Bastard Cröss Unleash Hell on Their Debut EP (Review)
Their name is Bastard Cröss. Their debut EP is called Bastard Cröss.
These blasphemous upstarts from Philadelphia might not offer any huge innovations in the realm of blackened speed metal (or naming releases), but one thing is certain: Bastard Cröss fucking bring it.
Clearly inspired by the likes of Midnight, Wraith, and too many bands from the eighties to mention, Bastard Cröss is a grim and thrashing recipe for “Total Desaster,” to borrow the term from Destruction. Their debut drools with aggression and evil like werewolf spit. It amounts to an energetic listening experience, with impressive performances on many fronts.
The EP plunges into battle straightaway with “The Sorceress Beckons”, wasting no time unloading a thrashy guitar lick, with D-beat drums to catapult the pummeling pace. Their vocalist and guitarist Blasphemous Axe screeches out lyrics with enthused venom. The song details a grand and bloody siege, with “hundreds of horses, thousands of wolves,” marching to their demise, against one black magic-wielding sorceress in a castle. It's cool to discern the lyrics from this song simply upon listening, even if Bastard Crössrhyme play is a little basic. But hey, I'll take basic bitch black metal over pretentious barista black metal any day!
“The Sorceress Beckons” also sinks into a spooky, medieval breakdown for its chorus, where the guitar melodies seem to mirror its besieged castle theme. Black metal freaks might be pleased to hear flashes of Dissection in this part, and to further the comparison, Bastard Crösscrank it up a level in the solo department. Ambitious dueling guitar leads adorn the finale, delivering wailing, epic high notes like Nero playing his fiddle as Rome burns.
Bastard Cröss split vocal duties with their second guitarist, Heathen Chevalier, in their second song, “Under The Bastard Cross.” This number continues the rapid fire tempo with an Exodus-style yarn. Chev's vocals contrast his screechy counterpart with gruff, proto death metal growls. I'd compare his pipes to Ventor's yowls on the first three Kreator albums. Chevalier also hits some gleefully out-of-tune falsettos, yet another highlight in this love letter to the old school.
By the third song, “Cryptic Illusions” it's obvious this entire EP is content to stay at one tempo: Fast! Sure, it's got a few half speed parts and breakdowns. But Bastard Crösslargely follows the template of the early Bathory albums, with one ripper after another. “Cryptic Illusions” bites with a Middle Eastern thrash riff, perhaps a shade of King Diamond, and follows with a barrage of palm-muted triplets, and a slithering, mosh section thrown in for grave measure.
Their closing number “Headless,” is another tempestuous rager, centered on the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow. This might be their most rambunctious one yet, with generous blast beats, and sloppy, punk cymbal crashes to create a fast and loose atmosphere, before it retreats to abrupt feedback and fades out.
One of the few criticisms is the mix. This is designed to sound like a raw black metal tape, the kind one might find tucked away in a shoe box that's been left in an attic for decades. However, some of the volume levels could benefit from a more seamless treatment. There's a few moments when the rhythm guitars phase in and out of solos in a jarring manner, and it detracts from the riffs at work. As another side effect of its rawness, the bass is also light. It's hard to listen to Bastard Cröss without hearing glimpses of Motorhead, Sodom, and Venom, who all gave the four string section the space to shine. It seems like the band missed an opportunity to match that heavier low end presence to add another layer of character.
But in whole-hearted low-fidelity, Bastard Cröss levels its barrel and fires with everything they’ve got, mostly shredding the target. Their debut EP is an undeniable jolt of adrenaline that deals out memorable hooks, heaping with throwbacks to the black metal and thrash metal pioneers of yesteryear. In the eternal quest to lay down one’s soul to the gods rock and roll, Bastard Cröss excels at excitement.
Bastard Cröss released October 1st via the band's Bandcamp page.