Album Review: TAU CROSS Tau Cross
As the internet shrinks the world ever further, side projects and super-groups have become much more commonplace. Distances are shrunken down to the time it takes to hit 'enter' on a keyboard, and as its become so much easier to consume music, so too has the ability to write music across long distances grown simpler as well. The result is that fans can be treated to a much broader spectrum of artistic collaboration than in eras past. Unfortunately, this isn't always all its cracked up to be. But when the artists involved include Rob 'The Baron' Miller from Amebix and Michel 'Away' Langevin from Voivod, even the most jaded among us cannot help but perk the f*ck up and take notice.
Tau Cross began life last year following Miller's second and ostensibly final disbandment of Amebix, a band whose initial lifespan between 1978 and 1987 influenced Napalm Death, Sepultura, Hellhammer, Bathory, and Darkthrone, to name but a few. Voivod needs no introduction, and Away's musical pedigree is almost unrivaled. Joining these two heavyweights for Tau Cross are John Misery (Misery) and Andy Lefton, both handpicked by Miller to join him on guitars.
Their self-titled debut album, released this month on Relapse Records, has caused quite a stir already. Genre taggers are crying into their desktops trying to pin a description on the songs contained within it's twelve offerings. Many are writing off this work as a solid Killing Joke clone, and while there are far worse bands to be accused of cloning, this is a careless and cursory observation. Miller's unique rough-edged and throaty bellow sounds not unlike that of Jazz Coleman, but apart from a certain resemblance in song structure, Tau Cross is without a doubt its own animal, and just may be the most ardent and freshest sound you'll get this year from any release. The polish on these songs, applied with a harsh and wiry Brillo pad, are more likely an evolutionary step forward for Amebix, had that band continued. Its clear, though, after the initial listen, that each song will want close examination so it sinks in properly.
The driving opener, and first single, 'Lazarus,' is catchy, bleak, and poetic all at once. The way the guitars flow in and out over the back-beat give Miller ample room to spit his excellent lyrics. This strength in the words does not dissipate either; easily some of the best lyrical poetry you'll hear this side of a Primordial record. As the album unfolds, the head-nodding beat and punk infused metallic racket of 'Fire in the Sky' and 'Stonecracker' might have the listener thinking this was going to be the album's metier, a formula they perhaps didn't wish to deviate from. Out of the opening three, 'Lazarus' is the superior song, but the following two are still wicked stormers in their own right.
Its on 'Midsummer' where a slower, more recumbent aspect of Tau Cross comes through. The spoken opening stanza sounds like the deliciously weird intonations of Skinny Puppy. In the middle the song speeds up to headbanging pace, combining metal and punk with a raucous, basement dwelling otherness that separates it from the rest of the pack. 'Hangman's Hyll' has some industrial riffing, similar to that which one might find on an early 90's KMFDM album. Here Miller's voice rings out a bit clearer, when the chorus resembles a barroom chant howling odes of dread to the specter of death.
While being heavy and driving is a strength of Tau Cross, the true magic on this album can be found in the dark, barroom rock of songs like 'We Control The Fear.' Some fiddle, acoustic guitar, and electric accompaniment buoy Miller's whispered verses, producing a sound akin to precious little else in the world of heavy metal. 'You People' has a slow, Prong meets Killing Joke stomp to it, a repeated riff setting the table for Miller to bellow his tales of the peasant souls of the masses being ground up and spit out. The middle of the song is an absolute anthem of melancholic dystopia, before it boils down to that opening set of riffs.
The excellent 'Prison' is an absolute triumph as well, a hearty punk shout-along and a warning against the compulsion to accept the shackles which tie us to the big machine. As good as this song is, what's next is as surprising as it is outstanding. 'Sons of the Soil' is part ballad, part bleak lament. Miller croons in places like Dave King (Flogging Molly/Fastway), while the rest of his quieter verses could compel emotion from stone. Lavished with well-placed guitar and an excellent, perfectly stated percussive foundation, this song will leave a tremendous lasting impression on the listener.
'The Lie' comes off at first as slightly redundant to some of the earlier, slower songs on the album. This is not to say it isn't a good song on its own, but it feels like it was something they already said. At least until the final minute, where a nice lead underpins some melodic singing which helps raise the song to an admirable conclusion. 'Our Day' is a bit more enraged, noisy as it creeps along as we are once again serenaded by Miller's bellow. The songwriting acumen is evident when the tune is allowed to breathe a bit at the final minute.
Tau Cross goes out on a unique and highly effective note with 'The Devil Knows His Own' It clocks in at a mere 2:35, but it sounds like they could have tacked on another five minutes easy. Like some dark stranger round a campfire at night, Miller sings his ballad rife with emotion once again, dipping into a similar blueprint to what Live could conjure up back in the 90's. 'On the final day, we all stand alone, and the Devil knows his own . . . or so they say.' A brilliant and uncharacteristic tune, it ends this diverse offering on a colossal note.
Tau Cross has, unsurprisingly, raised quite a few bars with their eponymous debut. Though it has one or two more standardized moments, the highlights of the album – 'Lazarus,' 'Hangman's Hyll,' 'We Control the Fear,' 'Prison,' 'Sons of the Soil,' and 'The Devil Knows his Own' – are superb. Hard to pin down, this release, as it should appeal to a huge range of fans of musical extremity. Whatever one wishes to label it as, Tau Cross has absolutely killed it and we are all better off for having this album in our collective lives.