Tau Cross - Messengers of Deception (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Tau Cross

Messengers of Deception (2020)

Heretical Music

This might be the most difficult review that I have ever written. You see, Messengers of Deception is Tau Cross’ fourth recorded album, but only the third one released, and the second bearing that title. Confusing? Here’s the refresher course:

Amebix was founded by Rob Miller and Stig Miller. Essentially the band that created the concept of crust-punk, for many, many punkers, Amebix was the band. Their seminal Arise album is a masterpiece (and so is the following Monolith as well) and, frankly, the band can stand toe-to-toe with Rudimentary Peni, Crass, Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Germs, you name it. After Amebix broke up, Rob Miller disappeared for a while to make swords in Scotland. After (surprisingly) Amebix reunited and (less surprisingly) fell apart, Rob Miller moved on to form the supergroup Tau Cross, which included Andy of War//Plague, Away of Voivod, and Jon of Misery. They released a stellar debut LP and a pretty good second album.

For their third album on Relapse, they decided to record in person (as opposed to digital connection across several countries) and recorded the first album titled Messengers of Deception. Everything was good to go and promo copies were pressed when, out of the blue, it was determined that Rob Miller thanked Gerard Menuhin, a prominent holocaust denier, in the liner notes. It goes without saying, but pretty much everyone in the punk community was downright stunned to find that the Baron himself, who has long championed independence and critical thinking, had thanked a beyond-far-right conspiracy theory guy in the liner notes. When questioned about this issue, Miller did not state that he was also a holocaust denier, but he didn’t state that he wasn’t a holocaust denier, and he did state that he was indeed influenced by Menuhin.

The rest of the band was unaware of this and the whole band broke up in a very messy way, very much in public eye. Relapse Records simultaneously canceled the album’s release. Miller then decided to re-record the entire album with a new band and some changes. That work is the second album titled Messengers of Deception and what is before us now.

And surely, part of me even questioned reviewing this at all. It’s a thorny bush for sure, and there are no winners here. But on the other hand, the point of reviewing records isn’t to only review “good records,” and there may even be a public duty to point out nefarious things, if they are found, or to point out if an artists has been wrongly castigated.

At this point, I will make it clear (even though it is obvious) that anti-Semitism is bad, racism is bad, and the holocaust certainly did happen. If my Grandpa was alive, we could ask him again about shooting at Nazis and getting shot at by Nazis. Millions of people, and millions of pieces of physical evidence, can corroborate these tales of bloodshed and oppression. I shouldn’t even have to say this. To that end, holocaust denial “theories” are odious, and frankly, if people want to seek out conspiracies, there are a lot more fun ones (and believable ones) out there.

And to be fair to Miller, after all of this mess, he hasn’t said that he is a holocaust denier and he hasn’t directly even said he agrees with any of Menuhin’s ideas- though, he hasn’t said he disagrees with any of them either, which is what makes this such a painful onion.

And that brings us to the NEW version Messengers of Deception LP. The new version of the release was recorded with local Scottish musicians. Miller and the new crew completely re-recorded most of the tracks from the unreleased version and added one new one.

Like many of us, this whole debacle has been very difficult to process and I thought, maybe analyzing the release could either shed some light on the issue, perhaps clear up some confusion, or, unfortunately, maybe even confirm a sad truth.

Well, it doesn’t. A few parties, including Relapse* themselves, seemed to suggest that the title Messengers of Deception is somehow linked to Menuhin or that line of thinking. Thankfully, it probably is not. I’ve been up and down and side to side with the lyrics. I could be wrong, but the entire release seems to focus on Gnosticism, the concept of reality, the concept of religion as a shackle of free thought, the connectedness between dimensions of if they do exist, and aliens. In fact, Miller states that the two core inspirations for the album were Jacques Vallee and John Keel. Vallee is a fairly famous astronomer and UFO guy (he also had an X-Files character named after him). Keel is the guy who wrote the The Mothman Prophesies. In fact, the title appears to be taken from a Vallee book.

These inspirations are throughout the album and appear to be somewhat of a continuation of the classic Amebix neo-paganism exploration. The first track bears one of the names of the Gnostic demiurge (sort of not-self-aware demigod that thinks it created the universe, but did not). And from there, Miller flips the concept of “what is reality” back forth through his mind. The Gnostic idea that all of reality is a lie and is just a protection of some lost entity weaves its way through all three sides of the album.

Though, perhaps interestingly, Miller, who has been interested in the neo-Pagan side of things for years (and even deeper metaphysical musings) does make reference to Judeo-Christian thought. On one track, he appears to call out to the Abrahamic God as a plea for help. At another, on the “new” track “Babylonian Death Cult” he seems to specifically attack Christian thought (as opposed to Judeo or Judeo-Christian thought) in general. If you’re a heavy duty Amebix fan, you’ll recall “God of the Grain” where Miller seemed to suggest that the concept of continual rebirth- ala Osiris, Jesus, Dionysus- all seemed to express the same ancient concept, and he even seemed to suggest that they were all equally valid. Not so here- here, Christian thought gets set in Miller’s sights and shot up. That’s not new for punk or metal, per se. But what is interesting, where most punk bands say “religion is bad because there is no afterlife”, and whereas most metal bands will either say the same or, maybe, “Satan is cool,” Miller seems to argue that there is, in fact, something out there beyond, and that religion (both ancient and modern) act to restrict the discovery of the other universe. I’m not trying to be heady here, but it is interesting that a heavy music musician is directly arguing that there is some sort of cosmic existence.

