Though led by a fiery performance from Mike Patton, this Slayer/Retox/the Locust supergroup doesn’t shed much new light on the players involved.
On paper, the matchup of Mike Patton with former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, the Locust/Retox bassist Justin Pearson, and Retox guitarist Michael Crain suggests creative possibilities galore. When Patton recruited Lombardo for his avant-grind outfit Fantômas alongside Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne and Mr. Bungle co-founder Trevor Dunn in the late ’90s, the world finally got to hear Lombardo’s range in settings that were previously unheard of for a thrash drummer. 2004’s Delìrium Còrdia album, for example—a continuous, hour-plus, through-composed piece of music—leaned closer to modern classical than metal or even experimental noise.
Likewise, the Locust and Retox have employed a similarly modernist sense of composition within the tight confines of grindcore and hardcore, respectively. On 2007’s New Erections, for example, the Locust went so far as to frame grindcore as a cheeky but powerful reincarnation of jazz fusion. So it follows that the self-titled debut by Pearson, Crain, Lombardo, and Patton under the name Dead Cross would crackle with irreverent verve. Yes, the music this band makes is undeniably fun—Dead Cross bounces along with so much pep you could almost consider it a party record. But they stick to a fairly straight-ahead take on thrash and hardcore that doesn’t shed much new light on the players involved.
Dead Cross hits on all the elements you’d expect. Lombardo’s signature double-bass drum volleys and warp-speed oompah-oompah-oompah beat are both in full effect right from opening number “Seizure and Desist,” as Patton uses his now-familiar arsenal of throat acrobatics, half-singing and half-shrieking in a pointed indictment against “pimps and johns and patriot scum.” Patton makes reference to “hedge-fund ghosts,” office buildings that blow up, and a “paperwork explosion,” presumably his way of addressing the lack of official accountability and truth in a climate of rampant malfeasance. The thrashing tempo then switches gears, ending in a 40-second ambient noisescape that sounds something like digitized seagull calls echoing over a vast space—the type of thing you’d expect from Pearson and Patton.
As sonic window-dressing, the end of “Seizure and Desist” certainly whets the appetite, but it also highlights what’s missing most in this supergroup. For whatever reason, Pearson and Crain chose not to weave more strangeness into the main body of the songs. Crain in particular seems to restrain his ability to make the guitar speak in a language of exotic, video game-influenced sounds à la Melt-Banana’s Ichirou Agata. Had he pursued that direction with the same relish as he indulges his inner riff-monger on Dead Cross, he could have added a whole new dimension. Along those lines, it’s refreshing to see Lombardo return to his punk and hardcore roots after recent stints with Suicidal Tendencies and the Misfits. The breakdown part on “Idiopathic,” for example, conjures images of mosh pits at old D.R.I. shows, even though it only lasts 13 seconds. But Dead Cross makes it all too easy to forget that it was Lombardo’s inimitable sense of swing that was so crucial in vaulting Slayer to thrash metal’s elite upper echelon.
You’d expect this particular bunch of musicians to push each other out of their respective comfort zones just a bit more—even if Patton came aboard after the music was already finished. Patton is a prolific John Zorn-like figure with an irrepressible appetite for pushing boundaries via collaborations with Merzbow, Rahzel, Kaada, Dan the Automator, the Dillinger Escape Plan, and Zorn himself (to name just a few). He turns in a fiery performance across the record and other than the cover of Bauhaus’ goth classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” he also laces each song with timely socio-political commentary, matching the music’s freneticism with requisite disgust for the abuse of power.
Known as a “shit terrorist” during Faith No More’s heyday, Patton revels in scatological imagery on Dead Cross. But he also shows a sense of concern we haven’t quite heard from him before, which helps the album act as a reassuring, if musically safe, tonic for the woes of our time.