The global pandemic put Mike Patton in a state of inertia alien to his way of living. As a self-confessed workaholic, he released records with Tētēma, Tomahawk and Mr Bungle during 2020 and 2021, but he pulled out of Faith No More’s 2022 world tour due to mental health difficulties. An interview with Rolling Stone this year revealed that his doctor signed him off with agoraphobia. He’s not the only one who had to overcome adversity in Dead Cross. Guitarist, Michael Crain, caught Covid-19 and then later found out he had advanced cancer, for which he is now in remission. Original vocalist Gabe Serbian died earlier this year. The fact we have a new record to follow up on the group’s 2017 self-titled debut is reason enough to celebrate after so many setbacks.
It may be only thirty-two minutes in length, but album number two is a busy affair with more energy than a hyperactive simpleton under the influence of amphetamines. Let’s be clear: Dead Cross have always been a hardcore band. Dave Lombardo’s presence on drums sets expectations for a thrash metal record, but Michael Crain’s background in Retox is hardcore punk. You can hear The Circle Jerks and Void in his playing style on opener, ‘Love Without Love’, where Patton takes a moody noise-rock affair built from distorted bass and turns it into an unsettling burst of interior monologues and screeching roars. One moment he whispers down the microphone like a hyperventilating pervert, the next sees him open his lungs in the outburst of a tuneful projection. As proven in his collaboration with Dillinger Escape Plan twenty years ago, a record with Mike Patton on vocals soon becomes a plaything for his multi-personality performance art. You might not even notice the early 1980s proto-metal and punk leanings of ‘Animal Espionage’ or the no-nonsense hardcore of ‘Ants and Dragons’ as your ears gravitate towards his baffling changes in identity.
We must ask how much of this record would win our applause if anyone other than Mike Patton grabbed the microphone. ‘Nightclub Canary’ sounds like a throwback to 1980, just as trying to capture the glory of analogue in the days of digital makes you wonder if this is nostalgia under another name and dressed up as art-school integrity. ‘Heart Reformer’ is a heavier version of The Dead Kennedys, but the way they start with something close to blast beats at the beginning and end with a sinister minor-chord sequence will make your mouth water. Hardcore seldom sounded as strange as this in the early days of Minor Threat and Siege, but that’s what you get with a Mike Patton record and a guitarist who draws from The Jesus Lizard as much as D.R.I. for inspiration. ‘Strong and Wrong’ could grace any modern noise rock experiment, but Lombardo’s rapid drum patterns transport it to the visceral club shows of the Washington DC scene.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how this album turns into a metal record for the last third of the listening experience. Most of you reading this will grit your teeth upon hearing standout track, ‘Christian Missile Crisis’, which indulges in a self-referential nod to Lombardo’s legendary former band with the exact riff to the chorus of ‘Angel of Death’ as its main hook. Patton’s reptile screams and muscular vocal theatrics in the first verse will get your pulses racing in no time. Listen how Crain ditches the tinny hardcore overdrive for a thicker crunch of metallic riffage straight from the Slayer heyday with two separate breakdowns, including one at the end that resonates with a spooky effect as Patton explores the grisly register of his vocal cords. The one minute and forty-five seconds of crossover thrash on follow-up, ‘Reign of Error’, are just as invigorating. “I see you, but I wouldn’t want to be you/ You see me, but you wouldn’t want to be me,” Patton croons in a child-like lullaby voice on closing track, ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Faith No More fans will recognise a sequel to ‘Separation Anxiety’ in the mood and vibe, but this is the closest we come to living Patton’s two years of mental health struggles among the energetic hardcore and unpredictable time changes.
Dead Cross did not form with Patton in mind when they started, but his unique personality elevates their music from enjoyable hardcore nostalgia to something with a mind of its own.
Release Date: 28/10/2022
Record Label: Ipecac Records
Standout tracks: Love Without Love, Strong and Wrong, Christian Missile Crisis
Suggested Further Listening: Big Black – Songs About Fucking (1987), Tomahawk – Tonic Immobility (2021), The Jesus Lizard – Goat (1991)