On the fact of it, Mike Patton was born for a pandemic. While his output over the years has been nothing short of prolific, it’s been achieved by meticulous day-to-day structure and routine. His own version of groundhog day but that’s what it’s taken to get shit done, and this hasn’t changed over the past two years, with new releases from of Tomahawk (last year’s Tonic Immobility) plus a re-recording of Mr. Bungle’s demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny which arrived at the backend of 2020.
The COVID period affected us all differently, and despite revelling in the autonomy to create, when the time came to get back out into the world, like many of us, Patton hit a brick wall. His struggles with agoraphobia subsequently leading to a cancellation of Faith No More tour dates, and with the band seemingly in limbo, or at least where Patton’s involvement is concerned, there is some sort of silver lining in the way of a new Dead Cross record.
Patton’s struggles weren’t the only issues surrounding the recording of II. Guitarist Michael Crain was diagnosed with cancer (and has since gone into remission), and earlier this year the band’s original vocalist and The Locust drummer, Gabe Serbian, passed away.
While II seemed doomed from the off, listening to it you would think otherwise. With a concoction of sharp irony, brutal honesty and scorching rage, II is a hefty progression from the band’s 2017 self-titled debut. Take the opening medieval thrash punk madness of Love Without Love, where Patton professes to loving someone so much that “I could shit”. It’s quintessential Mike Patton. Just when you think you’re staring into the abyss, he drops the kind of line that has you chuckling and shaking your head in disbelief.
As always, the wild card nature and unpredictability is here, and alongside Crain’s Retox band mate, Justin Pearson (bass), and drummer Davie Lombardo (Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer, Misfits), Patton and Dead Cross make a head charge at ’80s punk and hardcore and the collision is fierce. From the Beefheartian extremities of Mr. Bungle to the no no-nonsense skirmish of Tomahawk, Dead Cross’ II edges closer to those fault lines.
Following Love Without Love is Animal Espionage, and later with II’s highlight, Nightclub Canary, Crain’s ghoulish riffs rain hell on the SST catalogue, as Patton spews all his rage and despair on tape.
Heart Reformer and Strong and Wrong sees Dead Cross giving it the Black Flag treatment, although here the landscaped is darkened with more sinister tones and equally hellish harmonics.
Ant and Dragons sees Dead Cross mixing diesel-powered bass, melodic echoes and the kind riffs that burn the tarmac. “Who’s the monster in the room/Two choices, me or you” spits Patton.
Then there’s Christian Missile Crisis which just about takes out the song title of the year. Of course the tune itself stacks up as Dead Cross enmesh punk and metal to form some incongruous beast, taking aim at American’s gun laws. (“Fight the maniac/Blame the Zodiac.” and “Write your manifesto, embryo politico.”)
The barrelling assault of lead single, Reign of Error, shines a light on the everyday failings caused by humanity. (“It’s us/It’s us/It’s us/Who is our problem? We are the problem/ We’re plant-based crooks at the back of the bus.”) Patton skirted around such issues on Tonic Immobility, but here he delivers in full force.
Closing with Imposter Syndrome, it’s a track you’d imagine Patton to have work-shopped with Tomahawk, or even Faith No More. Until Lombardo’s frenetic drums and Crain’s buzz-saw guitars, it all unfolds to fit perfectly within the Dead Cross remit (“It takes one to never know one” and “Lying, smiling and multiplying/ Silence is dying, it’s all gone quiet.”
On II, Dead Cross capture the same deranged vigour BUÑUEL gave us earlier in the year with Killers Like Us. The kind of journey where the listener isn’t grappled into submission from the first note, but is the victim of a withering left hook. And the next 30 minutes is spent in a dizzying state of thunderous percussion, cinderblock bass weight and Patton riding riffs across the raging orange skies. It’s not homage in any way. It’s just another new voyage where Patton emits his rage across the creative canvass and, once again, the results are frightening.
II is out Friday via Ipecac Recordings. Purchase from Bandcamp.