Slayer's Dave Lombardo Gives Hardcore a Try with Dead Cross
At 52 years-old, Dave Lombardo, one of the most influential percussionists in the history of American underground music, is excited to be drumming for a hardcore punk band. More than 35 years since the beginning of his stint as the drummer for heavy-metal legends Slayer, Lombardo now finds himself as a member of Dead Cross, a supergroup of sorts that features bassist Justin Pearson (the Locust), guitarist Mike Crain (Retox) and vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More).
“I really don’t think about it,” explains Lombardo when asked what it’s like to be a middle-aged man in a scene often defined by youth. “Yes, I play this music. Yes, I’m 52.” In fact, Lombardo actually sees hardcore as capable of speaking to all age groups, particularly during times of anxiety and upheaval. Unlike most contemporary popular music, hardcore “remains honest,” notes Lombardo. “It’s not sugarcoated. The music isn’t following a formula.” A quick glance at the song titles on the band’s self-titled LP suggest that the band has been paying close attention to current events. Songs such as “Idiopathic,” “Obedience School” and “The Future Has Been Cancelled” seem tailor-made to be played at maximum volume for the duration of the Trump era.
While Lombardo’s aggressive drumming style helps drive such songs, the key to Dead Cross’ ability to transcend the traditional limitations of hardcore is due to the presence of Patton. Patton, as Lombardo suggests, has always been a hardcore fan. “He relates,” Lombardo says. “It’s not foreign to him. In fact, he’s always had an affinity for this type of music.” Listening to Patton scream and rant his way through album opener “Seizure and Desist” makes it clear that Patton is doing more than simply showing up and cashing a paycheck. In fact, Patton’s vocal range allows Dead Cross to push hardcore in new directions. On songs such as “Gag Reflex,” Patton moves from operatic croon to blood-curdling scream in less than 30 seconds. “He adds a new element, a new style, to this genre,” explains Lombardo. Pausing for a moment, he then asks, with a laugh, “How many cookie-monster vocalists do we need?”
Patton’s vocal dexterity adds an air of unpredictability to Dead Cross’ material, making what could have been a straight-ahead hardcore record a bit more thought-provoking and unsettling. Such an atmosphere is only enhanced by Patton’s approach to lyric writing. On “Seizure and Desist,” Patton sings of “Holiday shirts and your hedge-fund ghosts” joining hands in “The paperwork explosion.” “A Vegas whale,” Patton screams out, “Pimps and johns and patriot scum / We’re an updated, outdated / Ocean full of chum.” If nothing else, Patton captures perfectly the confusion that the last two years have brought to American cultural and political life—and the feeling that perhaps the worst is yet to come.
Lombardo explains that the rationale for starting a project like Dead Cross was always very clear. “We wanted to make something different,” says Lombardo, “something a bit off the rails.” Each player in Dead Cross has already found varying degrees of success in the world of music—a fact that could have lessened some of the angst that often fuels the best hardcore. Yet this lack of pressure to prove themselves seems to have given Dead Cross the space needed to create something truly innovative and, in the process, highlight that hardcore can age gracefully.
Dead Cross play Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. Fourth St., on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. with opener Secret Chiefs 3 (featuring Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle).