Ah, the return of the musical octopus that is Mike Patton. Perhaps among the hardest working band members on the globe, in recent years he has been relinquishing all responsibility to follow his giddy heart, no less than with Dead Cross.
Patton’s beloved surf-rock-show-tune sideshow Mr Bungle once dabbled in thrash metal way back in 1986, re-releasing that The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny demo as a studio album a couple of years ago. Employing Anthrax’s Scott Ian alongside the bombastic Trey Spruance, and Slayer’s beatmaker Dave Lombardo, the latter also features on this Patton thrashy passion project. The frontman described Dead Cross’s 2017 debut thus: “I’m not some young tough guy trying to prove a point anymore. For me to make a record like this, it’s entirely a musical adventure. I just think it’s fun, and it makes me smile a lot.”
Following that raucous introduction, the quartet received the unfortunate news of guitarist Michael Crain’s cancer diagnosis, a tough process of pain and unknowing that works its way into the more emotionally-charged sophomore effort II. Tracking the record through Crain’s chemotherapy, it’s a raw and splendid display of anguish forced into every note, riff and cymbal, co-produced by the master of vented frustration Ross Robinson.
Patton’s whispers, screams and chants get everything underway on the gothic, almost black-metal-tinged Love Without Love, while Crain’s guitar lurches through panic chords. Only a drummer like Lombardo could manage the pace and ferocity of the rest. And you best bet they could still dish this out live without effort. As running arpeggios drift into the rollicking ghost train of Animal Espionage, which is certainly a Halloweeny experience, Heart Reformer instead funnels their thrashier tendencies before familiarly off-the-wall Fantômas tropes find themselves in the outro’s lead-up.
Bewilderingly titled Ants And Dragons takes bass tones to the depths, Patton does his greatest midnight crooner impression, then hell lets loose. For all the obscurity and nonsense at face value (what’s a Nightclub Canary?), Christian Missile Crisis aims fire at “NRA-holes” and organised religion, stated by bassist Justin Pearson. The ex-The Locust man brings his shrill vocals to the game, alongside his grindcore and powerviolence background for all those fast bits. Speaking of which, Reign Of Error is the snarling punkier younger brother of the former tracks, down to the pun-driven title.
Lombardo’s tribal toms kick off closer Imposter Syndrome, a tornado of tremolo notes and speed preceding an eerie soundscape fronted with Patton’s trademark vocal acrobatics, all stacked like a delectable layer cake. Never has Patton sounded quite the same across any side-project, ironically the master of his craft discussing the titular theme. The only constant is change.
While Patton and co. exhibit harcore and metal in all its raw energy through a more non-serious guise in their (now) middle age, II carries with it an admirable weight following news of personal affliction, and a world in turmoil. II may have provided therapy of sorts to Crain—“[they] got me out of bed and running into the studio every day to get it all on tape”—but it can also be a welcome release to everyone in tough times. And that’s the kicker we all need.
For fans of: Mr Bungle, Power Trip, Suicidal Tendencies
‘II’ by Dead Cross is released on 28th October on Ipecac Recordings.
Words by Elliot Burr