“Mud upon his shoes – your father
Walks across the fields
Down into the valley where they wait
A solitary bell – the flowers
And crowds that line this quiet English street
The way your mother brushed aside her tears
And raised her eyes up to the sky
The day they brought you home
A rifle cracks the sky – at graveside
And I remember running through these streets
And I remember when we ruled the world
And every oath we swore in blood
The day they brought you home
When will we know such friends again
Each passing year
Each sad parade
The shadows lengthen in the villages we knew
One took the sword
One took the soil
Sons of the sword
Sons of the soil
The way your mother brushed aside her tears
And raised her eyes unto the sky”
And so “Sons of the Soil” unfolds – a song that’s surprisingly quiet on its surface, but rumbles with the power of a looming 6.0 quake, thanks in a large part to those dynamic words. Powerful enough that an early morning experience with it during a quick run found me unwittingly bolting at top speed by its 4-minute mark. This was a significant moment for me, because an ill-advised social media check just one day prior to sniff out early reactions from peers revealed a few early jabs of “too clean,” “too soft” and “what’s up with those vocals” scattered amongst an assortment of positivity. But then, that’s precisely how things should shake out if music is to be considered truly effective – strong reactions on both sides of the fence.
The experience also faced me with the realization that a large part of what fires me up about what I’m hearing on Tau Cross’s debut can be linked to decades of appreciation for vocalist/bassist Rob Miller’s work, and the fact that those events subsequently opened an abundance of doors in terms of punk, crust and nearly anything that boldly strutted rawness front and center. There is no question a person without an appreciation or history with Miller’s previous work should still be able to uncover a wide depth of emotion within these walls, but a clear understanding of this man’s commitment to forging a strong bond between The Epic, The Raw and The Gripping will make the full experience of this record all the more satisfying for the dogs whose ears recognize Rob’s call like some gravelly Galton’s whistle. As such, that old familiar voice that pushes “Sons of the Soil” to its apex like a lost New Model Army ballad is sure to have a powerful impact for the veterans of the scene who’ve been anticipating the hell out of this project and wondered if it might stray from the more Killing Joke-motivated fare that dominated the last (final?) Amebix record.
Similarly, the epic swing of “Midsummer” is sure to exhilarate plenty of newcomers, but the climactic power of its closing minute is perfectly suited for an inebriated sing-along that’s certain to deliver the widest grins to those who’ve spent hazy days elbow-to-elbow in a line of dirty punks screaming LARGACTYL and getting drunker than 10,000 Sinatras. Tunes such as this – alongside the album’s steady reliance on heavy, mid-paced, dark & stormy numbers such as “Lazarus,” “Fire in the Sky” and “Hangman’s Hyll” – spur an abundance of invigoration, and they also make it eminently clear that Rob Miller still has a lot of LOUD things to say.
And make no mistake, that voice is still the star of the show. Equally as unparalleled, unique and impactful as any of the bona fide gritty-greats in terms of exceptionally potent vocalists who’d likely be killed on sight if they stepped foot into a Juilliard voice program. You want mannerly swooning? Pull a Kamelot disc out of your keaster. The Baron’s bark is like a twisted John Carpenter fusion of Lemmy, Alice Cooper and Jaz Coleman, and just as it was throughout the entirety of the Amebix days, it is the diesel fuel pitched into the Tau Cross fire. The album’s lighter fare gets some much appreciated grit, and the crustier stretches are crowned by the very same billowing forge-of-a-throat the man blazed some thirty years ago. What’s particularly striking from a purely metal standpoint, however, is how often a parallel can be made between his inflection and modern era Abbath. There are plenty of moments during this record where a song feels one Ice Dale lead away from ringing out like a crustier version of Between Two Worlds. The aforementioned “Midsummer,” for example, as well as scattered points throughout the walloping “The Lie.” Ultimately, guys like Abbath and Nocturno Culto owe as much to Rob Miller as they do to the Tom G. Warriors of our world.
But that’s not to say the other players don’t bring their fair share to the plate. As previously inferred, Tau Cross continues the overall Amebix mindset, but the material here is easily the most diverse to carry Rob’s name. The riffs are primarily mid-paced and suitably weighty, thanks to Misery guitarist Jon “Misery” Misery and War//Plague guitarist//vocalist Andy Lefton. And that’s Michel “Away” Langevin behind the kit, for fuck’s sake, and his unmistakable accent rolls beautifully alongside Rob’s bubbling bass.
There are speedier, near-thrash moments such as “Stonecracker,” classic upbeat punk-bar anthems like “Prison,” and even a bit of a dusty, post-apocalyptic Fields of the Nephilim flavor to “We Control the Fear.” But as strong as the record is in its front half, the closing four songs really pound the sale home. The brooding, emotional “Sons of the Soil” is balanced perfectly by the relentlessness of “The Lie” and the wonderfully furious “Our Day,” and you simply could not ask for a better closer than the perfectly moody “The Devil Knows His Own.”
The only thing I’d consider a bump down compared to 2011’s Sonic Mass is the fact that the production buries some of the record’s ancillary razzle-dazzle. Keyboards still leave a mark when they’re on their own, but the sparse acidic leads and hints of violin that paint some of the corners would benefit from a little harder push into the spotlight. Still, considering the fact that all these ideas were culled from four different minds in three different countries and subsequently sewn together right up the road from where Rob literally pounds hammer-to-anvil in Scotland, I’d say the end result is pretty remarkable.
In the end, the degree of necessity for a record plugged as hard as Tau Cross depends on a number of considerations. Some may expect to love it based on principle alone; how could an album involving members of Amebix, Voivod, Misery and War//Plague be anything short of great? Others may trudge into the foray with an itchy trigger finger simply because that’s their gut reaction to nearly anything that receives extensive hype. The bottom line is this: Fusing varying levels of crust with death, black or whatever-the-hell metal is very fashionable these days, and the good has quickly become outnumbered by a near endless sea of d-beating d-bags who are about as interesting as last week’s yard clippings. Given this grim truth, it’s great to uncover an album that does a wonderful job of showcasing such a wide depth of influence, experience and talent. Tau Cross’s debut delivers a fresh take on a deep-rooted design that’s honestly more relevant today than it’s ever been, and that’s great news for mongrels both old and new alike.