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Metallization + modernization - 90%

Colonel Para Bellum, January 13th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Heretical Music (Bandcamp)

Tau Cross' third album, "Messengers of Deception", appeared before the general public after certain perturbations, being completely re-recorded. It is reported that the second version of "Messengers of Deception" by Heretical Music is markedly different from the rejected 2019 Relapse Records edition (by the way, just for the fun of it, check its price on Discogs – you'll be amazed), but since it is the "Heretical" version that is considered official, so let's forget about the first attempt and analyze what the Baron presented us this time.

To begin with, "a summary of the previous episodes". The first album, "Tau Cross", was characterized by the close intertwining of genres, ah, it was even some kind of "melting pot". There you could hear not only the self-evident influence of punk / post-punk bands (Ramones, Killing Joke and some other names if you know the punk scene better) and all kinds of heavy / speed / thrash metal bands, but also the adoption of elements from alternative music, such as Tom Waits ("We Control the Fear"), Mark Lanegan ("Sons of the Soil"), Nick Cave ("The Devil Knows His Own"). And the electronic "schticks" by default. In its turn "Pillar of Fire" was already more monolithic in style and influence, and there metal notably regained positions from punk: traditional metal riffs dominated throughout the whole album. Of course, the punk element could by no means be written off, just take the very first song "Raising Golem". Perhaps it was the "compression" of the variety that made some of the compositions seem drawn out. But this was not the drawback of the album, on the contrary, "metallization" made "Pillar of Fire" very dynamic and powerful. The whole thing was spoiled by some very soft production (a vivid example – "A White Horse"). There may have been an attempt to compensate for the increased share of traditional metal by softening the whole sound. Definitely, the guitars on "Pillar of Fire" are really lacking in heaviness, you don't have the heart to call it "true" heavy metal.

So, we came to the point. The guitar sound on "Messengers of Deception" is heavier and hence, even darker than on "Pillar of Fire" – and this is a significant plus. And the downstroke style of playing seems to have taken the lead on this album: it is better to start checking its triumphant procession from the second song "Hollow Earth". Yes, the process of "metallization" goes further. Though this is no longer "metallization", but "modernization". The tendency "it's sort of heavy / speed / thrash metal but sounds too modern" that made itself felt on "Pillar of Fire" is even more evident on "Messengers of Deception". There is more metal here, yes, but this metal is not at all for the old school taste. Traditional metal, or, more precisely, traditional sound processing is almost ready to sign surrender agreement. Please keep in mind, that we are not saying at all that this is bad for Tau Cross, we are just stating a fact. "Messengers of Deception" is a wonderful album, but this is a slightly different Tau Cross.

Get at least Motörhead's influence – be it either punkish metal or "proto-thrash metal", it does not affect "Messengers of Deception" as much as it does "Tau Cross" and "Pillar of Fire". Earlier, in addition to the obvious Motörhead-tinged atmosphere, Tau Cross even had songs that were almost completely sustained in the manner of this band: "Stonecracker" on "Tau Cross" – here the Baron's voice sometimes even sounds like Lemmy's raspy and harsh vocals (just to clarify, the Baron's characteristic "shamanic" intonations disappear in those "Lemmy's" parts), "On the Water" on "Pillar of Fire" – Lemmy's vocal attitude is also recognizable here, except perhaps for the more "pop" chorus. On "Messengers of Deception" only the Motörhead-tinged riffs remain.

Further. A global – yes, you can even say so, – change has occurred with bass. If the previous two albums were characterized by the melodic bass lines which crawled out only when asked to do so, now we have to be content with the ringing of emotionless (according to the modern trend in metal music) clangorous bass throughout almost every song. It used to be plangent, but at the same time soft bass, now it's dry and clanking. Compare the bass lines from every album, for example, from "Stonecracker", "Killing the King", and "Black Cadillac" – the transmutation is obvious. Very delicate, almost gentle bass supports the acoustic guitar fingerpicking pattern at the beginning of "Sons of the Soil" on "Tau Cross", a harder but still not devoid of sensuality bass break opens "Deep State" on "Pillar of Fire" – now this is almost inconceivable for Tau Cross. This change fits perfectly with the "modernization" of the metal component on "Messengers of Deception".

The drums on "Messengers of Deception" are right for the bass – distinct and dry. Drums beat the rhythm accurately, but the almost complete absence of acoustics in their sound does not give the feeling of life, so during the fast parts, they often resemble a Ministry drum machine. That's why sometimes "Messengers of Deception" feels like industrial. But there is no industrial here at all, it's only an illusion because of the sound. Well, perhaps this album is a blatant case of "polished" production, so characteristic of modern metal. Most likely, that is why some famous German group is remembered even more often on "Messengers of Deception". Well, Rammstein can be heard on the very first song of Tau Cross' debut album, "Lazarus", but here it has already become the rule. If you don't recognize the "German" riffs on "Messengers of Deception", you will feel the "German" drive and dynamics – the most revealing fragments are the second half of "Burn with Me", the final of "Violence of the Lord", the part in "Three Tides" after the opening "ballad".

