There’s a different expectation for side projects and “supergroups” than there is for musicians’ primary bands. In some cases, the members feel pressured to make something different enough and impressive enough to warrant the time, often with mixed results. Other times, the artists use the side project as an opportunity to create something with no pressure whatsoever, and the end result is often raw and authentic—from the heart. Multinational punk/metal collective Tau Cross falls into the latter category, and with their second full-length album, Pillar of Fire, they employ a balance of experimentation and deference to their strongest skills with an attitude of writing what they please, expectations be damned.
In 2015, Rob “The Baron” Miller, bassist/frontman from the British crust punk band Amebix, along with Voivod drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, and members of Misery and War // Plague, recorded a self-titled album that was a healthy combination of their crust-punk and prog-metal styles while also including elements not seen in either style. Pillar of Fire continues in this manner, inadvertently creating a sub-genre in the process (crust-prog metal, perhaps?). The sound effects that open the album are reminiscent of classic Voivod, and soon “Raising Golem” starts in earnest, with The Baron’s rough, growling vocals breaking through the thrash verses on an odd beat. Later in the song, Miller drops his voice down to a more authoritative chant. This disjointedness continues throughout Pillar of Fire. The chorus of “Bread and Circuses” mixes Away’s all-too-familiar thunderous drums with an indelible melody line.
Compared to their main projects, the straightforward “On the Water” is practically a pop song, and the lovely acoustic orchestrations found on the title track, “The Big House” and album closer “What is a Man” are evidence that this group of musicians enjoys spreading their wings. The heavy moments are still quite heavy, though, as seen on songs such as “Killing the King” and the dystopian “RFID.”
Pillar of Fire has plenty of variation while remaining uncomplicated, and one can imagine that the process of writing and recording this collection of songs was both rewarding and easy-going. That is not to say that Tau Cross didn’t put together a quality product—they did—but the differences between Pillar of Fire and, say, Voivod’s latest LP Target Earth are the demands on the audience and the stakes for the band. The reputations of the main projects may affect the anticipation of what Tau Cross is able to—nay, willing to—create, but they don’t dictate the end result, and in this case that works out well for everyone.