While you may not suspect it, the term “world building” (which literally means to construct an imaginary universe that events may take place in) is perhaps best applied to the music of Tau Cross, an internationally formed metal/punk supergroup consisting of members from Amebix, Voivod, and the crust acts War//Plague and Misery. It implies both depth as well as a grander vision for the ideas involved, which this band brings in spades to their sophomore outing, Pillar of Fire from Relapse Records. Though not quite a concept album – and while no Tolkien-esque fantasy worlds are being created in it – everything about this release, from the extensive artwork to its accompanying lyrical content, sublimates into regularly recurring themes (usually of melancholy and introspection, or of man finding fault with their gods) and grows to provide its own unique undercurrent that stays with you throughout the fifty minute runtime. A lot of comparisons likening this crew to a hybrid of Killing Joke and Motorhead can be found across the internet, and after taking a brief listen, one may find that those claims are not without merit.
Musically, the band often opts for the less-is-more ideology, stripping down to four-on-the-floor rhythms and power chord riffs for about half of the songs, and then utilizing a cleaner, more progressive sound for the other half. It is with this sonic variation that Tau Cross are able to show off their surprising range. The quieter moments on this album feature a carefully layered background through the soft use of a variety of instruments, including bagpipes, tribal drums, keyboards, and even a hurdy gurdy – though if you are not distinctly listening for these, they could easily slip by unnoticed, and that is because these instants are so smoothly constructed that nothing about their addition feels jagged or out of place. Every instrument maintains a natural flow with one another, giving these melancholic anthems a transportive, otherworldly vibe while still succeeding as individually fleshed out songs, especially on the title track – where Rob Miller’s voice goes from sounding like a raspier version of Lemmy to channeling “The Next Day”-era David Bowie – and the beautiful, thought-provoking closer, “What Is A Man.”
Also as a side note, the eerie intro of “Bread and Circuses” will get stuck in your head for days. Trust me.
When the band does decide to dive back into their more aggressive mode of attack, using riffs that fuse the immediacy of 80s punk rock (such as on “Deep State”) and hookiness of bands from the NWOBHM (whose influences are more prominent on fast-paced beaters like “Raising Golem” and “Killing the King”), it generally comes as a nice kick to the groin dealt out with considerable force. There is a balance between youthful aggression and timely maturation that a lot of these tunes find, not just lyrically but also in terms of how well thought-out each track’s progressions feel, even the more straightforward rockers; they are more than just a collection of good riffs on repeat (a pitfall Tau Cross’s debut stumbled into on several occasions). Call me old-fashioned, but if you ask me to choose between a band that can write a great song – no matter how simple – versus a band that mindlessly plays with astonishing technicality, nine times out of ten I will go with the songwriters, and perhaps that is why I enjoy Pillar of Fire so much. Tau Cross have made an album jam packed with nothing but exceptionally written compositions and meditations on mankind that are near-flawlessly interwoven with each other so as to not only assemble a damn fine record, but a quintessential listening experience.
Like many others, I try to go into every new album I listen to with an open mind, but I really did not expect to enjoy Pillar of Fire as much as I did. I anticipate some listeners will have greatly differing opinions; perhaps the barebones formula at the core of these songs will prove too mild for some of today’s calloused ears, but for me? I was entranced by the music’s darkness, and the universe that was constructed by the emotions behind that darkness, and I cannot wait to revisit it once again.