Oh, right, there are no ballads on "Messengers of Deception". At least, in the spirit of "Pillar of Fire". There are only vague promises of "ballads" that end before they begin. The next to last song, "Three Tides (Or the Triale of Pyrat John Bellamie and Seawytch Annabel Green)", at the beginning and end offers a ballad passage with a violin to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, and the last song, "Sorrow Draws the Plow", is the most heart piercing piece on the album, with a grand piano and violins. In both cases, the Baron sings soulfully, no doubt, but there is more weariness in his voice than maybe pride of the folk narrator. It is quite symbolic that in both cases the folk elements are "killed" by Rammstein, that is, by modern metal (although not everyone wants to categorize these Germans as a metal band): in "Three Tides" the folk fragment is harshly interrupted by a riff attack in the spirit of Rammstein, and in "Sorrow Draws the Plow"... well, actually this song sounds more like a piano version of some Rammstein song than a real ballad. Thus "modernization" beats "tradition".

But let's get back to Tau Cross' music. Perhaps we can say that guitar solos also began to lose ground on "Messengers of Deception": the first "full-fledged" or even "thoroughgoing" (that is, pushing its way through the riff crowd) heavy metal solo appears only in the third song "Burn with Me" at 2:51. And the next "true" solo can only be heard in the seventh "Babylonian Death Cult" at 2:50 – but we all know that this song, the most uncompromising song on the album, was not on the Relapse original! And finally, the last "true" solo sounds in the next to last song, "Three Tides", at 4:37. It is difficult to resist the remark that a general lack of guitar solos is one of the characteristics of nu metal. This is just a remark, because, basically, these are half-submerged licks that add variety to the guitar part. Most often they are forced to fight their way through the vocal part, concurrently, by the way, intensifying its emotionality: parts at 2:42 and 4:00 in "Yaldabaoth", the ending of "Hollow Earth", the chorus of "Burn with Me" (1:12 and 3:07), the chorus of "Violence of the Lord" (a piercing tremolo picking melody at 3:47), the pre-chorus in "Messengers of Deception" (1:38 and 3:29), fragments at 0:11 and 0:50 in "Drowning the God". Bridge copes with this task no less successfully, as, for example, in "Black Cadillac" at 1:42 and 3:18, – this transition seems a bit avant-garde due to the weird lick in its structure, although the rhythm is almost pure thrash metal here. In "Violence of the Lord" the bridge at 3:13 is really furious, it's pure thrash metal without a shadow of a doubt, only the keyboard part softens it.

The Baron's vocals belong to the category, the main task of which is to convey the "messianic" message to the listener. Therefore, his voice is always full of emotions, even overwhelmed. This is the main tool for influencing the listener, so we can say that the narrow specialization of the guitar on "Messengers of Deception" is fully compensated by the Baron's voice. The vocals have really become more varied here. The Baron sings more than usual in clean vocals, and almost always the (romantic) funeral fatality in the spirit of Andrew Eldritch wins in his emotions: the chorus in "Yaldabaoth" at 1:38, "Hollow Earth" at 3:10, the beginning of "Violence of the Lord", "Messengers of Deception" at 2:10, "Drowning the God" at 3:01 and 4:09.

Despite the fact that a bit of effects were used on the vocals ("metaphysical gurgle" in "Messengers of Deception" at 1:10, "cosmic whisper" in "Drowning the God" at 2:12), we can say that the "modernization" got to the vocals too: sometimes they become hyper-emotional but with a robotic effect like in the case of Al Jourgensen (check "Burn with Me" especially). Anyway, this works for an "industrial" feeling too. Perhaps in the already mentioned "Babylonian Death Cult" the Baron has the weirdest manner of singing – it is a sepulchral fluttery voice that matches very well the monotonous and pressing riffing. Both the singing and riffing have something of the "Into the Pandemonium" album by Celtic Frost, although starting from 4:24 you can hear the pompous lick and no less pompous riff in the vein of Beethoven's Heroic Symphony. Amazing effect!

As usual on every Tau Cross album, every song is special in its own way here, but at the very least, the title song "Messengers of Deception" can also be called a little weird, it's some kind of abstract song, something in the spirit of "adequate" Merilyn Manson. "Drowning the God" is also an unusual composition in terms of dynamics and intensity of emotions – it seems to be like a spring: now compressing, now expanding.

Summary. "Messengers of Deception" is another great album from Tau Cross. Heavy and melodic. Very vibrant – perfect music for a long car trip, by the way. And following the principle of objectivity, "Messengers of Deception" can hardly be called the best Tau Cross album now. All three albums are different, so it is not very correct to say that one is better than the other. And if the band progresses with every album, chances are that every time the best album will be the one the band hasn't recorded yet. It's a rule.

The Metal Observer