And, of course, this isn’t a new line for Miller either. But, this is both the most detailed he has been with these musings, and the most researched. References to all sort of ancient, medieval, and renaissance texts and names are strewn throughout the release. Is Miller just name checking his research, or is he trying to string it all together? And of course, it becomes a tangled web, which is sort of a summary of the album- to contemplate one’s place in the cosmos, might be too big of task for the human mind to comprehend… but maybe the human mind is capable of solving such a massive mystery.

It may be equally as interesting when Miller steps out from the ancient world and into the contemporary. Though, he uses that juxtaposition to express the point that the metaphysical contemplations here are as equally powerful now as they were in the ancient world. “Black Cadillac” contemplates modern man’s interactions with either aliens or forces from beyond the physical. It also contains the line “black shoes, black tie, white shirt, black hat, black Cadillac,” which I’m pretty sure is not a Rancid homage…

Musically, the new version of the album is “punker” than the previous Relapse version. Miller has taken the stance that due to Relapse fallout, the old version was considered an expensive demo and the new version is strictly better. I’m not sure that I agree with that assessment. Certainly, the two versions are different- but I’m not sure one is quantifiably better than the other. The Relapse recordings are washed in the biting, relapse metallic sheen, while this new version is less processed and more akin to what a live band sounds like. The low, lumbering smash of Amebix is a little bit more discernable here, and the new version appears to have a bit more of a human touch. The riffs here walk the line between thrash-charging and punk snap, and wisely, leave a fair amount of space. The band knows how to conjure a feeling, for sure, and on tracks like “Black Cadillac,” the pull back on the heaviness and float up into an astral texture, referencing visitors from beyond. There clearly is a great deal of soul in all of Miller’s music, and that really does come through in his lyrics, vocal delivery, and the way the band plays the music itself.

So really, that’s what makes this such a frustrating release. This could have been a great victory for Tau Cross- the punk/metal champions deliver their best work on their THIRD LP, which is fairly unusual. The release continues and expands Miller’s musings which started with Who’s the Enemy, and does them justice. Miller is still Miller and he’s still as heavy as ever- and he rocks.

BUT, until some questions are answered directly (and it’s clear what they are), this release will remain linked to some baggage- and the worst part, it didn’t even have to be this way. As far as I can tell, Menuhin’s writings aren’t seen in the lyrics at all. What is seen in the lyrics is about of stuff about UFO, beasts from other dimensions, and discussion of what it is to be a human in the physical world. All of that is a lot more fun and interesting than talking about some (easily disproven) holocaust denial guy.

So, that therein raises the question- why when challenged over Menuhin, didn’t Miller just say, “I am not down with THAT guy!” This is particularly true because the album doesn’t appear to address it at all, and in an interview with the site Sonic Abuse, Miller almost appeared to distance himself from Menuhin, albeit in a very, very vague manner. On one hand, it is very Rob Miller-like to refuse to back down from a fight on the basis of principal- the “I don’t agree with what you have to say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it” argument, which is admirable. But in that case, why didn’t he clarify exactly why he refused to kneel to the attacks coming his way?

It’s sad. It’s sad all around. On its own, removed from the surrounding issues which do not appear to be part of the lyrics or music itself, the third Tau Cross album is probably the band’s best. But, as of now, it’s intertwined with this whole mess until we get some clarity.

And hopefully, some clarity may resolve the issue. Sometimes people’s messages are taken out of context, but they either too proud or too frustrated to fight through thorns to clear the issue up (and truly, that is as hard as it has ever been in the age of social media). Sometimes people are in a bad place and they say things they don’t mean. Sometimes people just say really bad things but then later, own up to that and make their way back. The Beach Boys were able to work their way back from a Manson connection. Elvis Costello and David Bowie were able to work their way back after some poor words in interviews. Even Daryl Jennifer was able to say that “Don’t Blow Bubbles” was not a cool song to write.

A core message of Amebix was to keep hope alive even in the darkest hours. Just check out “Arise” and “Chain Reaction.” Notably, that message is NOT as prominent in Messengers of Deception- in lieu of a message of hope we get a more neutral deliberation of the gears of the universe.

Rob Miller, and the rest of Amebix and Tau Cross, have inspired and driven many, many, many of us to do many interesting and great things (and some boring things, too). So for me, and probably many of you, it’s difficult to just turn one’s back and say “well, Fuck Amebix” or “Fuck Rob!” Were I to talk to Rob, I’d explain that Menuhin and guys like him are not only wrong, but insulting, in exceptionally poor taste, and frankly, painfully naïve.

Yet, as I said, maybe Miller didn’t articulate himself. Or, maybe he was going through a bad time but has now changed his opinion. It would be a real shame to burn away this album, which in of itself doesn’t appear to be linked to Menuhin, and the Rob Miller contributions as a whole, without first being certain where everyone stands. To that end, I am holding out hope that there is some explanation for the baggage surrounding this album. But until there is some explanation, that baggage will remain.

*As a side note, when this whole debacle erupted, Relapse took a fairly high and mighty stance- admirably so. However, when the GISM reissues came out, they quietly covered the swastika on the cover and completely refused to deal with very serious anti-Semitism issues that GISM faces- just check out the cover to Determination the ’15 reissue of Detestation. The fact that Relapse was so fired up about Tau Cross, but resolutely refused to address the GISM matter suggests that, for like many corporations, morality really wasn’t the main concern here.

**In the event that I am wrong some of the lyrics here actually do support Menuhin or related topics, I take back all the positives that I mentioned. To me, the lyrics appeared to address UFOS, gnosticism, and venturing into the other worlds exclusively.