Tau Cross’ 2015 self-titled debut took many in the metal and punk communities by surprise. It shouldn’t have, given the legendary contributions of band leaders Rob “The Baron” Miller of Amebix and Michael “Away” Langevin of Voivod. That album melded thrash, crust, punk, and a little bit of old fashioned heavy metal into a storming amalgam of heaviness and speed that catapulted the band into the limelight and gave the album more than a few nods on best-of lists at the end of the year. Such an auspicious debut from wily metal veterans such as Miller and Langevin has led to immense excitement regarding the band’s next album and whether or not they could keep pace with their scorching debut. Thus Tau Cross find themselves in the midst of the eternal quandary of all bands who have released excellent debut records. So how do they fair with their new record Pillar of Fire? Not bad at all, to be honest.
There is an argument to be made that Pillar of Fire isn’t quite as hard-hitting as its predecessor, but that would overly simplify what Tau Cross is attempting to accomplish here. The band is not attempting to reinvent the wheel with Pillar of Fire. There was a lot that worked about their self-titled record, and to throw all of that away would have been a mistake. The band most certainly recognized this. So instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water and completely deconstructing their sound, Tau Cross take an effective and diverse approach to their songwriting on this LP. All of the core elements that make Tau Cross such an awesome band (Miller’s intense vocals, speedy guitar work, a seamless blending of various types of hard music) are here in spades, but what the band adds to the mix brings additional variety and nuance that is both effective and welcome. Folk instrumentation in particular sees plenty of action here, with Miller’s voice gently crooning over acoustic passages that present pleasing interludes between heavier passages. This is Tau Cross like you’ve known them, adding elements that further push their sound without discarding what made their last album so enjoyable.
This dedication to perfecting old sounds is evident from the very first track of the album, “Raising Golem”. Sporting guitar tone and production that feels stripped directly from the 80s thrash scene, Miller’s vocals swoop and reel through some straightforward punk-influence drum blasting as the guitars thunder through some simply constructed yet highly effective riffs. It isn’t quite as hard hitting an opener as “Lazarus” was in their previous record, but Pillar of Fire takes an entirely different approach to building intensity. The album’s second track “Bread and Circuses” follows a similar path to the first track, creating a more ominous atmosphere before jumping into mid-tempo instrumental passages that take a bit to build the intensity. That isn’t to say these tracks are soft or dull. To the contrary, the band are purposefully building their propulsive sound to maximum effect, which finally explodes in full during the album’s third track, “On the Water”. An album highlight, this track comes out swinging with heavy, chugging riffs that stomp and plod over the fist-pumping action of the drums. Things don’t let up over the following track, which recall the bands most ferocious material. Following this more ferocious sequence, title track “Pillar of Fire” begins to incorporate the folk elements mentioned earlier, creating a beautiful and powerful ballad of loss and anger that is a breath of fresh air after the oppression of the previous two tracks. The albums jumps, glides, and slices through various mixtures of the above formula throughout, culminating in a truly powerful and gorgeous closing track in “What Is a Man?”, complete with acoustic picking and strumming complemented by some incredible bagpipe playing. A classic ending to an album of magnitude.
Ultimately, Pillar of Fire isn’t re-writing the story of genre crossovers. It isn’t a bold statement of manic experimentation or a completely fresh take on old sounds. It instead is a uniformly solid record that combines elements from many sectors of the metal into something extremely enjoyable, catchy, and musically diverse. These are tracks tailor made to bang your head or serenade to, and I don’t think Tau Cross intended it to be any other way. It isn’t the shocking revelation that their first album was, but it doesn’t need to be. This is quality music made by quality musicians that is well worth your time.
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Pillar of Fire is available now via Relapse records and can be purchased here.