In November 2015, Dave Lombardo found himself in a tough spot. Slayer's legendary former drummer was gearing up to hit the road with his then-active band Philm, but that group imploded just days before the tour. Lombardo had already booked studio time with Ross Robinson (producer of acts such as Korn, Sepultura and Slipknot), and rather than scrap the session, the two decided to invite some mutual friends in for a jam. Enter Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian, former members of offbeat grindcore luminaries and onetime Lombardo tourmates the Locust. Almost immediately, a new band was born, and the endangered tour was back on.
Dead Cross, consisting of Lombardo, Pearson on bass, Serbian (who had drummed in the Locust) on vocals and Michael Crain — also of Locust spin-off Retox — on guitar, made their live debut on December 1st. Now, the project is emerging with its first official studio recording: "We'll Sleep When They're Dead," a wild Robinson-produced track that blurs together grindcore, hardcore punk and riff-driven noise-rock. The track is a vicious statement of renewed intent from Lombardo, the most influential metal drummer of the past 30 years, best known for his pummeling, double-kick-centric work on thrash classics such as Reign in Blood.
"This band provokes my aggression," Lombardo tells Rolling Stone. "We, Ross included, all have fearless musical mindsets. Our collective résumés definitely reflect that. I believe that when you have musicians in a room that share that particular attribute, it takes you to another level in every way. With this band, I play harder, I play faster, and I play with the fury that this music demands. Each member brings a great deal of intensity and skill to the table. It's invigorating to work with them."
For the other members of the band, working with Lombardo fulfills a lifelong dream.
"When I was a kid and first heard Slayer, it set me on a new trajectory," Serbian tells RS. "I had to become a drummer. I switched from clarinet to drums and spent as much time as I could in my parents' garage trying my best to play along to [Slayer's 1990 album] Seasons in the Abyss. As time went on, I got better at hitting drums and started playing in bands and eventually ended up playing drums in the Locust, who after a handful of years went on tour with [Lombardo's sometime side project] Fantômas. This is when I first met Dave. Getting to watch him play every night was a dream come true. After a few shows, he watched the Locust play. When we finished and as I was walking off the stage, he grabbed my arm and was like, 'Holy shit, man!' Words could not describe what was going on in my head — my 'idol' was into my drumming. The whole reason I turned my back on school and a 'normal' future was because of Lombardo's drumming.
"Fast forward to 1o or so years later: I get a call from Justin Pearson asking if I wanted to sing in a band that he, Mike and Dave were putting together. I was like, 'duh.' Playing with Dave is the best — he's a fucking machine, but a machine with soul. Plus he's one of the most humble, cool guys I've ever met."
"I often have to pinch myself," adds Crain. "That's what it's like playing in a band with Dave. It's an incredible honor."
For Robinson, the band represents a chance to experiment with a genre that can feel restrictive. "Metal feels really flat to me," says the producer. "It needs to be messed with badly. We messed with metal and had a great time."
The band and Robinson messed with metal on an entire album's worth of material, though details of the release are still TBD. For now, Dead Cross are concentrating on building up their live chops. They'll play Vancouver's Modified Ghost Festival on April 9th, followed by a date with Melvins and Napalm Death at L.A.'s Troubadour on May 9th. Further touring will follow in the fall. Lombardo is currently serving as the live drummer for Suicidal Tendencies, who are opening for Megadeth through March 21st.