Cryonics (Level Plane, 2003)
For: Light the Fuse and Run!, Tubers, The Refused
Byline: Wildly Inventive hardcore discovered during a formative four month span.
I realize that most of my contributions to the TOME have been little more than subjective gushings about music that I love. While I try to keep a sense of journalistic objectivity for integrity sake, sometimes I can't separate the context in which I hear a record and the music itself. That's why these Friday Nostalgia reviews are so much fun to write, I get to dig into a time when a record meant something to me for a specific reason. All of us have those. It's why we love music. It's we create or secretly yearn to create music. To repackage those emotions into something original and personal. There isn't much of a difference between a musician and a rock critic, when we heard a song that left an indelible impression on us, some of us picked up a guitar, others a pen. Will Sheff said something like that.
I take this lengthy introduction as a roundabout way to say, I'm gonna get real wit'chu for a sec. I realize that for most of us the first year of college is a time of unbridled hedonism. Finally cut free from living at home it is a place to experiment from all manners of illicit substances. I, however, spent my first semester of college at an extremely conservative, highly religious university in Southeastern Idaho. I am not saying it was a bad experience, or that I didn't make incredible friends, but for the most part I bristled against the conformist power structure of student-run honor code committees, a huge streak of naivety among the student body. Obnoxious outward displays of nonconformity or rebellion have never really been my bag, so while some of my newfound College friends were trying to "fight the system" I mostly burrowed into myself and discovered a new kind of rebellion. Noise music. Largely thanks to Amanda Romans, who I want to reconnect with (if you are reading this somewhere, lets chat!), 2003 was the year I discovered legendary grindcore bands like Daughters and Pig Destroyer, extremely influential screamo acts like Pg. 99 and Orchid, and listened to some of the most brutally misanthropic hardcore that had no place in Southeastern Idaho. The chaotic, nihilistic, time signatures and emotional content defied the orderly and strange Twin Peaks happiness of that school. It helped me find a comfortable middle by spending each day straddled between two camps. I left after a semester, but still retain pleasant memories of that place.
Hot Cross was one of those groups and their album Cryonics as well as their EP A New Set of Lungs seem to crystalize that time for me. The late-great Hot Cross out of Philadelphia were a band poised with that indefinable mix of agression, accessibility, and experimentation with both the form and texture of hardcore to become a veritable crossover success. This never quite panned out in their almost nine years of on-again-off-again existence. But what we have in Cryonics is a unique vision of what could have been. Hot Cross utilizes the dueling screaming/singing vocals of Billy Werner and Matt Smith. While most of the arrangements stick close to the verse-chorus/brutally heavy breakdown of hardcore, songs like "A Tale for the Ages" find Hot Cross experimenting with slower, more sprawling, song structures replete with a swirling pastiche of effects driven guitar work, recalling another genre-bending Philly hardcore/post-metal band Rosetta. "A Tale for the Ages", while removing much of Greg Drudy's start-stop, math-influenced time signatures, isolates Werner's gravelly scream allowing him to carry the weight of the song. Cryonics was probably intended for, but not really meant to be consumed en masse by the public. Cryonics is literally bursting with too many big ideas musically for it to be totally embraced as a quintessential hardcore record, yet way too hardcore to heralded as a perfect crossover success. But for those kids like me, who were already torn between two camps, Cryonics was a rallying cry, an anthem that it was ok to share ideals from a variety of sources. An allegiance to one didn't necessarily mean an abandonment of the other. Thanks Hot Cross.
P.S Hot Cross trivia time. Did you know that Greg Drudy was Interpol's original drummer and started Level Plane Records?