By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — An all-star punk-metal quartet that reunited two virtuoso members of the legendary experimental band Fantômas returns to the Bay Area when Dead Cross takes the stage at the Great American Music Hall Wednesday night.
Though best known as the original drummer for iconic LA-based thrash-metal titans Slayer, Dave Lombardo has had about as wildly diverse of a career as any percussionist in the history of heavy music. And even if he had walked away from music after his initial stint with the group, his contributions would have made him a metal hero for the ages. It was Lombardo’s volcanic drumming that pushed the band to hardcore punk tempos on its groundbreaking early efforts Show No Mercy and the Haunting the Chapel EP.
His ferocious playing and remarkable technique developed quickly, helping to make each of Slayer’s subsequent albums — from sophomore effort Hell Awaits through their landmark recordings Reign in Blood and South of Heaven — a quantum leap forward in the refinement of thrash metal’s brutal science. Lombardo parted ways with the band in 1992 after one final salvo — 1990’s sonic blitzkrieg Seasons of the Abyss — but that was far from the end of his career.
The drummer would form his own metal band, releasing several albums of complex thrash/power metal with Grip, Inc. starting in 1995, but Lombardo also began to expand his musical horizons. While he would continue to collaborate with metal bands — filling in as drummer for Testament for their 1999 recording The Gathering and later guesting on an album by Finnish cello metal quartet Apocalyptica, Lombardo also began a serious exploration of avant-garde music.
He teamed with Faith No More/Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton in his musically schizophrenic ensemble Fantômas in 1998 (the powerhouse band was filled out by Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne and Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn), providing the explosive percussive power and adroit cymbal work Patton required to bring the band’s demented cut-and-paste musical vision mixing noise, thrash metal and eerie atmospheres to life. Lombardo also played on a pair of albums for experimental jazz saxophonist John Zorn and — perhaps most outlandish — appeared in Matthew Barney’s surreal film “Cremaster 2,” contributing a monstrous drum solo accompanied by a swarm of angry bees on the song “The Man in Black.”
By the late ’90s, Patton had already firmly established himself as one of the most adventurous vocalists in rock with a decade of work fronting both genre-smashing San Francisco ensemble Faith No More and his wilder, long-running experimental group Mr. Bungle. Joining FNM in 1989, Patton provided warped lyrics, an impressively versatile vocal range and charismatic stage presence to help the band score a massive hit with The Real Thing fueled largely by the MTV hit “Epic” that matched the singer’s rapped vocals to a soaring chorus and headbanging metal riff. The success of the album led to a record deal for Mr. Bungle, who recorded their left-field funk-metal debut with NYC punk-jazz maverick Zorn producing.
Patton prodded Faith No More down an increasingly unorthodox path on subsequent hit efforts Angel Dust and King For a Day…Fool For a Lifetime, even as he and Bungle ranged into far weirder territory on their critically acclaimed second album, Disco Volante. While both FNM and Mr. Bungle split by the end of the decade, Patton stayed busy with a number of projects that included a pair of solo releases on Zorn’s Tzadik imprint, Fantômas and his more traditional noise-punk outfit Tomahawk with Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Dennison.
After the turn of the millennium, Lombardo would collaborate with Patton on three more albums with Fantômas over the space of the next five year — The Director’s Cut, a compendium of drastically reworked soundtrack tunes, the terrifying ambient/horror/metal experiment Delìrium Còrdia and the more playful but still unhinged cartoon-soundtrack inspired Suspended Animation. Lombardo would also rejoin Slayer in 2002, ten years after he had departed. The group would solidify it’s reputations as thrash metal’s most fearsome and powerful outfit during Lombardo’s second stint, recording a pair of acclaimed albums and touring extensively before a dispute over finances led to another acrimonious split in 2013.
Since then, Lombardo has worked on music for film and television soundtracks and recorded and toured with the decidedly less metallic but still heavy power trio PHILM until he announced his sudden departure from the band early last year. Desiring to return to a heavier sound, Lombardo joined SoCal punk contemporaries Suicidal Tendencies as well as playing drums on a number of dates for the surprising reunion of the Misfits. But it was his announcement of the new hardcore project Dead Cross that perhaps stirred up the most interest.
Collaborating with guitarist Mike Crain and bassist Justin Pearson of the feral hardcore band Retox (Pearson had also played in fringe hardcore band the Locust), Dead Cross aimed to bring Lombardo back to his hardcore roots while leaving plenty of room for wild experimentation. When original vocalist Gabe Serbian dropped out of the project, the band was initially at a loss of who to find to replace him. When Patton inquired about putting out the debut Dead Cross album on his Ipecac Recordings label, Lombardo decided to ask him if he was interested in joining the outfit.
The resulting recording found Patton adding his vocals to the band’s already completed tracks with savage results. The eponymous album marked the singer’s return to the more maniacal end of the musical spectrum and arguably features some of Lombardo’s most explosive playing in years. Clocking in at under a half an hour, the Dead Cross debut still manages to pack in more brutality than many bands can muster in an entire career.
The quartet performed its first live shows last summer, headlining small theaters (including its local debut at the UC Theatre in Berkeley) and making several festival appearances that earned Dead Cross kudos for ferocious blasts of intensity the band delivers from the stage. On Wednesday, Dead Cross made a surprise new EP available for immediate download and pre-order of a 10″ vinyl version that features two corrosive new songs and a pair of remixed tunes from their debut. The group plays the Great American Music Hall Wednesday night ahead of a scheduled date in Mexico and a planned summer tour through Europe. Opening the show will be Mamaleek, a shadowy, experimental black metal outfit allegedly made up of two anonymous brothers who arrived in San Francisco via Beirut and mix elements of jazz, electronic and Middle Eastern music into their eclectic, menacing stew.
Dead Cross with Mamaleek
Wednesday, May 2, 8 p.m. $30-$35
Great American Music Hall