Foto: SAW

Dead Cross Is as Aggressive as Slayer and as Weird as Fantômas

Bryan Rolli

Stream the debut from Dave Lombardo and Mike Patton's new hardcore band, which captures the fury of the genre’s forbearers.

Foto: SAW

Five weeks before they embark on a two-month North American tour in support of their eponymous debut album, all four members of Dead Cross have yet to rehearse in the same room together. It's not their fault—they're just too busy juggling a myriad of other projects. Drummer Dave Lombardo, in particular, can't even think about the upcoming tour until he finishes his month-long European stint with 80s crossover icons Suicidal Tendencies.

"Nailing down Dave is like—I want to say like Trump, but not really, 'cause you can nail down Trump on Twitter!" singer Mike Patton says with a laugh. "We have to literally plan out every day. 'Okay, what day do you get back from Europe? And when do we start rehearsing?' So of all people, he's the busiest. But this is what we signed up for, and we'll make it work."

Patton's no slouch himself. The Faith No More and Mr. Bungle frontman is scoring a Netflix adaptation of Stephen King's novella, 1922, and working on a self-described "easy listening" album with French composer Jean-Claude Vannier. Fantômas, his alt-metal side project in which Lombardo previously drummed, played its first show in seven years at the end of June, opening for Tool. Factor in the schedules of Retox guitarist Michael Crain and Retox/Locust bassist Justin Pearson, and you've got four guys who need a spreadsheet to plan their next meal, let alone plot a national tour.

But if the members of Dead Cross are chronically overworked, their debut suffers none for it. The 10-song LP unleashes a blitzkrieg of gut-punching blast beats, angular guitar riffs, and maniacal, larynx-shredding vocals. Out August 4 via Ipecac Recordings, Dead Cross was produced by nu-metal savant Ross Robinson, and captures the unbridled fury of the hardcore scene to which the band owes a huge debt.

Yet for all its vitality, the album—and band—almost didn't happen. Lombardo had booked studio time with Robinson in late 2015 to cut a record with another band, Philm. Those plans crumbled at the last minute, and Robinson invited Lombardo to work on another demo with Crain and Pearson. Locust drummer Gabe Serbian joined the fold for vocal duties, but had to quit midway through recording.

Lombardo's assistant suggested inviting Patton to sing instead. "Immediately I said, 'No, he's busy!'" he says. "He's doing soundtracks for Netflix shows, and he just finished with Faith No More. Who knows if they're gonna be touring? He's busy. He's doing his own thing. And besides, it's a hardcore band. I don't know if Patton would want do that."

But Patton had already caught wind of Dead Cross and texted Lombardo about releasing their debut on his label, Ipecac. Not long after, he received a reply from the drummer asking him to sing on the album. "It took a second for me to think about—like, wow, do I really want to do something like this?" Patton says. "So two seconds later, I said, 'Yes, I'll do it.' And they sent me the music they'd recorded, and I did my best with it."

Patton wowed his bandmates with the chaotic, mostly gibberish vocal demos he recorded alone in his basement. They had no idea what to expect from the singer, but gave him free reign to reinterpret Serbian's tracks. "It echoed back to when I joined Faith No More, to be honest," Patton says. "Here I was, joining an established sort of thing, and I had to do it on my own, with a real independent sort of focus."

As far as rock music tropes go, "aging headbangers reclaiming the sound and fury of their youth" is hardly revelatory, but damned if Dead Cross doesn't pull it off. Save for a muscular, mid-tempo rendition of Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead," every song on the album goes straight for the jugular. Lombardo, Crain, and Pearson recorded instrumentals live and without a metronome; you can practically see the beads of sweat flying off their faces as they fight to keep up with one another.

"This is the heaviest album I've ever recorded," Lombardo says. "It gives me an adrenaline rush. Where some people might get that kick off of maybe doing some kind of drug or something, I get off on playing onstage and playing this style of music. It's euphoric. It's like sprinting or doing a quarter-mile as fast as you can."

"Sprinting" aptly describes Dead Cross, which blazes by in just 28 minutes. That's one minute shorter than Slayer's seminal thrash classic, Reign in Blood—and 12 minutes less than what the band is contractually obligated to play for a headlining gig . "When we're doing a tour, they need us to play 40 minutes," Patton explains. "We're scrambling to figure out what the fuck else to play! So we're writing new music just to fulfill our contract. It's pretty funny." He says their live set will be accordingly minimal: "There's not gonna be some crazy light show or production of any kind. It's gonna be four fucking guys onstage just slicing heads off."

The absurdity of cutting a no-frills hardcore record at this age is hardly lost on the 49-year-old vocalist. "I think it's funny that I'm making a record like this when I'm almost 50, but also, it kind of makes sense," he says. "This shit—that kind of energy, that kind of flow—has been in me for a long time. So I think this is probably the most direct way that I've expressed it."

Lombardo found solace in the album's blinding intensity, as the band recorded in the wake of the Bataclan terrorist attacks in Paris. "We didn't restrain ourselves in any way," he says. "'Oh I can't do it, it's a little fast.' It's like, 'Fuck no! Go!' You feel the pain, but I think when you're playing that hard and that fast, and you're pushing the limit, it transcends into music. You hear it."

Patton, meanwhile, leaned on another divisive world event for his lyrics: the rise of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. "The whole climate around the election definitely was inspiring," he says. "Just the hysteria and the sense of panic and fear, I think affected a lot of the way I wrote this record."

Consider lead single "Grave Slave," which contains one of the album's most unambiguous couplets: "The electoral eats the puppet states / chew the vote, win the race." "I'm usually not that specific," Patton admits. "And that song's about, to be honest, it's more about drug dealers being grave diggers. So I took the political thing a little bit, but I don't know. What are you gonna do?"

Other lyrics require more unpacking, such as the menacing, inflammatory indictment on "Idiopathic": "We are all terrorists and fags / and niggers and spics and fuckin' dirt-bags / sketchy-cracker white trash / and we're coming / we comin' to get your ass."

"Well, you know, it's egalitarian racism," says Patton, who sounds aghast that journalists can get their hands on the album's lyric sheet. "You know how it goes. With friends, there's a vernacular that you use all the time—and I'm not talking about white friends. I'm talking about everybody. And everyone laughs and everything's cool. But all of a sudden, I use it in a hardcore song and it's a fucking problem? No. No it's not. This is the way people talk, and this is also important to realize that.

Photo by SAWA

"I'm not targeting a Mexican or an African-American or anything else," he continues. "It's all of us. And we've all got our own little, you know, slang words, and pitfalls, and whatever you want to call it, and ways that we're discriminated against. I mean, shit, I think we've all felt that in some weird way. So I thought it was good to put that in there. Who knows? Maybe I'll get blasted for it. Who fucking knows?"

If anything, Patton can rest assured that Dead Cross avoids the dilution that plagues so many supergroups—a classification he rejects anyway. "This isn't a supergroup. It's just something we're doing, and it just so happens that a few of us have played in other bands," he insists. Lombardo echoes his sentiment: "We are Dead Cross, and it just so happens that the guys that are in the band have a history of creating music. And I think that just adds to the magic of the band."

Dead Cross has no plans beyond its upcoming tour, and given their rigorous schedules, all four members have to take things one day at a time. Still, they're treating this project as a full-time job, rather than just a side gig. "I've had the new band experience plenty of times, and sometimes, it just sort of peters out. I hope this one doesn't," Patton says. "We really like this, and if we didn't, it would just be a recording project and not be a touring project as well. Now, it's kind of like we're almost a real band."

Bryan Rolli is a real boy on Twitter.