What’s beautiful about being a music journalist is that you’re always presented with opportunities to move outside of your comfort zone for a while. Today’s premiere is one of those opportunities, one I felt prompted to seize on pure impulse. Luckily my intuition has once again proven itself useful, because what we have in store for you on this fine day is something very special.
Deep Cross is an experimental music duo from Austin, Texas, consisting of Jason Joachim and Michael Cockrell. Together, these two explore the fringes of modern industrial music, drone, doom metal, post-punk, and adjacent styles with brutal efficacy. Over the course of their discography thus far (one full-length album, one EP, as well as a split release with Khost) there’s been an ever-present experimental edge embedded into their music, and I’m happy to report that their upcoming sophomore album Royal Water is even more rigorous in its boundary pushing; not towards the extreme musical expression, not this time, but towards the subtle, exhilarating, and timeless touch of beauty inherent to the dark underbelly of threatening but alluring music.
Royal Water sees Joachim and Cockrell relying mostly on the electronic elements of their previously nascent aesthetic, staging their sinister stylings as a flirtation between post-industrial soundscapes, post-punk guitars, and a surprising amount of clean vocals. There are still moments of deeply rooted rage and despair, expressed through gnarly screams, but as a whole, the new Deep Cross record sounds notably… optimistic? This seems to be in keeping with the conceptual orientation of Royal Water, which the band describe as such:
‘Royal Water is not a dark album per se. It deals with ideas of what hope looks like in action, what sacrifices come with growing/changing, the things we confront when we want to change ourselves, and the growing that stems from it. The end point to it is that we are all here to die so we might as well try to make this place easier for each other.‘
‘With Royal Water we found ourselves at a point where we kept wanting to explore areas of post-punk and industrial, music that is rhythmic, while also experimenting with detached segments of tape loops and rich, adventurous sample usage. We wanted this record to be a mutated animal in that sense.‘
This mission statement from Deep Cross becomes readily apparent quite early on. Opener “For Janus” begins with anxious, droning electronics before exploding into an industrial beat flanked by shimmering guitars. Joachim and Cockrell unleash both capable clean vocals as well as some throat-shredding screams as the instrumental never veers from its original mixture, only adding some heft to the guitars occasionally. The sense of anxiety is ramped up in its finale, leading into second track “Seraphic Tendon”; opening on a flittering melody and heavy beats, it too relies on post-punk guitars to flesh out its glitchy electronics. Towards the end, it does pick up some vitriol as well, but other than that, it’s an almost ambient-leaning affair.
“Shifting Faces” too sounds like something that escaped from the ’80s only to make big waves in the present. Glassy synths and guitars meet Cockrell’s competent vocal delivery that fits the overall sound very well; the song structure is quite hypnotic in its repetitive motions, which I appreciate. Then, “Gnaw At the Heart” slows things down even further with a minimalistic beat and the same beautifully cutting guitars we’ve heard all over Royal Water by now. I’m especially smitten with the synth sounds on this album – they’re very retro, but used in a tasteful way. “Viral Reflections” closes out this 28-minute LP with a slow, stomping beat and an ethereal ambiance that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Dead Can Dance album.
It’s all very post-punk, a little goth, and heavily infected by the punchy EBM and ambient tendencies of post-industrial music. Deep Cross didn’t mellow out necessarily – their sound just evolved into a direction that’s less overtly caustic and much more instantly accessible. We still hear some of their heavier inclinations played out, but in small, healthy doses, so as to not disrupt the dark, intimidating, yet deeply appealing aesthetic represented throughout Royal Water.
To close out this premiere, I would like to direct your attention towards the album’s stunning artwork, painted by Italian artist Sergio Padovani:
Royal Water, the upcoming new album by Deep Cross, will be out on March 17, via Roman Numeral (who will handle vinyl distribution) and Somatic (tape), so if you liked what you heard and read above, you can pre-order Royal Water either via the labels or the band’s very own Bandcamp profile. Be sure to also follow Deep Cross on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with any future news. A heartfelt thank you to the band and affiliated PR for letting us premiere the full album ahead of release, it’s been a pleasure.
Band images courtesy of Kayla Hoots