For approximately the last decade, fans of Crossover set a fairly attainable bar when it came to the quality they expected from new entrants into the genre. Similar to D-beat and stoner doom, as long as bands ticked off a few major boxes, they’d receive a passing grade. A good dollop of high-speed, Suicidal-worshipping thrash riffs; a mad-libs lyric sheet with spaces for “Beer,” “Party,” “Skateboard,” and “Fuck the Government;” and the occasional hat brim-bending breakdown that sets the crowd to Kung-fu mode; and everyone is happy as a pig in the pit. As the saying goes, even a crappy piece of pizza is still pizza. Thankfully Richmond, Virginia’s Iron Reagan aren’t content to serve up yet another slice of reheated thrash. With Crossover Ministry, the group’s third LP, Iron Reagan remain true to the Crossover recipe, while elevating every ingredient to its highest possible quality.
OG Heshers need not worry about Ministry flying off into artisanal obscurity. The opening salvo of “A Dying World” and “You Never Learn” sees Tony Foresta – one of the best frontmen in metal, period – spitting hot, venomous fire, while guitarist Phil “LandPhil” Hall serves up helping after helping of tasty, spine-snapping thrash riffs that instantly satiate any hunger for familiarity. Hall has always been a more than reliable source for Grade-A riffs, both in Iron Reagan and Municipal Waste, but the sheer number and complexity of riffs in each song feel amped up on Ministry.
Another big stand out is Hall’s tone; where 2013’s Worse Than Dead featured a traditionally tight, punchy, compressed guitar sound, Hall’s guitar on Crossover Ministry sounds fuller, with a more punishing low-end that greatly adds to the concussive force of mid-paced bangers like “Fuck the Neighbors” and “Bleed The Fifth.” Of course, a giant portion of that chest-crushing wallop is due to the efforts of Iron Reagan’s formidable rhythm section. Beyond infusing the songs with low-register thud, bassist Rob Skotis lets complex riffs fly throughout the album, providing a cool counterpoint to Hall’s shredding. But the real star here is drummer Ryan Parrish. The hook-laden intricacy of Hall and Skotis’ riff assault would lose a tonne of punch if Parrish simply kept things to an A-B-A “gallop-breakdown-gallop” formula. Instead, Parrish takes listeners on a Goddamn rollercoaster ride, implanting angular, unpredictable tempo changes throughout the record that create a wonderful sense of tension and release, along with keeping listeners right at the edge of their seat for the whole 29-minute trip.
Beyond all the excellent musicianship, what elevates Crossover Ministry above the Hi-Top herd is Iron Reagan’s rigorous attention to detail. None of the nineteen songs reinvent the genre, but none feel like filler either, because the band is fastidious in ensuring all the right punches and twists are exactly where they need to be. Even straightforward ragers like “Power of The Skull” never wear out their welcome. When the band does fancy, non-traditional stuff like incorporate piano, it is always in service of the song, adding a subtle layer of nuance instead of feeling gimmicky. I mentioned Hall’s guitar tone previously, but it’s important to also point out that the whole record just sounds great. It should therefore come as no shock that it was mixed by Kurt Ballou, one of the modern day masters of extreme music recording.
With Crossover Ministry, Iron Reagan aren’t trying to change the game, however by dropping such a well-crafted, memorable record, they’ve effectively hung a sign outside of Crossover area that reads, “Posers need not apply.”
Written by Jesse Gainer
*edited by Kate Erickson