Hot Cross – Fair Trades & Farewells

3 out of 5

Label: Level Plane

Produced by: Andrew Frankel, Hot Cross

Pushing their fretboard-fiddly hardcore more towards emo-y punk, Hot Cross land in a middleground that occasionally taps into At the Drive-In-like fury… but then some tonal overreach as well.

It’s a tricky balance for the group, as there doesn’t seem to be one consistent model to follow that remains fresh. Opener Prepare/Repair achieves success by flipping between fast-paced punk magic and some hardcore riffage, done up in a 2-minute blast, but this doesn’t necessarily ring as true on Throw Collars to the Wind, which mixes in gang vocals and loses some urgency along the way. Solanka goes for complex time changes and also lags; Better a Corpse Than a Nun pulls similar moves but is infinitely more effective. The magic ingredient that crosses the line between amped up and cutting edge and sounding like other hardcore punkers you’ve heard before is elusive, and is probably concocted of a particular percentage of being instrumentally showy and then just leaning into a groove.

Throughout, Billy Werner’s vocals are pretty Discord fantastic, jumping between frantic and disenchanted as needed, and though I’m criticizing the compositions 50/50 for needing some tightening, the crew’s skills are sharp as ever.