There’s no avoiding it, so I’m just going to drop the name Deftones right here in the first sentence of this review. While ††† is its own unique band with its own unique sound, there is just no getting around the highly recognizable voice of Deftones front man, Chino Moreno, at lead. And that’s perfectly okay because this side project for Moreno, Shaun Lopez (Far), and Chuck Doom — what a badass name! — goes a long way to separate themselves from the metal band that will be bringing in much of their fan base.
Since 2011, ††† has released two EPs, contributed the song The Years to the Batman: Arkham City soundtrack, and played a number of music festivals, including Lallapalooza. A third EP was planned, but never fully realized as Moreno went back to work with Deftones for “Koi No Yokan”. In the fall of 2013 the band was signed to Sumerian Records, and just months later they announced their first full-length album, the self-titled, “Crosses”.
As a long-time Deftones fan, I’ve been going crazy waiting for this release. I’ll admit that, as with most of the music I find myself fawning over, I went into this album with very high expectations. Chino Moreno has never let me down in the past, and I’m pleased to say that he is still batting 1000 with that regard.
“Crosses” launches right into a sea of heavy guitar and electric noise with This is a Trick. The pounding bass and grinding synth that makes up the foundation of this track lets you know right off the bat that this is no Deftones record. As a thumping line of perfectly arranged synth beats hit all around you, Moreno’s melodic voice cuts through the noise and simmers things down. Before long the track builds to a bellicose orgy of synth, firing from all directions with Moreno’s signature, grating aggression at the chorus.
Bitches Brew sticks out as probably my most favorite track on the album. Its initial slow pacing and underlying dark emotion mix nicely with the humming base that holds it together. Distorted electric guitar moves in to crush at the chorus while Moreno’s voice lulls and soothes like a siren enticing its prey. The lyrics are dark and brooding, “From the flames of the fire I watch you crawl into me. From the flames of the fire, I feel you crawl into my bed. Throwing shapes at the sky, I watch you crawl into me.” At the end of the track, in the final phase of Moreno’s siren call, a compressing blow of electric guitar draws and eviscerates as Moreno screams out behind it.
The first single from “Crosses” is track six, The Epilogue. Here light guitar strumming is met by drum machine and fluid bass. According to my ears, this is the most electronic-driven track of the album. Moreno’s vocals convey something of a confusion on his part as he sings, which is ever present in his delivery and inflection. As it builds to the chorus, he sings, “Look around through the town, not a soul to be found, in silence, no sound. There’s no one around but you.” There is a very distinct ’80s feel to this song, though the underlying darkness that seems to hang beneath it, ready to reach up and take hold at any minute, stays with you throughout.
Option starts off all synth and drum machine with Moreno’s voice echoing as if speaking from some ethereal plane that lays beyond the reality of the song itself. Things get heavy and hard and break away in an effervescing explosion of synth as the chorus hits: “I swear on the cross, can you promise that to the grave, you’ll take my name? Can you promise me?” Before long the track drops to a lone guitar as Moreno’s voice cries, once again speaking from an otherworldly space alongside his vocals in the forefront of the song, “All this time, I’ve prayed for this day to come true. No one knows how deep we waded through. I wish I could take your hand and make it true. ‘Cause no one knows how far apart we’ve stayed to get through.” These lyrics are unparalleled, adding so much depth to a song that is already, on its own, quite powerful and hauntingly gripping.
I would go into extreme detail for every track on this record if I could, but sadly I cannot without taking this review into book form. Over the years I’ve followed many bands rather obsessively, mostly for the talents of a few key members. When the inevitable side projects arise, I approach them with the same fervor I would with releases from their parent band, and I’m almost always left with a ho-hum response. Well, that’s definitely NOT the case here. ††† is one of the few side projects from which I have ever come away foaming at the mouth for more, more, more! While the unparalleled vocal talents of Chino Moreno go a long way to give this band the intensity and power they so expertly harness and deploy, the dark, electric instrumentals and heavy guitar mix perfectly to bring this group full circle. It is because of this that they are now at the top of my list of live acts that I absolutely must see this year.
“Crosses” — 9/10