The story goes that Dead Cross had just parted ways with their singer, Gabe Serbian, and were now left sitting with their proverbial dicks in their hands.They had a half hour of written music, but no vocals. For an up and coming band gearing up to record and release its first album, this would have proven to be a major stumbling block. Fortunately for Dead Cross (and for us), Dave Lombardo’s personal assistant repeatedly implored him to get in touch with an old friend, who accepted the proposition, via text message, in fifteen seconds flat. As late as last December, the identity of said friend was being kept under wraps; he was referred to only as “an established singer.” Justin Pearson, Dead Cross bassist and source of that quote, was, as it turned out, a master of understatement; “a legendary singer” would be a more accurate description.

No disrespect to Lombardo, Pearson, and Mike Crain (who rounds out the band’s lineup on guitar), but, for the vast majority of people, interest in the band will have only really been piqued once they heard that Mike Patton was onboard. I’ll freely admit that Dead Cross would not even be on my radar otherwise. But I will crawl over disease-ridden, broken glass to listen to anything Mike Patton puts his name to; such is the goodwill he has engendered through his work with Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas (with Lombardo), John Zorn’s Moonchild, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Mondo Cane.

A cursory glance at Patton’s discography and list of collaborations will tell you that he is not a man beholden to the constraints of genre, and as much as he insists that Dead Cross is “a traditional hardcore record,” it is immediately apparent from album opener, ‘Seizure and Desist’, that Patton will not be providing traditional hardcore vocals. In fact, over the album’s runtime, Mike Patton pulls virtually every vocal trick he has out of his hat - save for romantic Italian crooning. It makes for thrilling listening, because you never know which Patton will turn up from one line to the next. This perpetual sense of edge-of-your-seat tension and anticipation elevates what would have been an exceptionally played but fairly straightforward thrash-metal-inflected hardcore punk album into something unique and special.

You can hear what a more conventional vocal approach to Dead Cross’ material sounds like via muddy-sounding YouTube recordings of their early shows with Gabe Serbian on the mic. There’s a one-dimensionality to the vitriolic rage that, to quote disillusioned millennials everywhere, leaves you with a distinct feeling of "meh." If you’re enlisting Mike Patton, you’re getting multiple dimensions, for sure, but you have to know that as part of the deal your scenery is going to get chewed the fuck up. Whereas Lombardo has stated that he wanted Dead Cross to serve as an expression of the ire he felt following the Bataclan terrorist attacks, it seems that, whilst recording his vocal takes in his basement studio, Patton was struck by the comic absurdity of being a man approaching his 50th birthday singing for this kind of band. So, he just decided to have a hell of a good time with it. This translates to a good time for the listener, and highlights what is truly remarkable about this album: on the one hand, it’s face-pulverisingly brutal, but, on the other, it’s just so much fun.

Take third single, ‘Obedience School’, which, like 70% of the songs on this thing, comes tearing out of the gate hungry for blood. But wait, are those 50s doo-wop style hand claps? Did he just sing “your missing pets are on my plaaaaate”? It’s grin-inducingly goofy. I challenge you not to laugh out loud when the song locks into a slower groove and Patton implores you to “Dance, like nobody’s looking/ Like your mum ain’t busy cooking/ Like a hooker that’s not hooking.” Sure, it’s dumb as a post, and probably isn’t the “fuck you” to ISIS terrorists that Lombardo had in mind, but I’ll be damned if it’s not the best moment of pure rock’n’roll of 2017.

Obviously, the fact that the album flat-out rocks is mostly down to the trio of Crain, Pearson and Lombardo. While it’s tempting to spend much of this review lauding Patton’s repertoire of stereo-panned screeches, call and response yelps and grunts, throat-shredding screams, cleanly sung choruses and cryptkeeper-esque chorus backing vocals, as well as poring over his tongue-in-cheek lyrical choices, it’s important to give credit where it’s due. Crain’s trebly, metallic guitar tone recalls classic DC punk bands like Bad Brains or the crossover thrash of Suicidal Tendencies, and he has some stellar moments on the record. Take the nauseating sway of the riff at the end of ‘Idiopathic’, or the incredible note runs on ‘Obedience School’ whilst Patton yells “Food! Chain!”, or the nihilistic, screeching solo on ‘Divine Filth’. For his part, Pearson’s work on bass locks in perfectly with Lombardo’s precision-engineered kit-pounding, and he gets to pull out a filth-encrusted, earth-moving bass tone, fit for a horror movie trailer, on album closer, ‘Church of the Motherfuckers’. Lombardo, of course, is just an absolute monster. The man is 52 years old for God’s sake, and is crushing those double-kicks, dragging these songs along like bloodied corpses tied to the back of his speeding car. And when he locks into a groove, as on ‘Idiopathic’, ‘Obedience School’, or ‘Grave Slave’, the whole band just takes off, soaring over a ravine filled with the crushed bones of their enemies. All this unholy racket is ably captured by erstwhile superstar nu-metal producer, Ross Robinson, who, to his credit, manages to avoid muddying it all up too much.

There are a few digressions from the super-speedy thrashcore that constitutes the default sound of the album. The first of these comes in the shape of a two and a half minute cover of Bauhaus’ nearly ten minute goth touchstone, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, that’s slight but remarkably effective as a moment of respite from the relentless pummelling. Only Mike Patton could channel what sounds like the voice of a centuries-old vampire with a forty-a-day smoking habit and call it his most restrained vocal performance on the album. The song also makes explicit what had only thus far been implied by those ghoulish backing vocals; that this is an album flirting with touches of campy b-movie horror, making it a perfect soundtrack for the 31st of October. B-movie horror tropes are revisited on ‘Church of the Motherfuckers’ wherein Patton appears to believe he’s introducing a particularly foul-mouthed episode of ‘Tales from the Cryptkeeper’, speaking as he does of “cathedrals of zombie brothers,” and the paradoxically sacred and profane place of worship of the song’s title. It’s totally demented and supremely silly, but as another stylistic string in the band’s bow, it comes off brilliantly.

The same cannot, unfortunately, be said of ‘Gag Reflex’, which is the low point of the album, and probably belies, more than any other song, the disjointed recording method of the album. During the slower opening portion of the track, Patton struggles in vain to pin his vocal melody to the musical backing, and it just sounds horribly tuneless. As if the whole band realises it’s best to give up on that passage, they pivot into another blast of speedy hardcore that sounds like some of the more indistinguishable cuts off the album (‘Divine Filth’, ‘The Future has been Cancelled’), before slowing down again so that Patton can unleash a hilariously incongruous “ooo-ooo-uh-ooo.” Finally, everyone plays their instruments as quickly as humanly possible to no discernible effect. The limbless zombie of a song then plays out with half a minute of creepy ambient scraping and clanging whilst Patton appears to whisper the word “tampax” over and over again.

That WTF of a misstep aside though, Dead Cross is a solid record, which doesn’t exactly boast any instant classic songs, but is filled to bursting with individual moments that will floor you. Trust me, you will be pressing repeat on this one. Being repeatedly knocked to the ground has never been this much fun.