Since 2005, Cross Stitched Eyes have been dishing out a viscerally compelling, deathrock-tinged take on hardcore punk. Their new Decomposition LP — out on Alternative Tentacles May 1 — incorporates elements of Amebix, Rudimentary Peni, and Killing Joke into the band’s consistently aggressive sound. Decomposition is a fiery and thoughtful take on hardcore punk that effectively explores the darker corners of the genre. It’s a release that seamlessly straddles the crust, d-beat, and deathrock sub-genres of punk, reassembling aspects of each, Frankenstein-like, into a brilliant new whole.
The band hails from several countries — the US, UK, and Germany (where the band was founded), respectively. It’s hard for me not to think of the band as a San Francisco act, however, and I want to place them alongside bands like Crimson Scarlet or the recently-revamped Altar de Fey, who are currently reigniting the goth-punk scene along the California coast. Or with Alaric, for whom Cross Stitched Eyes drummer and singer Jason Willer also plays.
Just as Alaric bring the influences of bands like Dead and Gone and Part 1 to the table in their particularly devastating, gloom-heavy style of deathrock, so Cross Stitched Eyes treads a similar path — except, in Cross Stitched Eyes’ case, the tempo is faster, and the songs embody more of punk’s traditionally aggressive, in-your-face spirit. This is not a slow, mopey, or otherwise downcast sort of take on the genre. But Cross Stitched Eyes approach is still a darker shade of punk: Willer’s vocals remind of a cross between Nick Blinko’s (of Rudimentary Peni) and Damien Abraham’s (of Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up). This is the type of abrasive and off-kilter punk that is in the tradition of Peni’s Death Church LP and the first, self-titled Killing Joke LP.
The first track, “We Follow,” is musically very much like a Killing Joke song, but again Willer’s vocals sound like Nick Blinko off his anti-psychotic meds. So, think of Nick Blinko singing for Killing Joke’s “Unspeakable” and you might get the picture. And another thing about the first track — it ends with a creepy horror organ outro. Excellent! The second song, with the Peni-like title “Vile Corpse,” is a relentless, repetitive slogger very much in the vein of Alaric, with occasional hints of Times of Grace-era Neurosis cheekily poking through.
It bears mentioning that band members’ pedigrees also include bands like Zygote and the Smartpils, both Amebix-related projects. (And both still sorely overlooked, for that matter). Both Zygote and the Smartpils made a kind of crust-deathrock hybrid, a style of sound very much relevant to any description of the Cross Stitched Eyes. In fact, the last track on Decomposition, “Sluglord,” has a kind of pounding, fist-pumping “Arise!” groove going on (as in the Amebix song “Arise!”). Track 3, “Existence,” reminds a little bit of Killing Joke’s early, caustic “War Dance” single. And track 11, “Scars of Past,” has an awesome Rikk Agnew guitar sound a la Agnew’s All By Myself solo LP, or even the first Christian Death LP, Only Theatre of Pain! “All Superior” is a straight-ahead, dark garage punk stomper of a song. “Void” is likewise a faster offering but with eerie, spidery guitar breaks that make the song stand out. “Suffocation” is more of a classic Rudimentary Peni-esque schizo-punk song (see below). That’s the thing about Cross Stitched Eyes that is so good, though: They keep you guessing. It’s a good thing to see a band like this using diverse influences from the past, building on them, and moving punk forward in a new direction. All you have to do is strap in and enjoy the ride.