Founded by former Stabbing Westward guitarist Marcus Eliopulos and The Atlas Moth synth player Andrew Ragin, Black Cross Hotel might appear at face value to be another one of those flash-in-the-pan supergroups – a one-off congregation of seasoned musicians claiming to be in search of a lasting outlet, only to result in a mere dalliance to stave off the possibility of creative ennui. Of course, one hopes that this doesn’t end up being the case, and with this HEX debut, the band makes a strong showing of horror-fueled industrialized metal and post-punk. Also from The Atlas Moth, drummer Mike Miczek provides a powerful thrust upon which Ragin and bassist/producer Sanford Parker craft unsettling atmospheres; shrill and creeped out keyboards wisp and wail above caustic bass and Eliopulos’ adrenalized guitar riffs, leaving vocalist/lyricist Dee DeEmme of Whipped to roar with an unbridled fury very reminiscent of Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman at his fiercest.
The astute listener will recognize references to the cinematic works of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Dario Argento, which might not sound terribly original, except that DeEmme’s focus is on the sense of otherness intrinsic to the monstrous figures that inhabit those stories. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” So wrote H.P. Lovecraft about the persistent fascination with horror as a genre, with DeEmme’s queer-centric outlook taking this philosophy very much to heart. The opening line of “Daggers” is perhaps the crispest example of this, stating “There is danger in not standing out,” and there is a sharp subtlety to “Windows,” “Hitchhiker,” and the title track as they espouses on the uncomfortable futility of attempting to fit in, the latter especially striking for its creeping, almost ritualistic rhythm, groaning guitar riffs, and seething electronics. The same can be said of “Siren” with its hollow and mechanical beats and filmic synth-driven backdrops, while Lamb of God and Pigface alumni Randy Blythe appears to help give the cover of The Misfits’ “We Are 138” an extra touch of roaring virulence.
Given the pedigree of the musicians involved, it’s no wonder that HEX is as accomplished as it is in its production and songwriting qualities. This is all the more reason to hope that Black Cross Hotel will make good on its potential as a longstanding band with more to offer. Time will tell, but until then, HEX is at least a compelling set of audio horror that does well to recontextualize modern classics in a meaningful fashion.