Dead Cross: “With any of our other bands, a solo would almost be unwarranted – it would be silly. But for a thrash-related project, it screams for it”

Dead Cross
(Image credit: Becky DiGiglio)

Making Dead Cross’s sophomore album, II, was grueling for Michael Crain, but not because of the music. In the case of high-velocity nailbombs like Reign of Error, the guitarist barnstormed through a basic thrash structure the night before cutting it with bassist Justin Pearson (the Locust, Deaf Club) and former Slayer skinsman Dave Lombardo (Mr. Bungle’s Mike Patton added vocals later). 

Back when they began recording at the end of 2019, though, Crain was also enduring the painful process of fighting an advanced cancer diagnosis with rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. 

“There was a good window of time when I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to survive,” Crain recalls, though fortunately his cancer has since gone into remission.

“I remember this vividly – in that whole blur of nausea, fear and uncertainty, I was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m not going to die from this stupid shit; I want to make music with my friends.’ I’m not saying I willed myself to survive, but I do believe there’s a part of the human spirit that you can’t discount.”

Like Dead Cross’s 2017 self-titled debut, II’s Reign of Error and Heart Reformer determinedly drill into vintage crossover intensity. But the sequel also features a more pronounced dynamism via Crain’s penchant for echo-splayed minimalism (Love Without Love) and eerily melodic texturing – something he’d previously honed alongside Pearson in their Retox project.

“He does have this weird, surfy, [Dead Kennedys’] East Bay Ray vibe,” Pearson says of Crain’s aesthetic, the bassist adding of how he contrasts this with extra-ugly fuzz, “I think it’s rad to go, ‘All right, you have this really killer, smooth, cruising riff; let me just give it the grit and the fuckin’ nasty meanness underneath.’”

Despite Crain’s incandescent wave-riding – whether working delay pedals or an old Boss flanger the Cure’s Robert Smith had left with II producer Ross Robinson in the early ’00s – the guitarist still gets out his aggression on the album, most particularly through the wildly wah-pressed leads on Christian Missile Crisis and Night Canary.

“With any of our other bands, a solo would almost be unwarranted; it’d be silly. But for a thrash-related project, it screams for it,” Crain says. And as for the old Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedals he dusted off for Dead Cross, “Ross was like, ‘Dude, let’s get those fuckers out; let’s get all Kirk Hammett on this shit.’ It’s fun to get to play like that once in a while,” Crain says.

  • II (opens in new tab) is out now via Ipecac.

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Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling (opens in new tab). This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.