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Tau Cross' debut is really not metal, but the spirit is as strong as in good heavy metal CD. Some of these songs remind me of Vikernes' work in a way that they send me to another dimension, far from the hassle and neuroticism of modern times. The song "Prison" reflects this outlook: "Sometimes in my darker dreams, I catch a glimpse of something, a greater sense of menace grinning back at me".
Rob's voice rises to the top commenting these songs with a shaman-like feeling. Voivod drummer Michael Langevin provides a backbone for this album with steady hits behind the drumkit while the guitarists play simple and energetic speed metal influenced riffs with the occasional acoustic or guitar-free passage. Punk, speed and progressive metal collide with mellow tracks on this album that are often lead by the melodic bass lines of Rob Miller.
Riffs are forged from drifting punk chords and fast speed metal picking, while odd, non-melodic leads appear and disappear with no consistency. There are no ultra heavy distortion guitars on this record, but the intensity of all the instruments played on this album give it a heavy feeling. If you're looking for a pure heavy metal experience this album is not for you, but for those who can enjoy great songwriting in a format that is maybe less heavy on the surface, but strong on the inside, this the kind of an album that you will not likely hear in the next 5-10 years.
Standout tracks are 'Lazarus', which possess some of the strongest lyrical content I've seen in heavy metal in a decade, and 'Hangmann's Hyll' with it's eerie feeling and grim vocal delivery. Inherently this is not metal, but should be considered by metal fans all over the planet, because of it's strong sense of songwriting and cliche-free ethos.
It was awhile back when I learned via metal-sucks.com that Relapse Records had released a lengthy sampler that detailed many of the bands they had the pleasure and honor of contracting and while I'd be lying if I said I've listened to the sampler's entirety I did listen to most of it, especially what I was already familiar with (Nile of course) I also spent a good amount of time listening to bands whose names stood out. Including of course Tau Cross, whose name popped out because of the tau empire in Warhammer 40k, but that's not important, what's important was that sometime later I spent the time and energy to track down the band's full length and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The easiest way for me to briefly describe the sound here is to think of that crossover thrash sound used by the likes of S.O.D., D.R.I. and 90s era Suicidal Tendencies but with a rawer less polished sound, and a kick of Motorhead influence including what sounds like a raspy and harsher imitation of Lemmy. It sounds pretty good. Its of course a very stripped down sound but its fun to listen to and easy to enjoy. It radiates with energy and enthusiasm, is surprisingly catchy and of course is fairly heavy which is a powerful combination.
Instrumentally its very stripped down and simple but is strong and works well. The raw thrashy guitar riffs work well with the fast paced drumming. The vocalist adds an aggressive streak but also gives us something we can sing along too. It rocks hard and it rocks loud. There is of course more to it though "Sons of Soil" starts with a far more atmospheric opening that isn't that brings an emotional intensity to the music, it doesn't hurt that it also has well written lyrics to back it up.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this and find it hard to really find any shortcomings and I shall patiently await the followup album. Whether this was a product of chance and circumstance remains to be seen but I have strong faith in the band.
While the dissolution of the recently reformed crust punk legends Amebix was undoubtedly a shame, Tau Cross pretty much makes up for that. Just as Sonic Mass drew upon the skeleton of Monolith and morphed it into something new, Tau Cross certainly does feel like a successor album to Sonic Mass in some ways while still managing to not sound like a tired retread. Sonic Mass was a bit of a grower for me, while after the first time I heard Tau Cross’s self-titled debut I knew it would almost certainly be my favorite slab of music to be released this year. While this doesn’t quite surpass Sonic Mass, it comes really damn close.
A big part of the reason why Tau Cross was such an instant classic for me is how immediate it is. It definitely has its brooding and more atmospheric moments, but for the most part it seems like Rob just wanted to rock out for this one. The riffs are big and simple, the songwriting is more streamlined (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way at all) and the song structures more traditional. It still has a punk meets Motörhead and Killing Joke vibe, but with a fair amount of good ol’ rock’n’roll driving the music forward. The drumming is a perfect example of this. Gone is Roy’s tribal trickery of the Amebix reunion, replaced by Away’s more traditional tight-as-fuck rock drumming. While Roy’s drumming made Sonic Mass immensely powerful, Away’s raucous to-the-point style here meshes perfectly with the more rock-based songs.
From the blistering Motörhead-inflected scorcher “Stonecracker” and the UK82-on-steroids bite of “Prison” to the somber post-punk of “Sons of the Soil” and even the folk balladry of album closer “The Devil Knows His Own”, Tau Cross can hardly be accused of being a one trick pony. Like Sonic Mass, Tau Cross is a self-contained world with various sonic elements converging into a cohesive whole. This album’s standout tracks all seem to be of a different ilk while maintaining cohesion through attitude and atmosphere. “Hangman’s Hyll” is more traditional metal, and is interesting because not that much actually happens musically. However, it is likely the best song on the album, and that is due to Rob giving perhaps the best vocal performance of his entire musical career. “Prison” is simply impossibly catchy, and if you don’t like this song you probably just hate fun. The post-punk of “Sons of the Soil” gives Rob a chance to shine as a bassist, while easily being the most emotionally potent song of the album. “We Control the Fear” is basically a 60s protest song made a lot heavier, and the songwriting really does have a timeless quality. “The Devil Knows His Own” is a dark, quiet folk ballad that shows a great diversity in Rob’s songwriting chops and allows the album to trail off on a more reflective note.
Tau Cross succeeds thematically and lyrically just as much as it does sonically. How could it not with the heft of the frontman of fucking Amebix? Being heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell’s writings about mythology and archetypes, Rob has said that he’s always felt that Amebix had a beginning and a middle, but no end. The Risen documentary and Sonic Mass provided that end (although one can only hope that another Amebix album will happen at some point). I suppose this represents a new chapter. Moving to the Isle of Skye to become a swordsmith after living the squalid punk existence during the original Amebix years, the man has no doubt lived an interesting life. Like his work with crafting swords, his lyrics are deeply imbued with mythology and ancient symbolism. While they bleed into each other at times, the album can be broken up into two thematic halves. The first being drenched in mythology, tales of 16/17th England, imagery of grain and the harvest and nods to paganism. The second is more political, representing overcoming and resistance. Thankfully, the political content continues something I’ve always liked about Amebix. Rather than yelling about a certain law or denouncing a specific politician, a more perennial scope is implemented, viewing these problems as cyclical and something prevalent in one form or another throughout the ages (brining us back to the theme of archetypes). Sometimes the lyrics are straight up bizarre and twisted: while at first I thought it was just a simple tale about the gallows, “Hangman’s Hyll” is actually a tale of witches collecting the executed men’s semen after their hangings (apparently you blow your load after being hung, who knew?), and using it in a concoction to traverse the worlds between the living and the dead but coming out insane.
Overall, this is all we could ever ask for as a successor to Sonic Mass’s throne. Like Amebix, Tau Cross digs into something deeper, something with a stronger emotional resonance than the vast, vast majority of heavy music. While this album does tread into deeper waters, it still is ridiculously fun and feels like the band just wanted to let loose and rock the fuck out. With members of Amebix and Voivod in the fold (not to mention guitarists from two very solid crust bands), was there really any question as to whether this would be good or not? This is a very worthy follow up to Amebix’s legacy, drawing from the framework of Sonic Mass, deconstructing it and rebuilding with new building blocks. Delivering on both a cerebral and visceral level, this is an all-around astoundingly good album and I’m very curious to see where Rob will take it from here.