Rob “The Baron” Miller draws inspiration from Shakespeare, Blake and Tennyson. “Not in a literal sense,” he explains via email, “but rather I am able to immerse myself in their worlds and enjoy the alchemical nature of language.”
Not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from one of the masterminds of ’80s U.K. crust punk, but Miller — bass player and vocalist of the influential band Amebix and current punk/metal band Tau Cross — is not your average oogle.
The Amebix logo, as well as apocalyptic imagery from the band’s various EPs and LPs, can be seen plastered across the jackets and flesh of diehard punks and metalheads worldwide. Despite having broken up in 1987, Amebix remained well loved across the underground punk and metal scenes; between 2008 and 2012, the band’s reunion, subsequent tours and final album were met with acclaim. Now with Tau Cross, Miller is starting from scratch, and delivering one of his most powerful performances yet.
Before reforming Amebix, Miller spent nearly 20 years completely out of the music scene, living and working on the Isle of Skye as a swordsmith. As for what motivated him to start a new project, Miller writes, “The songs were still pouring in so I had to think on a completely new venture. Obviously this was initially a tough decision, to give up a whole world musically, but something has happened. Amebix remains a great band, but Tau Cross, for me, is actually so much better. I am at home here, finally.”
To complete his new vision, Miller requested the help of some friends: guitarists Jon Misery (of classic Minneapolis crust-punk band Misery) and Andy Lefton (of newer Minneapolis crust-punk band War//Plague), and drummer Michel “Away” Langevin (of Quebecois progressive thrash-metal band Voivod). “In a sense I feel very at home in Tau Cross already. We have a really positive working relationship, which has made things very enjoyable,” Miller explains. As for whether he feels the pressure to live up to Amebix’s legendary career, he notes, “We have another emphasis here than just Amebix, as we are likely to bring in some of the Voivod crowd as well as Misery and War//Plague folks, so it will be interesting to see who our audience is.”
Tau Cross’s self-titled album was released by Relapse Records last spring. The 12 songs have the expected Killing Joke-esque tribal-industrial feel and the punk/metal assault of the members’ other bands, while incorporating a fair amount traditional British-folk-music influence that was not as apparent in previous records. “When we recorded [final Amebix album] Sonic Mass, I became acutely aware that I also wanted to express myself in a more subtle way,” Miller writes. “Amebix had always had a few ‘jangly’ tunes, but they tended to work along the same lines. I was keen to see what was new here. I had disappeared from all music for some 20 years with just an old acoustic guitar, so in that time I was writing much more singer/songwriter kind of stuff, looking for a new form of expression. I wanted Tau Cross to have no set boundaries, to try and capture as many different atmospheres as possible, without having to be self-consciously trying to fit into any preconceived ‘genre’ type.”
There is a strong current of paganism and occultism running through the lyrics, with references to English occultist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee (“Fire in the Sky”) and witchcraft (“Hangman’s Hyll”) that examine subjects not covered by the average crust-punk band. “Growing up in the depths of rural Devon in England in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time on my own in the countryside and seem to have absorbed something mythical about that relationship to soil, trees, the season’s passage and the stillness in nature. I was attracted toward occult studies at an early age, in a family that [was] always supportive of an alternative spiritual enquiry,” he says of these influences. “I became more practically involved in esoteric works once I arrived on Skye, and this in turn allowed me a lot of time for research.”
Mixed in with some of the bleak lyrical imagery is a sense of hopefulness and positivity, especially in the last lines of “Our Day”: “All suffering will end when we manifest Love as the Law / Our day will come.” According to Miller, words are magic. “They influence us all directly. If we choose to draw power away from another, we can use words to do that. This is a form of Black Magic: You are ugly, useless, stupid, etc. So there is a responsibility in how we use words, and for me that is about what we want to be rather than what is,” he explains when asked how he manages avoid the fear and hostility that come to many with age. “Amebix was always about a type of self-empowerment and this has continued. I do not want to offer helplessness or misanthropic nihilism to the audience. I cannot stand to see the kind of dalliance that some bands have with negativity in imagery and lyrically. I find enough of that in the ‘real’ world of politics and selfishness, destruction and moral bankruptcy. I do believe very sincerely that our day will come and that is what drives me.”