Much to my dismay, Black Cross has become a sporadic recording artist. But when they do come together it is something that, unfortunately, too few stop to notice as they are among the best and most innovative hardcore bands still playing today. Severance Pays is the band's second proper full-length and it is quite a different creature than its older sibling, 2003's much lauded yet often overlooked Art Damage. Still, there is a lot here to be appreciated.
After parting ways with Equal Vision and its recording budget that made their previous full-length sound a lot more polished than the rest of their material, the band recorded all of the instruments live in the studio for Severance Pays, returning to the sound of their earlier material and as foreshadowed on 2005's Sink, Knives, and Chrome EP. Thus, the album has a much more gritty, garage sound. Former bassist Evan Patterson recruited Young Widows bandmate Nick Thieneman as the band's new bassist, leaving Evan free to pick up a second guitar alongside his brother and current Coliseum frontman Ryan Patterson. The result is an extra layer of sound and complexity not offered on any of the band's other material and, for the most part, it doesn't disappoint at all.
The driving Black Flag-inspired hardcore is still here. For instance, songs like "Business Is Everything," "Get Out of My Head" and "We Don't Owe You" are sure to strike a positive note with fans of the band's previous material. Yet, there is a bit of musical dabbling on the album as well. "Wolves" and "One In Four" both start out with big, swaggering rock and roll riffs, while "Chagrin" ventures into the obscure genre of post-hardcore with guitars that wouldn't sound out of place on an older At the Drive-In record.
Others perfectly balance the two, as on "Snake Oil," which provides a pulsating and pounding sound throughout with smatterings of ambience thrown in the mix.
Vocalist Rob Pennington's vocals are as anthemic as ever, calling his listeners to arms on the aforementioned "Snake Oil" and "Get out of My Head." As with the music, his vocals have progressed a bit as well, and they feel quite at home taking the spotlight in "Firelight" and "Chagrin" among others.
Drummer Forrest Kuhn is not to be left out, though. His drumming shows that he is indeed an important part of the band, with his drums providing a solid backbone along with Thieneman's bass to hold the rest of the album together.
The only truly negative thing I can find with this album is that sometimes the different approaches to some songs works and at other times it doesn't quite fit in with the flow of the album. By the time the title song finishes with its driving, yet melodic guitars, I'm ready to be pounded again by Black Cross' signature and distinctive aggression, only to be treated with a couple more songs that, while well-performed, are far from being that kick in the teeth.
Though this album left me with a bit more to be desired after a four-year wait for another full-length, Severance Pays shows a lot of growth and progression for Black Cross while maintaining the raucous hardcore attack that they have become (un)known for; it is sure to satisfy their fans, and possibly make a few more along the way.