What's wrong with more of the same, especially when what you've got is solid? If you're dating Scarlett Johansson, is Demi Moore really an improvement? Unfortunately, Black Cross' newest, Severance Pays, makes me question my acceptance of change and long for their days as a four-piece.
With Evan Paterson's move from bass to guitar, Black Cross seems to have moved more in the direction of his other band Young Widows. Why they don't meet somewhere between that and Coliseum confounds me. Oh wait! That's exactly what Black Cross was before. Instead of exhibiting the youthful bouncy of Swiz (shown as recently as their EP last year Sink, Knives, and Chrome), now they've settled into a more laid back Jawbox-meets-Drive Like Jehu groove. And the problem I find is that if this were a brand new record from a band I had never heard, I would be amped. But with the proliferation of "Maximum Louisville" I don't need another band that drones and kicks - I want one that runs and screams.
Honestly, it's possible the only problem with Severance Pays is my own expectations for it. Because, continuing in the same vein of honesty, I do find myself enjoying it a lot. There are still tracks that exhibit a lot of vigor, like "One in Four" and "Get Outta My Head," but their momentum is taken by the tracks that surround it, which might not be as bad as it seems. My girlfriend was not terribly fond of Art Offensive but Severance Pays is more pleasing to her aural pallet.
For those of you solely looking for something you already know and love from Louisville's finest - look elsewhere. If you're willing to accept the fact that most musicians mature into something less aggressive as the years pass, Severance Pays might very well be the soundtrack to your late twenties.
See Also: Brain Banger, Young Widows, Cloak/Dagger, Hot Snakes
Where the hell have you been for the last four years Black Cross? The circumstances that have hampered this woefully underrated band need not be espoused because it really does not make a difference; the fact remains that Severance Pays has been a long time coming, and thankfully it hits in ways that are completely unexpected and leaves a definite impression on me. Expanding to a five-piece outfit so that former bassist Evan Patterson (guitarist and vocalist of Young Widows, former guitarist of National Acrobat) could move to join his brother Ryan (guitarist and vocalist of Coliseum, formerly of many Louisville bands) on guitar, Black Cross shows subtle changes that adding the extra guitar have allowed; the D.C. influence seems more intense and more vivid while vocalist Rob Pennington's (former vocalist of By the Grace of God and Endpoint) expressive vocals and excellent lyricism maintain their place in the band's overall sound.
The beefy sounding guitars of "Wolves" is a great sound to hear when you first press play on the stereo; the riff really just makes the song move and keeps the propelling the song along its path (even with the second guitar part going, exemplifying the new line up configuration and its possibilities right from the get go). The manic rhythm of "Snake Oil" brings to mind the propulsive rhythms of bands like Hot Snakes (which the beginning of this song definitely evokes the memory of), but with the bottom end that Black Cross shows on their previous album, Art Offensive; the off kilter calls of "Headlights On" give the song character that repeatedly draws my interest delving deeper into the lyrics to find an acerbic attack on the attitudes of various religious subscribers with powerful lyrical lines like "You prey upon us, never good enough, choosing a side that sells security, in a life that's just a dream, you feed illusion with bigotry." The very noisy ending to "Business is Everything" is another example of the band trying other sounds within the context of the repertoire that the band has established with past releases, as the preceding parts of the song are undoubtedly Black Cross. The understated power of "Chagrin" and "Severance Pays" is without a doubt held in the vocal arrangements of both tracks with the great juxtaposition of Rob's lead vocals and the second vocal track that brings to mind the call and response vocals of blues; the music winds its way around the vocals to create a very melodic and D.C. hardcore-like track that is powerfully creates and maintains a palpable emotional timbre for the entirety of the song. The slow tempo and even pacing of "Firelight" gives a bit more breadth to Severance Pays; it has a completely different feel to the song while still maintaining the overall flow of the record. "Get Out Of My Head" has a rousing sing along that I can only imagine the crowd going crazy shouting along with the band, "Get out of my fucking head", over and over with much gusto.
Severance Pays is a definite progression for Black Cross, giving the impression that no matter what, they are going to write music that they want to write; and luckily, we are all the benefactors of that spirit of adventure while still staying true to their love of the D.C. hardcore sound. I have to admit my initial disappointment with the record, mainly because of its understated recording sound, but then one day it hit me just how good Severance Pays is; the album is a throwback of sorts to a time when passion in music was not faked by a bunch of dudes hoping to be signed by a record label, and I completely overlooked that aspect of this record at first. All that being said, I would not say that the record makes me nostalgic at all (Revolution Summer was before my time by a few years), but I will say it is an excellent record; I highly recommend it for anyone that enjoys D.C. hardcore.