Allow me a moment to reflect upon Gillette's line of razors, the Mach series. For every blade they add it goes up another "speed" on the Mach scale (which somehow makes total sense when referring to blades on my face?). Anyway, it seems that there is the unspoken need to up the ante every so often with another blade on the razor. This ridiculousness prompted a funny SNL skit for the Mach 34 and an amazing [url="http://www.physics.mcgill.ca/~arobic/funny/Gillette.html"]onion article[/url]. So, when I read somewhere that Hot Cross uses three vocalists, you can imagine the bemused grimace that came across my face. Knowing the almost gimmicky quality of The Blood Brothers dual lyrics, but intrigued by the description, "guitar licks that come out of no where," I reservedly borrowed my friend's copy of Cryonics
to get a taste of how much I'd like this band that seemed like the ludicrous Mach 3 Turbo Ultra in premise.
Of course I was wrong. Hot Cross' parent bands, Saetia and Off Minor, are two hugely important emo bands; Saetia, the undisputed emotional kings of late 90s hardcore, and Off Minor, one of the most progressive emo bands in recent years, rivaled only by Circle Takes the Square. The merger of technicality and emotion, with vocals coming from three different directions, guitar from two, and the drum and bass doing their own confounding groove, seems like it'd be overwhelming and confusing, but not under the deft control of Hot Cross. Every song on this album is balls out, no apologies. I don't think I've ever been as incited to move around or dance than during the part in "Fortune Teller" when Billy Werner shouts, "Fuc
k not lest ye be fuc
ked." I don't think I've ever wanted to take my guitar and shred for hours as much as the main melodic guitar riff 29 seconds into "Pretty Picture of a Broken Face." This album is absolutely jam packed with the golden moments that would make entire songs for any other band. Hot Cross manages to pack four to five of these sections or mere phrases of genius into each of their songs. It's unreal to be up in arms about one part of a song, only to have to dismiss it in order to listen to the next amazing part come out of no where.
And yes, the guitar does "come out of no where." The riffs here are wondrously fresh. Ever since Thrice decided to mix melodic hardcore with faster riffs that were more reminiscent of Iron Maiden riffs, tons of doppelganger bands have formed from uninspired, unoriginal aspirations of "technicality." Hot Cross defies all the generic notions of being "progressive" and "technical" because a riff of theirs is unexpected, unique and beautiful, and strikes like lightning, rarely returning twice. I can't praise the guitar enough and I recommend listening to the album only for guitar some time. You'll hear overlapping, harmonizing lines. You'll hear call and response combatting lines, and you'll hear off kilter and brilliant lines. "Mystifying," is the word I'd use to describe an album that contains guitar riffs I've never heard before and probably will never hear again. My individual guitar highlights are the aforementioned one on "Pretty Picture of a Broken Face" and the insanity that is "In Memory of Movern."
As much as the upstaging, show-stopping guitar can be fellated by eager fanboys like myself, I need to take a moment to stop on the rhythm section. The bass doesn't particularly stand out except in its solo sections, but if you get out the headphones and listen for the bass, it's playing its own pretty impressive lines, which are usually still different than the guitarists'. Ultimately, the bass is a tool is two ways; it fills in and cements the harmony, and it links the percussion to the guitar. In terms of harmony, the bass will turn the song completely modal by means of unexpected harmonization. Particularly on their EP [url="http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=2330"]Fair Trades and Farewells
[/url], the bass is off its rocker when producing rich and crazy harmonic choices. Most of their songs sound unlike other bands because the bass explores these modal pathways instead of sticking to root notes in aeolian or ionian grooves. In terms of linking the percussion and guitar, there is another sweet point for me. I can't place my finger on it, but I don't think the bass ever falters. With fast, aggressive music, the bass often is downgraded to playing on downbeats and accented notes from the drums, but here the bass manages to be its own beast, while still doing its job percussively.
Now, the drumming. I have a raging erection for every other instrumental element of the band, so you can probably predict my opinion on the drums as well. For me the drumming does a great job of doing exactly what it shouldn't be doing. When 3/4 of the instrumentalists are already going crazy, usually it's unreasonable to have the drums on a par with the other instruments, but once again, Hot Cross defies. The drumming draws from disparate influences, like the grind and screamo flavor of "A Weekend Spent Askance," to the sporadic and catchy style in "Fortune Teller." Even the simple punk flavor of the verses in "Figure 8" seems like a fine choice. For me, if the drumming is done well, it can dictate the genre of a band. Imagine Cryptopsy with a pop punk backbone. The death metal on top would be completely void. Hot Cross' drumming is just the final piece of the musical puzzle that secures Hot Cross' unique niche as a sort of progressive emo band (don't quote me on that label).
I think I have adequately fawned over the technicality, and I want to get over to the emotional side of the music. Those three vocalists, which I hypothesized would be ridiculous, actually aren't. Billy is the primary vocalist, who screams, shouts, whatever, and there are background vocals, one spoken word/shouting one, and one singer. The inclusion of all three is done in a safe, tasteful way. It's not in your face like The Blood Brothers, but the vocals are in no way passive. The shouts hearken back to the 80s when emo was frighteningly new and exciting. The vocals here are all over the map. It adds another depth to the music and is a good medium for the unexpectedly sardonic lyrics. Hot Cross throws knuckleballs like Wakefield. It's an emo band, dabbling in progressive hardcore that has cynicism, sarcasm, and an almost playful use of metaphors and puns in their music. The vocal presentation is so brutal that I often forget that the lyrics aren't in the vein of "I Hate Myself" but are more like something Mike Patton would do. Sure, they carry a lot of the bombast that Saetia's did and "A Tale for the Ages" is a token brooding emo song, but there is a more mature element to it. Instead of being the scene's intellectual hero, Werner almost scoffs at that at his best moments. Like I mentioned earlier, the line, "Fuc
k not lest ye be fuc
ked" stands out as a prime example of sarcasm and humor, serendipitously wrapped in an emotional hardcore song.
One plus the CD includes is the decent production value, which is remarkable for a relatively unknown band. Level-plane does a good job of putting out respectable albums, and there was obviously a lot of time spent on tone here. I noticed discrepancies in the drum mixing and stuff like on "Dissertation: 14" but for me, that is part of the emo experience. A lot of bands hardly have the money to record their songs wel so they resort to live on the spot recording and then press to vinyl. I love hearing mistakes that don't egregiously fuc
k up the music. It adds flavor, style, and, as cheesy as it sounds, character to the sounds. It makes the album more human, which helps out when the musicians are doing unreal things with their instruments. I also appreciate the little flourishes of effects. There are splashes of wah, reverb, and echo among the generally clean tone emo soundscape. It's just a plus for anybody who cares to listen as closely and as many times as I do.
All in all, Hot Cross is a bold leap for hardcore. It makes use of its talents for both emotional output and technical proficiency. This is a must have album and stands out with Circle Takes the Square's [url="http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=1677"]As the Roots Undo
[/url] as one of the most important emotional hardcore albums of this decade. Unlike the ridiculous uselessness of a Mach 5 Super Dee Duper, this album is excessive and extravagant to the point of beauty. This album is definitely in my top ten of all time.