Dead Cross rally around friend, band together to create vicious, cathartic chaos with mauling ‘II’

Photo by Becky DiGiglio

Record and music come together in various different ways under myriad circumstances, and surely each album you experience has a story behind it. The one we have today is a tale of friendship, health struggles no one would ever want to face, and the strength it takes to make something come true that you’ve formed inside your head.

“II,” the new record from Dead Cross, is one that sounds chaotic, pummeling, and abrasive, and without knowing what went into the creation, you’d likely just think it’s a group of heavy music vets releasing their frustration and making noise. Yet, this album is a bigger deal than that. Guitarist Michael Crain was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer in 2019, and to help cope, he gathered his powerhouse bandmates—vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), bassist/vocalist Justin Pearson (The Locust), and drummer Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer)—and got to work on these killer nine tracks. This was all going on while Crain was suffering from the nausea and physical demand of recovering from treatment, with that agony driving his work and the band rallying around their friend as they made music that pays homage to each of their adventures into the art they chose. That makes this beast even more powerful.

“Love Without Love” kicks off with guitars scuffing and Patton whisper singing, one of his most threatening tools. The chorus is simple but ominous, and later on, everything goes wild including Patton, who ends this with one of my favorite lines of the year: “Like Billy Joel, I’ll be moving out.” “Animal Espionage” trudges as spacey guitars lurk, and then the pace suddenly knifes with dangerous energy. The vocals numb as the guitars stretch into space, and all cylinders fire dangerously as Patton taunts, “Wish I was one of them, so I could blend. Pig champion, champion!” “Heart Reformer” blasts with punk energy and speedy vocals, warping your psyche as it makes its move. The playing swims in weirdness, slurring and staggering, manic energy pounding your congealing wounds. “Strong and Wrong” is crazed and echoey, Patton using the megaphone gimmick to make his vocals stranger and more detached. The chaos snaps as rants slash, and thrashy fire buries you under still heated ash.

“Ants and Dragons” takes off with the vocals blistering and manic energy pouring like diesel. There’s a strange, nightmarish vibe and Patton jabs, “Who is the monster in the room? Two choices: Me or you,” a question with an answer that isn’t very calming. The playing charges and smashes, squeals pierce your brain, and everything burns off in a squall. “Nightclub Canary” launches in relentless power that slashes at your mind, convulsive energy making bile charge up your throat. Things then slink into trashy alleyways before the fires are lit again, and maniacal howls deface you over the mangling finish. “Christian Missile Crisis” has Pearson taking over on vocals as the track torments and punishes. “I’m not the creep that you know, I’ve got a mental problem that you borrow, watch me paint it black and fucking take it back,” Pearson lunges as the energy combusts, safety is an option taken off the table, and a psyche wash swallows everything whole. “Reign of Error” is a 1:46 bruiser than enters, delivers snarling riffs, chugging speed, and scarring shouts, then it leaves before you know what hit you. Closer “Imposter Syndrome” has Lombardo firmly behind the wheel, his drums pacing and driving, the rest of the mind fuck forming around him. “It takes one to never know one,” Patton wails repeatedly on this track, fucking up your mental space, exposing the lies you tell yourself. This is all amid a monstrous pace that chews on your last nerves and sizzles out, dragging you behind.

“II” is a massive, satisfying, electric chapter in Dead Cross’ story, and the strength, nausea, and torture it took to create this thing is astounding, a total genuflection in front of Crain as he battled for his life making this incredible music with his friends. As mangled and tortured and animalistic as these songs are, and you will pay a mental toll, it’d so oddly heartwarming to know just how these songs came together and the pain and camaraderie stitched into each one. Dead Cross has made and surely will continue to make incredible, stimulating art, but everything that went into this, all of the human emotion and suffering, could make “II” the most impactful thing the band ever creates.

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