If Hot Cross have not totally reinvented the essence of underground punk on Risk Revival, they at least give it a reassuring rush, with juvenile energy and certainly more than the traditional three chords. Emerging from Philadelphia, the band — actually a supergroup of sorts — create and maintain mayhem broad enough to be classified as “art-punk”, and how weird is that? Greg Drudy’s drumwork forms the music’s meticulous and all-enclosing foundation, guitarist Casey Boland is ever reliable with high-on-the-neck licks, and inger Billy Werner infuses his voice-splitting shouts with a sense of urgency.
They still straddle the essence of pissed-off young men; the lyrics are abrasive enough to hurt, the music strikes hard and fast, and the whole thing is wrapped up in somewhat shyer — but still very much there — gruff, climactic melodies. The disc is cluttered enough to initially sound repetitive and even hostile — but with a few listens its energetic charm draws you in. There’s plenty on Risk Revival to establish them as a force to be reckoned with: opening number “Exits and Trails” even has a fantastically deceptive Spanish folk intro played on acoustic guitars — and it’s only their second long-player together!
Rapid, twiddly riffs that will probably be difficult to replicate live usher in target after target, fitting up the best songs with rousing chants like “Behold the Youth!”, or “I never meant to . . . Burn!”, or “You’re killing meee!”. And just because Risk Revival is, after all, true to form, “Cardiac Silence” is surely the zenith of that formula. It really zips along at a rabid pace, even dipping into something that can only be described as a “breakdown”, hook included — “Giving up, / Giving in, / Slipping up on trying once again”.
Don’t mistake it — a lot of the music here is pure, stirred-up energy at breaking point, but there are moments of softer energy in the set, including a percussion-based instrumental called “Resent Resist Rebuild” which leads into “Fire the Foundations”. Punk fans will cry sell-out here (it’s in plain view placed as track three) . . . plus the record is dangerously well-produced . . . but then again, there’s not a band that doesn’t verge on self-parody when they play exactly the same old tune over and over again. “Silence is Failure” is the best Taking Back Sunday tune never written, an under-three-minute nugget full of chugging guitars and call-and-answer vocals.
“Finance Fuels the Sickness at Heart” is deeply passionate for a song of its kind, built off a particularly tight and impressive rumbling bassline, proving Hot Cross still have what it takes to roll out more potential than what’s readily apparent at face value. The chorus, spat with bitterness:
Pay our way, /
We reach back for something to break a fall, /
Pay our way, /
We’ve been fucked from the start, /
Caught unaware that finance fuels the sickness at heart.”
It should have closed the curtain, though. “Blame Truth” is a two-minute faux-Minor Threat jam which has a raw demo feel to it but is ultimately unnecessary, and “Scrape Wisdom” occupies five minutes (about a minute above the band’s optimum running time), never quite settling into a mold.
Risk Revival is frighteningly good at what it does: bringing anthems of rebellion to new audiences while finding a sharp, untempered medium to do it. Just two albums in, Hot Cross’ sawtoothed assault has found its peak. “I’m all but unraveled”, Werner exclaims on “Finance Fuels the Sickness at Heart”, “Despondent and sick”. Unraveled indeed.