Bleached Cross, Bleached Cross (Protagonist Music, 2022)

Chicago gloomsters Bleached Cross are doing their absolute best to usher in a Modern Ice Age in spite of our collectively shared heatwave.

Having recently dropped their eponymous debut full length via the rad Protagonist Music, the collection is an, at times, jaw-dropping ride through post punk, dark wave, and screamo. It’s altogether more impressive, when considering we’re only two years out from their 2020 Alter’s Reap Demo, which barely hints at the far afield stunner we have on our hands here. 

The self-appointed oppressive crew sports an aesthetic that leans into something more bleak than most modern post punk, eschewing the angular poetics pushing the subgenre’s zeitgeist. Vocals sidestep the apathetic monotone of lesser bands and, instead, lend a deceptively antagonistic bent oft-unheard in the genre.

Aside from their aforementioned sound, Bleached Cross takes elements of deathrock, dark wave, blackgaze, and even a dash of the New Romantics; weaving it into something cathartic and new.  

Opener “Thoughtseize” takes a moment before it gnashes its teeth, building from a beautiful mood piece into a back end with seethingly intense backing vocals. It’s readily apparent from the jump why they’ve hitched their touring wagon to related, visceral acts like Frail Body, Crowning, and their ilk.

Dark wave as seen through the eyes of desperate screamo is a tricky proposition, yet Bleached Cross make it seem easy, pulling it off with aplomb. 

Elsewhere, highlights abound. See the discordant embellishments of “Flesh Prison," which hide well the most scathing lyrical couplets of the album. The poetics ultimately feel like a Trojan Horse for an otherwise verbal evisceration of religion. The synths pair expertly with blastbeats that feel intentionally cold and digital. 

“Recurring Nightmare” and its later album twin “Sorrow” are both harrowing and mercifully brief swaths of pulsing, harsh noise. Taken as interludes, they’re note perfect bookends for what follows, as the former ushers in the sinister metronome of “Mercy.”

In a just universe, both the aforementioned track and “Suffer” would seamlessly find themselves neatly tucked into a goth dance night playlist. Mournful and propulsive, Bleached Cross deftly handle a wide swath of sounds that’d excite legions, be they fans of Soft Kill, Choir Boy, Twin Tribes, or the nü Romantic icon, Riki. 

Again, it’s the well placed moments of catharsis that we are Bleached Cross. Closer “Dark Ritual” is a patient and extended track that slowly morphs into both their most intense and immediate material. At the 3-minute mark, the song all but explodes into blastbeats and black metal vocals that, when paired with the gorgeous melodic vocals, hits levels of Sunbather-like transcendence. 

Photo: Lowell Shaffer

This isn’t your bog-standard post punk, my friends. This is simultaneously frigid, spartan, and deeply empathic. It’s a tremendous statement from a wildly talented band.

For fans of She Past Away as much as it is Birds In Row, this album will be talked about come December, at least by this person! 

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