When given the choice, I generally prefer my metal “extreme,” but every so often a record comes along that breaks through the blast beats and tremolo picking that usually dominates my Beats by Dr. Dre headphones (hey – he’s a doctor so he obviously knows something about the science of sound). I will admit that I didn’t just listen to the new Tau Cross out of the blue. Rather, as a Voivod fan, I’m interested when Michel “Away” Langevin plays on a new project. The first record flew a bit under my radar, but this follow-up, Pillar of Fire, really hits the mark.
The first track on the new record, “Raising Golem,” is one of the best metal songs I’ve heard in 2017. That good. In fact, right after I gave it a listen I texted my friend in the Great White North, Vivek “Professor Death Metal” Venkatesh, telling him he needed to put The Phantom Menace on pause for a moment and listen to this new record NOW! While this is not an extreme metal record, it is undoubtedly a great listen and filled with a rich cornucopia of influences from the past four plus decades. I would liken Tau Cross’s appeal to that of Queens of the Stone Age. Queens isn’t really a metal band, but metal fans really like listening to them.
Yes, with Away on drums, there is a going to be a definite Voivod influence, mostly from the Target Earth era. That’s a good thing. If you don’t know Voivod you need to listen to their records. I’m sometimes shocked that newer “extreme” metal fans brag about knowing the intricate details the latest black gaze project but seem to have overlooked one of Quebec’s greatest exports. I don’t care how “metal” you are… if you roll your own cigarettes… if you have a season pass to St. Vitus… if you grew your beard in 2008 before, you know, “everyone else did”… if you don’t know Voivod you don’t know metal. But Voivod is only part of the picture here. And yes, with Rob “The Barron” Miller on vocals, you’re going to hear Amebix as well in the mix – also a good thing.
Pillar of Fire blends, borrows and bridges from so many different eras and genres. You’ll hear a heavy overarching influence of David Bowie from the new romantic era. Guided by Voices in the arrangements. Psychedelic Furs in the vocals. Jets to Brazil in the song structures. At the same time, it’s still very original in its own right. The songs come together in multiple layers with rough sounds and polished sounds – but without competing for ear space.
Highlights on the new record, other than the masterful “Raising Golem” are “What is a Man,” “Bread and Circuses,” “Killing the King,” and “Seven Wheels.” But honestly, the entire album is a winner from start to finish. I would also argue that this second record of theirs sounds better than their first release.
Even if you like your metal extra heavy, you’re still going to enjoy this project. There are enough guitars to satisfy the crunch you crave and Miller’s vocals are just so good and appropriate for this type of music. For those of you in the over 40 set (hey – I’ll see you all at This Is Hardcore Fest 2017! Who else is bringing their kids?), you’ll be brought back to those early days of MTV when they played music videos and nothing else – and every once and a while you caught some of those new wave and new romantic gems filmed on ¾ inch videotape. Those were some good times for music and Tau Cross weaves those early snippets of true post-modernity into a listening experience that will appeal to both those who remember those days and those who never knew, but might just investigate after this listen.
Pillar of Fire is out on July 21st on Relapse Records, and can be preordered here.