Album Review: TAU CROSS Pillar of Fire
When the beloved Amebix called it quits after a brief reformation, Rob 'The Baron' Miller resurrected the feeling of his unique work in the body of Tau Cross. As if his continued presence within the underground music scene was not reward enough, fans were treated to the prospect of seeing the man share his creative head space with none other than drummer Michel 'Away' Langevin, whose work in Voivod forms one of the fundamental masts in the great ship of heavy metal history. When titans of this magnitude get together, with the added six-string skills of Andy Lifton (War/Plague) and Jon Misery (Misery), one needn't worry about the prospect of some super-group phoning it in for cash. The eponymous debut (2015), took the feeling, direction, and potential within Amebix' final record Sonic Mass (2011) and bestowed one right storming bastard of an album into the world, setting the bar immensely high.
The time has come for album number two from these veterans, again on Relapse Records. Called Pillar of Fire, the preponderance of the evidence before the court of public opinion overwhelmingly points to continued glory. Nevertheless, whether the band is Rush or Iron Maiden or the guys down the street, bars set high are bars set high. Will Pillar of Fire be able to burn admirably alongside the incandescent magnificence of the band's debut?
Whereas the impact of their self-titled debut immediately yanked its listener into a sweaty circle pit, Pillar of Fire is more like a snippet of irresistible conversation one hears over the general noise of a party, taking a moment to distill itself from the background before pulling you into its midst. Then, clasping a glass of something hot in the company of old friends, you'll settle into the rhythmic fury contained within its fifty minute length.
The performance of bass guitarist Tom Radio (Frustration) is noticeable as a far more active, almost playful presence in the mix. The way it follows and caresses the melodies in "Deep State" adds to the listening experience. This catchy number, upbeat and with that vocal breakdown about three minutes in, is destined to be great live. Miller's lyrics plant a sense of dread into the fist-pumping maelstrom of the song. Illuminati and their sort controlling our lives while we sleep springs to mind, establishing a similar atmosphere to what the inimitable Killing Joke, and virtually no other bands out there, can and do pull off.
The gravitas of "Bread and Circuses" builds to a determined pace, the lyrics once more evoking the menaces lurking just the other side of our common perceptions. If Pillar of Fire has a moment where it reaches its cruising altitude, it arguably happens during third song "On The Water". This one hits home, digging its way into the pleasure centers of the brain. It has swagger and grace, grit and fire, and contains within it the magic that so elevated the first album. The music of Tau Cross, among other things, breathes with a sort of filthy grandeur that lends itself as much to inner contemplation as it does to raging energy. "Killing The Kin"' has these qualities in spades.
Pillar of Fire showcases the proclivity for Miller to serenade us with that gravel-throated voice of his, as in 'The Big House.' The acoustic opening pushes its way into life and builds up nicely, driving the tune along quite confidently. The balladry continues at album's end on the sterling "What is a Man". This is a moody one, evocative of that same campfire solemnity conjured up in "The Devil Knows His Own" off of the debut. Miller bares his soul in a bluesy haze of honesty. What sounds like bagpipes adds to the atmosphere of the song, taking album number two home to roost. "Seven Wheels" stands out for the new age, haunting quality at play inside its dreaming depths, diametrically opposed to the hyperactive, punk anthem preceding it, "RFID". Punchy and immediate, it nevertheless seethes with melody.
Miller tries different vocal approaches this time around, replacing his gravelly throat with a deep, cleaner booming style which pops up here and there during the rest of the album as well. The title track practically glows with robust sing-along melody. The swells of instrumentation, strumming of acoustic guitar, and Miller's superb vocals create a sad, defiant number guaranteed to etch itself into the listener's heart.
Pillar of Fire gives the impression that time will unlock more of its secrets. Tau Cross is a special band in a sea of hype and trends, made up of forthright artisans of sound who have no fear of the anvil and the kiln. Each song bears the weight of these musicians' experience and expertise. As with the debut, no note is wasted; no song is there that has not been carefully crafted to sound instantaneous. Right now, this early on, Pillar of Fire appears to be as stalwart as the first Tau Cross album, and that is a very high honor indeed.