After the inevitable implosion of the volatile punk and hardcore movements of the 80's, post-hardcore was born. These musical evolutions represented a more melodic and musically thoughtful direction from artists and scenes that had outgrown their primal aggression. Similarly, when members of Saetia, Neil Perry and You and I (among many, many others) banded together to form Hot Cross, their output took a step forward in the evolution of the genre those bands helped establish. While the acts from which the band was formed may have been more than a bit removed from early hardcore, Hot Cross takes many of their musical cues from that first wave of post-hardcore acts like Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu and Quicksand. The songs are aggressive and melodic but the chord progressions and arrangements often defy the conventional standards by which those terms are measured. Risk Revival is the band's second proper full-length album and their first in almost four years.
Fans of Cryonics shouldn't be disappointed by the direction the band has gone in this time around, as Hot Cross has stuck in many ways to the formula that made that album a success. There's very little gloss or studio sheen on Risk Revival, in keeping with the band's past approach to recording, but there is a bit more depth to the sound captured here. The sound is just as genuine but somehow fuller and it's evident when comparing the two albums side by side. Former guitarist Josh Jakubowski helmed this recording and his familiarity with the group definitely seems to have paid off. While the album had apparently been recorded with Mike Hill (of Anodyne and Versoma), it was apparently re-done, largely for performance reasons, and that decision seems to have been a good one as well. Unlike many bands that play this fast-paced chaotic brand of rock, Hot Cross have recorded their latest album with equal amounts of charisma and precision. Guitarist Casey Boland's work admirably fills the potential void from the departure of Jakubowski. Billy Werner's vocals remain distinctive, even if there aren't as many immediately memorable lyrics this time around.
The disc begins with a Spanish-style guitar interlude before blasting into opener "Exits and Trails." The track perfectly embodies what Risk Revival is all about with its sensibly continuous guitar themes playing out over varying tempos and unassumingly powerful melodic vocals accenting Werner's always-intelligible shouting a la Ian MacKaye. "Turncoat Revolution" kicks things up a notch in intensity and supplies some of the disc's most thought-provoking lyrics. What especially stands out about Risk Revival is its ability to sound cohesive without ever settling into a predictable groove. It's a record that won't let the listener forget that it's on and demands one's attention. Carefully placed drum hits, new riffs and off-time backing vocals, as in "Cardiac Silence," can be jarring but always ultimately fit and make sense in the song.
The only real shortcoming to be found in Risk Revival is the apparent refusal to step outside the band's comfort zone. I'm not surprised to hear a dozen great songs from Hot Cross after four years. I am surprised however that in four years the band's members haven't pushed themselves a bit farther. They may not have needed to fix what wasn't broken, but logically, this album doesn't quite have the impact that Cryonics did when it was released. "Silence Is Failure" might sound drastically different than the rest of the album with its crawling pace and layered tracks, but its ultimately just a slower version of what Hot Cross has done before.
Bottom Line: Hot Cross' Risk Revival is another in a line of great releases and a suitable follow-up to Cryonics. Strong performances, fitting production and generally high quality songwriting make up for the stylistic complacency the band exhibits on their sophomore LP. This record was one of my most anticipated releases for years and it didn't disappoint. Risk Revival is one of the first truly exciting albums of 2007.