There came a moment, about five minutes into the first festival set in Dead Cross’ young life, when people started leaving the Roots stage at Chicago’s Riot Fest. They shared a look on their face — a half smile “this is fine and now I must leave” expression. I’d compare it to the kind of expression someone makes when they take their first trip from the suburbs into the city and witness a homeless person taking a dump on a pizza box in an alley. Maybe it was just a few Riot Fest attendees not knowing what to expect from Dead Cross, a hardcore thrash-metal supergroup consisting of Faith No More/Fantomas vocal god Mike Patton, former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Locust/Retox bassist Justin Pearson, and Retox guitarist Michael Crain.
For those familiar with the players in the band, Dead Cross delivered the most brutal and heavy show at day two of Riot Fest. Their sound was almost painful. Dave Lombardo’s double bass induced heart arrhythmia, Crain’s guitars made eyes go loopy and Pearson’s bass felt like a gut punch. The only possible explanation for their sound is a seedy scene in which they paid off the sound guy so they could complete their mission of ruining speakers and eardrums forever. Dead Cross didn’t melt faces, they inched up to them like a werewolf then clawed them off, death by a thousand swipes of sharpened fingernails, and all of it was led by the screeches and cascading howls of Mike Patton — who hasn’t sounded so at home since he was in full swing with his avant-garde metal project Fantomas.
Maybe that’s why the older, Faith No More t-shirt wearing fans of Patton were wondering just what the hell it was they were seeing here (this is probably something that has happened at nearly all of his side-projects over the last two decades). There were clearly fans of the parts but neophytes of the whole in attendance. The band seemed to be fueled by this. There was an embodying of their album’s aggression in a live performance that few bands can ever hope to achieve.
Patton has long held to his explanation that his lyrics are typically nonsense, his voice an added instrument to the band’s overall sound, but with Dead Cross, he sends a message of dismay and pure hatred towards what is currently wrong with the world, and the attendees that knew what they were getting into threw enraged fists in the air as a sign of acceptance. A few hundred yards away, one band was speaking calmly about the #Resist movement, which Dead Cross mirrored by a teeth-gnashing, fist-raising cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” It was an intense energy you don’t usually feel in an afternoon set at a festival. It felt more like a hardcore show in a small venue than a large, corporate event with a Ferris wheel spinning on the other side of the park.
Maybe it was the juxtaposition of their location and the desire to “show them how it’s done” that Dead Cross’ entire, blistering 45-minute set felt like it had a chip on its shoulder. Patton spat on the ground as he’s wont to do, staring fiercely at his bandmates and crowd while Pearson and Lombardo vibrated as a wholly in-tune monster mash of a rhythm section. In a “meanwhile” worthy of Laura Palmer’s doppelganger, Crain’s riffs wobbled and shot like lazers on adderal, adding a slapstick flavor to the rest of the band’s kicks to the chest.
Their choices in cover songs exemplified the band’s ethos as bomb dropping (Lombardo) math-metal (Pearson/Crain) shit terrorists (Patton). Next to the album’s cover of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (which was embraced by the knowledgeable crowd as an anthem with devil horns and pit shoves corresponding to every chant of “undead, undead, undead”), there was a welcomed rendition of GG Allin’s “Suck My Ass It Smells.”
They even filled time in a way that perfectly represents their unspoken mission. As a band with an album clocking in at under 28 minutes, Patton would take a few moments to make fun of people in the crowd, which he’s been known to do for the last 25 years, but when he does it clad in a Hawaiian shirt, in the context of the most brutal album he’s ever been a part of, it adds an element of goofiness that’s been refined to a perfect level of obnoxious and endearing.
Sadly, Danzig couldn’t join them to sing, even though he supposedly wanted to get on stage with sometimes Misfits bandmate Lombardo.
Aggression as pure as this doesn’t come around often, but it’s restrained in a way that only veterans such as Lombardo, Pearson, Crain, and Patton could dish out. If you can survive the first deadly minutes and embrace the superior musicianship on the record and in their superlative live performances, Dead Cross will sink its meat hooks into you and not let go. There’s something lovely and violent about the band’s performances. It’s the hug after a fist fight. A sip of a beer with a bloody lip.
Near the end of the set, as the psychotic “Grave Slave” ends, Mike Patton makes a kissing smooch noise as the rest of the band members look out at the crowd, satisfied at their expertly-crafted aggression. It’s like the supergroup is looking for a “thank you” for making thousands clench their fists and gnash their teeth. Many oblige.