Tau Cross - Pillar Of Fire - (8/10)
Published on July 20, 2017
People are bloody ignorant apes.
– Samuel Beckett
I know, starting a review of a punk/metal album with such a quote reeks of poseur-ism. However, the second album of Tau Cross, Pillar of Fire, seems to do its utmost to use the roots of punk and metal in order to prove Beckett’s point. In a way, the band brings a very artistic spin on its genre, and expands this form with lyrics based on disenchantment with the state of man. And where Beckett used absurdity, Tau Cross resort to themes of direct critique and bitter escape. The quote is there, because Pillar of Fire is an artistic statement. As such, the album makes the most sense when approached as “thinking man’s metal” – which is already implied by the presence of band members from Amebix or Voivod.
Needless to say, the band, centered around Rob “The Baron” Miller is rather unique in concept and form. The main cornerstones are straightforward riffs that range from punkish simplicity to traditional heavy metal, the incredibly driving drums and heavy focus on atmosphere. The closest aural comparison is Killing Joke. However, while they rely much more on a hypnotic, cold atmosphere, Tau Cross are noticeably wilder in delivery and more riff-driven. On top of that, they employ a warm, folkish touch in several songs (such as the beautiful title track and “What Is A Man”).
Besides crafting haunting acoustics, Tau Cross simply excel at making catchy songs intriguing. The former is best illustrated in “Killing The King” with its marvellous, melodic main riff and shifting tempos. “On The Water” is similar and just as strong, hooking you with great vocal lines. Rob is in truly fine form here, as his raspy voice has elements of both Jaz Coleman and Lemmy, but he still can resort to more tuneful cleans if needed. The most aggressive highlight, “RFID”, masterfully combines punk and metal with a primitive chorus with another memorable, crispy riff.
Back to Beckett’s quote. The bitter realisation about people is echoed in the lyrics. The topics of mass control, religion and escaping them give Pillar of Fire a lot of character and uneasy atmosphere. The images of rural ritualism are also very vivid. Speaking of character, the drumming is something worth mentioning. Away’s work in Voivod has always had some punk to it, but here, he just lets loose and pounds forth with a ton of energy. And it’s a good way he does, because there are some songs that simply drag.
Sans a few creative arrangements, with samples and keyboards used to amplify the atmosphere (“Seven Wheels”), the weakest moments come up when the songs slow down. The slow folky ones work well, but Tau Cross certainly are no Sabbath to be both heavy and slow. Stuff like “Bread nad Circuses” is firmly on the boring side. Also, while the highlights are present, this album lacks one amazingly brilliant song, an album cornerstone. There is no “Hangman’s Hyll” to be found here like on the band’s debut.
The first disc of Tau Cross felt more content to go for rock’n’roll than atmosphere. In turn, Pillar of Fire is less Motörhead, and more Killing Joke. Perhaps a little bit more vitriol and/or a less subtle atmosphere would make Tau Cross’ sophmore a more convincing overall experience, rather than a slow and steady grower. It is nowhere near mediocrity, simply because the riffwork and songwriting are mostly on point. However, the expansion of sound made the band lose a bit of the raw power that the debut had and masterfully used for contrasts. Comparatively, Pillar of Fire has solid craftsmanship that is only a pinch of Beckett’s unhinged resentment short of awesome.