ardcore bands, when compared to bands of almost any other genre, tend to have really short life spans. “Back in the day”, this could be attributed to drug abuse or life in a harsh environment, but with the gradual suburbanization of hardcore, lack of finances, emotional burnout, and the ever so dreaded “creative differences” are the prime killers of a young band. Of course, short lives have some benefits – bands can come and go, making their own individual statement in punk rock before their music has a chance to get stale. Don’t get me wrong, you still have your Sick of it Alls and your Agnostic Fronts, but for the most part, hardcore kids are better than most when it comes to knowing when to pack it in and call it a day, or couple of years.
But perhaps the Sea Monkey life span trend isn’t such a good thing. For one thing, short life spans, in punk rock or any other genre, ensure near-instant canonization, sometimes regardless of whether or not the band being knighted was worth their weight in used vinyl while they lasted. Hardcore is especially guilty of this – bands who couldn’t draw fans before breaking up are now legends on the Skylab circuit. What was once one kid’s penis picture disk is now another kid’s Holy Grail. All of this is pretty unfortunate because, for the most part, those same bands who have no fans that aren’t net addicts are and/or were some of the very best that punk rock had to offer.
This all leads to the other main problem with short life spans in hardcore: you guess it, the “Ex-Members of” bug. I mean, fuck talent. Who needs it? As long as you were once in a band that a lot of kids like, your new band has instant hype. You played with a band on their demo but on nothing else? Don’t worry – you can still carry that E.M.O. (yes, pun intended) badge with pride. Your new band is horrid and you know it? Big deal. As long as you did something in the past that had real artistic merit, the kids will come flocking your shows anyway and give your roadie beer money. Missed Prematurely Legendary Hardcore Band A the first time around? No sweat, most of the ex-members just formed a new band that sounds exactly like their old one.
With all of this considered, Hot Cross seem like prime candidates for the E.M.O. tag. Their resume reads like a colored vinyl collector’s wet dream: members of this band did time in Saetia, Neil Perry, You and I, Joshua Fit For Battle, among others. Theoretically speaking, these guys could easily pull a Melvins, make an album the consisted entirely of silence, and kids would still buy it for the $20 that it probably cost to record the nothingness. All of these factors make that fact that the music on A New Set of Lungs actually eclipses a vast majority of the members’ older work that much more amazing. The truth is that Hot Cross isn’t at all entangled in the past – they make music that uncrosses your arms and kicks your ass. The only tag that this band needs is the music found on this album.
“Born On The Cusp” kicks off the seven-song EP with one of the most jaw-dropping blasts of Gravity-infused hardcore this side of San Diego. Josh, Casey, and Billy trade off vocals over guitars that build up to one insanely fast and heavy climax. Forget verse-chorus-verse, forget ‘chugga-chugga’ and definitely forget bland, conventional song structures - this is punk as fuck. The next few tracks exercise more restraint but fortunately don’t compromise any of the fire of the opening track. Greg Drudy’s skittery drum work leads the way on “Lend Me Your Brain (I’m Building An Idiot)”. Even when the guitars and bass fall back, his percussions keeps the music driving forward. The beauty here is in the dynamic. The rhythm section of the Cross usually knows when, and more importantly, how, to fade in and out of the guitar work. The overt intricacy of some of the songs may throw off the listener off at first, but adjusting to the subtleties makes many of them that much more enjoyable. Of course, Billy’s lyrics are not to be outdone – at the end of the song, he declares that, “The empty heads will always be the first to try and kill what’s already dead.” Only he could summarize my entire rant in one sentence.
The intensity of the album never lets up and unlike most bands that should be paying royalties to the San Diego scene of ten years ago, Hot Cross throw their own twist on Gravity-core instead of resorting to poorly-disguised cover songs. Mixing interesting, angular guitar work into punk usually comes off as out of place at best and downright masturbatory at worst. Hot Cross makes it seem easy, as displayed on the somber “History Fell In The Heart Broke Open.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Putting the Past Right” deluges the listener in a tidal wave of hammering chords, relentless screaming and Mohinder-styled drumming, all while retaining the guitar-inflected subtleties that make the Cross stand out. Few other punk rock bands nowadays are capable of executing a song this (forgive me for using the word) emotional without appearing foolish and contrived. For those of you who still need obvious reference points, I’ll put it this way: this song is the equivalent to Heroin and Saetia in a car crash – with both making it out alive. At only one minute long, “4A:030401” manages to both invoke the ghost of Neil Perry and give it a sonic makeover.
By the time “Finger Redux” rolls around, the E.M.O. factor doesn’t make a damn difference. You don’t hear a band whose guitarist was a part of the You and I song “Threading A Needle” or whose bassist played on JFFB’s To Bring Our Own End- what you hear is a band that makes relentlessly passionate, driving, memorable music and still has much potential and much more music to give in the future.
Reviewed by: Nnamdi Ezeife
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01