Blue Cross’s new “I Am Death” LP reviewed
by Oliver Sheppard
Ottawa, Canada’s Blue Cross have incredibly just released their second LP, I Am Death — incredible because many bands nowadays wait years between releases, and this is Blue Cross’s second LP in just over 7 months. The LP is out on Noxious Noize! Records, a small label operating out of New Orleans, and it continues the band’s predilection for playing “old school”-sounding (a term I have a problem with) gothy postpunk.
The new LP is an important, flagship example of the newer deathrock being made by dark bands from the punk scene. Along with the recent announcements by Varning Montreal Fest 6 of a lineup that features Belgrado, Bellicose Minds, The Spectres, Crimson Scarlet, and Dekoder, and a European Dropdead Festival that will feature The Mob, UK Decay, Tanzkommando Untergang, and Dystopian Society, I Am Death makes a strong argument for 2012 being the year of goth-punk. I Am Death is extremely well-done; it’l surely be on any serious “best of 2012” lists.
Blue Cross’s first LP, Mass Hysteria, (reviewed earlier at CVLT Nation here) was a driving gothic punk rocker comparable to the spooky 80s deathrock of bands like Voodoo Church, the Superheroines, and Red Scare, with hints of such classic female-fronted punk bands as Action Pact and Penetration thrown into the mix. The first song on I Am Death is the title track, and it becomes immediately apparent that the band have evolved in a decidedly more darkwave direction: The tempo is a little slower, synth-like effects are used tastefully, and the flanger on Jo’s guitar seems to have been cranked up to the max. If you’re a fan of the guitar work of John McGoech or Rikk Agnew, you’ll definitely enjoy the thoughtful and interesting guitar patterns laid down here.
It’s incredibly hard not to refer to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ debut The Scream and their 1979 Join Hands LP when discussing Blue Cross, so I won’t attempt not to. Those two Siouxsie LPs seem to provide the template for Blue Cross, as has been the case of so many “school of Siouxsie” bands anyway — bands like Xmal Deutschland and Monica Richards’ Madhouse. These bands are close in sonic kindred spirit to most of the tracks on I Am Death. In a June interview, guitarist and founder Jo remarked, “The big names like The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, The Cult or Killing Joke are long time favorites. Especially during the demo time I really had bands like 13th Chime, 1919, Sex Gang Children, Part 1, Christian Death, and UK Decay in mind.” Although I Am Death as a whole is more deliberate and slower than Mass Hysteria, a track like “Despair Don’t Care” occasionally comes on and showcases a faster tempo and extremely elaborate guitar work, shaking off the gathering metaphorical cobwebs and reminding you of the punk rock roots of the band.
Track 7, “Coming Back to Haunt You,” is nearly the opposite: It slows the pace to a trudging — and almost bluesy — funereal gait, lulling you in with sinewy guitar lines and lachrymal, echoing vocals. (Most of the vocals on the LP seem to have been treated with a heavier use of an echoey filter, for that matter). The song is incredibly sorrowful. “Many of our lyrics have the theme of being put up against the wall and feeling totally helpless towards unjustice,” Jo remarked in an interview. “Perhaps playing cold dark music is essentially a vessel to express this and sometimes the only thing you can do about life.”
The last track, “The Man That You Fear,” reveals the ultimate goal of the descent into darkness that Blue Cross have provided: Another downtempo exercise in sheer melancholy — spartan percussion punctuates vocalist Jess’s lachrymal singing, which sounds as if it comes from an underground vault. Like “Coming Back to Haunt You,” the last track is the most powerfully emotional thing Blue Cross have done to date.
It might sound strange to say, but I Am Death is also a somehow more intelligent and cerebral-sounding LP than last year’s Mass Hysteria. The band seem determined to push the boundaries of their sound into a more deliberate, coldwave-influenced direction while popping back over into the punk side of the pond once in awhile to keep everything on the up and up. I Am Death is an extremely good LP. You should get it.
Two sample tracks from the new Blue Cross LP can be heard here, at the Noxious Noize! website.
I Am Death can be ordered online here.