enjoyment of it comes from the tension of waiting for when that release will happen. In the NBA, that tension hasn’t felt like much fun.
The superteam-ification of heavy metal and punk, however, has gotten interesting. Supergroups used to be lame (Damnocracy, Damn Yankees, etc.), mostly because of Ted Nugent, and in some contemporary instances, they still are. But where rap culture has gone the way of fully embracing the Branded Content of “Feat.”, heavy music, by contrast, has embraced its inner strange. It started with Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston of Dysrhythmia joining Gorguts and thereby forming a wholly unique, better version of that band. It graduated to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato teaming with Nine Inch Nails’ Joshua Eustis to create The Black Queen. And now it’s Mike Patton playing in a thrashy punk band with the dudes from Slayer, The Locust, and Retox.
Formed somewhat haphazardly by Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo – tour dates and studio sessions were allegedly booked before a note of music was written – Dead Cross has made headlines recently for the late-addition of Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantômas cult icon Mike Patton on vocals. My interest in the band was initially piqued because of guitar/bass duo Michael Crain and Justin Pearson, who you might think of as the mathcore version of Hufnagel/Marston. Their band Retox has been one of the most exciting acts in extreme music over the past few years (definitely check out Beneath California), but they’ve been pretty underrated by both heavy music fans as well as metal’s critical intelligentsia.
What did this quartet turn out? Dead Cross is a fast, weird, noisy batch of punk-bursts. In some ways it feels like the West Coast response to Patton’s collaboration with The Dillinger Escape Plan, Irony is a Dead Scene. Less cerebral, more sun-baked, classic. It runs the gamut from riff-rock (“Shillelagh”) to spazzy thrash (“Idiopathic”) to anthemic horror-punk (“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”).
Sonically, the whole thing is perfectly, roughly designed – Patton’s signature vocal layers provide the unexpected twists while Crain & Pearson know how to control gross noise better than anyone in the biz. And, you know, Dave Lombardo is Dave Lombardo. He’s one of the best to ever do it, and this album captures some magic from him that we haven’t seen in a while. Slayer fans are sure to be satiated by the chromatic-line-over-fast-beat tunes like “The Future Has Been Cancelled,” while those who are more inclined to Patton spaz-prog are gonna lean towards album highlights like “Gag Reflex” and “Church of the Motherfuckers” (which both, rest assured, still feature Lombardo on blast).
Despite Dead Cross having two of the most iconic and identifiable musicians in rock music history, Crain is the one who steals the show. Despite being a hardened vet at this stuff, the dude is playing like a speed-addled 20-year-old: mixing spaz-out effects with Hetfield down-picking, Weinman chaos, and single-channel ’80s punk. It’s the total opposite of modern, Misha Mansoor, Dave Davidson guitar playing. Crain’s sound is fucked-up and oft-incomprehensible. It rules.
This is a weird album by a weird combination of musicians. In a sense the sound is fully formed, yet it definitely has the feeling of coming together pretty quickly in the live room. Given the amount of single-tracked MacBook Metal and “technicolor” Pitchfork metal out there these days, that makes this a fun breath of fresh air.
Dead Cross’ eponymous debut is out August 4th on Ipecac. Pre-order it here.