Hot Cross - Risk Revival (Cover Artwork)

Hot Cross

Risk Revival (2007)

Hope Division / Equal Vision

Hot Cross is one of the most widely respected screamo bands in existence today, and a few spins of their newest album, Risk Revival, will show you why. This release is the band's first on their new label, Equal Vision imprint Hope Division Records. Although you could hardly say this means they've gone mainstream, it is a small step up the commercial ladder from their long-time home at Level-Plane (who is handling the vinyl release of this album).

There has been a fair amount of controversy circling the Internet regarding the production values of this album. Anyone who heard the rough demos posted on the band's MySpace page prior to the release of Risk Revival will notice the finished product sounds much more polished than those preview tracks. Whether or not that's a good thing is going to be a matter of personal taste. While this is by far the best sounding Hot Cross disc to date, I do miss the raw feel of past albums like Cryonics and Fair Trades and Farewells.

It matters little in the end though, because the songwriting here is absolutely top-notch. Anyone who has ever listened Hot Cross before should feel right at home with Risk Revival; their songwriting style now is essentially the same as it has ever been, only more polished. After the faintly Egyptian-sounding intro of the album opener "Exits and Trails," guitarist Casey Boland blasts off a series of blazing licks almost recalling the hyper-technicality of the Fall of Troy. Hot Cross mixes intricate musicianship with turn-on-a-dime dynamics better than just about anyone, and they rarely let up the intensity.

The level of aggression in frontman Billy Werner's urgently emotive vocals has been toned down ever so slightly, and he sounds much cleaner and clearer than before. That doesn't mean he's lost his balls though, and it's impossible not to be moved when he shouts on "Fatefully," "fuck off / fuck off / because I don't need you." In a time where so many poppy, trend-riding mall-screamo bands are writing hopeless songs about lost love and sucking at life, Werner's confidence behind the microphone is a breath of fresh air.

There's going to be some long-time Hot Cross fans who are going to shit all over Risk Revival based solely on its polished production, spouting baseless claims about how they've sold out now they've left Level-Plane or something else equally ridiculous. It's their loss if they don't want to listen to Risk Revival though, because underneath its shiny exterior lies a passionate and well-written album worthy of your hard earned cash.