The Signs of Spiritual Delusion by Cross BringerRelease date: September 18, 2020
Label: Consouling Sounds
Cross Bringer is a new band founded by members of Euglena and The Homeless is Dead in 2019. Their debut record, The Signs of Spiritual Delusion, was written and recorded over the past year or so across two countries – Belgium and Russia – and, as far as I know, the album will be released on heavy music institution Consouling Sounds this month with the band yet to have played a gig. It’s a testament to the label’s belief in the band, the album and its members that the record still finds its release date fixed, despite the prolonged global pandemic.
Perhaps we as listeners should be assuaged by any doubt because of this and also the two acclaimed bands the members hail from; Euglena, an extraordinary experimental screamo band with a strong metallic edge, and The Homeless is Dead, a chaotic mathy grindcore outfit. If you combine all of those attributes together, you will have some notion of what Cross Bringer sound like, although I would throw some more sub-genres into the melting pot as well, such as hardcore and blackened crust punk. Both of the aforementioned ‘feeder’ bands are based in Russia, so I can only assume some life changes for a member or more have meant they find themselves in Belgium. Writing across such a great distance still holds great difficulty, but it’s a little easier to understand how seamless and cohesive the sound of Cross Bringer is, when one realises the members surely know one another extremely well from the Russian extreme music circuit.
To complicate matters further, the record is conceptual (although one can enjoy it just fine without reading into the band’s explanation). The album focuses on a phenomenon known as лесть (prelest). I was completely unaware of it beforehand, and it turns out to be quite specific – at least in name – to the Russian Orthodox Church. It is a spiritual crisis, for want of a better phrase. However, when one delves into the wider meaning and ramifications of ‘prelest’ it immediately resonates, and although the recording of the album was completed prior to the global community entering the brave new world we struggle with currently, it becomes an unforgivingly prescient metaphor.
Prelest, at its crux, is a feeling of being lost or estranged from something one thought one knew to be utterly true and solid before (in this case, faith, but clearly analogous to our old ways of living prior to lockdown). Lacking reference points – beliefs to cling onto – one deals only in delusions and becomes further deluded, eventually abject. In the search for a new foundation, new beliefs, one becomes obsessive, entering a state of mania as the walls of perception begin to crumble and one is left with only confusion – left in a possessed state of lost faith (not anti-faith, mind… just grasping for something to hold onto when one’s life has previously dealt with spiritual absolutes).
So, you know, a light concept… It makes immediate sense of the title not only of the record, but the majority of the seven tracks on the LP.
Listening to Cross Bringer very much reminded me of listening to Lyon transgressives Celeste for the first time. Just, like, JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! Although, obviously not here, because presumably the aforementioned crisis just might be about that chap… Jokes aside, however, the utter ferocity and, more to the point, immediacy of their performative attack on record is what made me immediately think of the French quartet. The production on this thing is crystal clear too, with that pane of glass rammed right into your face. There’s not that much studio wizardry here, but the resonant recording, superlative mixing and the telescopic mastering job means that if a fly had been buzzing around during the recording, you would god-damn hear each flap of a wing on this LP. This record is translucent, burgeoning and insistent. It snaps your neck to attention and holds you in its grip until it’s done with your ears, less than half an hour later.
We begin with ‘Prayer’. Its fade in and atmospheric swells lull the listener into a false sense of security: apt for the previously posited surety of orthodox faith. Whispered conversations begin to confuse as guitars slowly begin to engulf the track, before a huge doom-tinged post-metal riff bludgeons us, with impassioned, larynx shredding screams communicate a sense of loss and emotional heartache whatever language you may speak. The vocals are in a particularly rarefied style that I love – a very controlled scream in an upper mid-range tone, but rather than being a powerful but dull blade, they are still saturated in the raw emotion screamo vocalists convey.
‘Prayer’ serves as an intro track, with its largely atmospheric opening meaning it’s hard to envision it on a setlist among the other six tracks on the record, but despite it being close to four minutes in length, it also never outstays its welcome. Rather, it sets up the record, conveying equal senses of dread and derangement, and certainly allows the brutal power of ‘The Battle of the Weak’ to be all the more dizzying as it rushes out of the speakers. Furious, the song unspools with the drumming providing a hurricane as vessel of choice to journey in, as the guitars dance and do an evil grind through the maelstrom. The whole song feels as if it could unravel at any time, stitches fraying, and the guts of the track being strewn across a great, wide circumference: chords found in Germany, drum fills in France, feedback washing up on the Irish coast. But, ‘The Battle of the Weak’ proves stronger than that – its frailty in name only – and breathless, we’re left agog.
‘Supplication – Sacrament’ is the lengthiest track on The Signs of Spiritual Delusion, clocking in at over seven and a half minutes long. It is more than up to the task of being the bedrock for the album, and also serves as a pacing switch-up, evoking the feeling that we, the listener, are entering a new phase of the album and its preoccupation with prelest. We have a lengthy intro of long strung-out guitar chords, the track building ominously before the band let rip with some nauseating, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it metallic hardcore with a seriously ‘blackened’ edge. This feels like a mugging in a dark alley – over quickly, but feeling like forever, and deeply traumatic. Arpeggiated guitar licks and hammer-ons flurry out of the pitch black, gaslighting the senses at more than one point, creating a sense of dramatic disorientation before the pace changes up again, slowing things down, before launching into another tranche of deafening cataclysm. Cross Bringer are masters of dynamics and pacing, with no moment of ‘Supplication – Sacrament’ feeling anything less than vital.
‘The Sun Ritual’ is an atmospheric track that serves as a palette cleanser from the constant barrage of meticulously written, dissonant sounds, before we are thrown into the onslaught of ‘Temptation of Naivety (Untameable Black Dog)’. Clearly a title laced with meaning – suggesting orthodoxy may be comforting but can lead, perhaps, to a lack of questioning in other areas of life, as well as an allusion to depression, too. It’s a short, sharp track that whips by, hurtling on a bloody trajectory to an unknown, but presumably miserable destination. Staccato guitars drill into the subconscious, the bass a flurry of its own wailing discordance and the vocals becoming ever more anguished.
‘Torture Incantation’ then takes over this mercurial relay race, another track on the longer side (nearly seven minutes). The shorter tracks are incredibly powerful and Cross Bringer will, I think, always want and need to have the mix of both short and longer songs on their records, but there’s something about the two most expansive moments on the album that grab my attention. The band let loose in a different way to the sharpened attack on the shorter tracks; on ‘Supplication – Sacrament’ and ‘Torture Incantation’ Cross Bringer breathe and in taking in their horror wrought, delight and experiment in it all the more. Emotion and the bands dynamism wash over the listener in sonic waves, cutting, cleansing, crushing, crooning and eventually cremating your eardrums.
Their debut album closes with ‘Self-Inflicted Martyrdom’. Well, quite… It sounds like it, too. Rather than winding down, their final say is also their most vitriolic and utterly incandescent. Seething, frenzied and completely beside itself, the album comes crashing down in the most effecting way I think Cross Bringer could have possibly managed.
To say that Cross Bringer have only been an entity for under two years, The Signs of Spiritual Delusion is an extraordinarily adept and accomplished debut. Added to that the fact the band have an incredibly strong visual aesthetic, helped along by Stefaan Temmerman, and they seem to be a forced to be reckoned with. This is a powerful album that will surely make many sit up and take note. It is also a batch of songs that demand to be played live as soon as is possible. Let’s hope the members of Cross Bringer get a chance soon. I’ll be pushing my way to the front.