By its very nature, hardcore has traditionally been a musical force akin to a battering ram - smashing mainstream music's often delicate surface level emotions to pieces in lieu of an explosion of cathartic bursts of passion, angst and elation, not to mention a versatile sense of sonic exploration. As hardcore flirts with mainstream notoriety, however, many die-hard fans of the genre worry that broader attention has led to the denouement of many of the integral ethically driven aspects that have so long been in sync with the music.
Brazenly standing straight in the face of trends, the Philadelphia-based four-piece Hot Cross has created some of the most ambitious, caustic and honest hardcore the genre has witnessed the past several years. With the arrival of arguably the group's most intense and engaging record to date – Risk Revival – Hot Cross has taken its already near-legendary D.I.Y. success story to the next level.
Comprised of a fine-tuned group of hardcore-punk veterans, Hot Cross formed in the winter of 2000 as drummer Greg Drudy (ex-Interpol, Saetia), bassist Matt Smith (ex-Off Minor), Casey Boland (ex-You and I), and vocalist Billy Werner (ex-Saetia) united under the pretense of delivering a sorely needed shot in the arm to the complacency, which had enraptured underground music. In the process, the band put out all of its own records (most of them on Drudy's own Level Plane Records), booked its own tours, and spent every possible moment crafting a dizzying blend of angst-fueled hardcore that recalls the spirit of the likes of Black Flag and Drive Like Jehu.
After six years of maintaining its D.I.Y. and boundary-pushing ethos, it is no surprise Hot Cross named its Hope Division/Equal Vision debut Risk Revival, which ushers in a few changes for the band via both sonic and business fronts. But then again, as Werner aptly states, "Everything we do as a band is a risk. There were some risks involved with making the record itself as it marks a transition in our course as a band. We felt like we reached the ceiling of what we could do on our own, so we decided to go with Equal Vision because the only logical step for us to take as a band was to move forward. We've toured the U.S. time and time again and keep playing for the same people. If we're going to keep doing the band then why not try a different approach?"
Shifting from a band's tried and true practices can often bring a period of adjustment. But Werner doesn't see much difference between Hot Cross operating on its own or working with a bigger label.
"We operate the same way we always have; the only difference is that Equal Vision fronts a check," Werner states. "But they have complete trust in letting us do what we want. Some people have the misconception that every label has a lot of hands-on control. In our situation they have been very supportive and they let us do our thing."
Based on the results contained on Risk Revival, Equal Vision placed its bet on Hot Cross correctly. Armed with ample amounts of bending, shrieking guitars, thunderous rhythms and frantically screamed vocals, the band conjures up a dissonant yet fluid hardcore sound that equals anything in the group's stellar catalog.
Of course, to witness Hot Cross topping itself is no surprise for the outfit's longtime fans seeing that the band has a tradition of changing lanes and upping the ante with every frenzied chord.
"We are proud of the fact that all of our records sound different from one another," Werner says with pride. "We have a certain sound, but we're always pushing those boundaries and pushing ourselves as musicians. We've taken the lessons from our experiences and applied them to the creative process and it seems to be working for us so far."
Although Risk Revival is yet another watershed showcase of Hot Cross's fervent creativity, the results are typical for what the band is known for—namely, pouring every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into a musical relationship that has developed into one of the healthiest and most inspirational hardcore has to offer.
"We want to provoke strong reactions whether they are good or bad," Werner chuckles. "We don't want to be one of those bands that keep putting out the same record over and over. We want to challenge ourselves and when everyone in the band steps it up then the results are always exciting for us."
Look for Risk Revival on February 20th, 2007 as the band continues to prove to both its fans and its critics that the true spirit of hardcore is alive and kicking.