Album Review: Crossfaith - 'Ex_Machina'

30 August 2018 | 11:57 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

Do synths dream of electric breakdowns?

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There's always been something about Crossfaith that's prohibited me from fully embracing the Japanese band's music. However, whatever that barrier may have once been, it's mostly absent when it comes to the group's latest record, this month's solid 'Ex_Machina'. The synth-heavy, riff-loaded cyber metal assault dolled out on this recent record marks what I'd say is the strongest iteration of Crossfaith's intersected sound to date: synthy, raving electronica, massive J-rock choruses, and heavy, chugging metalcore. The best example? 'Catastrophe'. Seriously, this song is goddamn HUGE. It's classic Crosfaith, really; like the floor of an upstairs rave-metal party collapsed onto a metalcore band playing downstairs. But it represents and balances out each aspect of the Osaka group's sound perfectly so. It's easily their newest, greatest hit. Catch this being in their live setlist for years to come!

Taking things to a further extreme, however, is 'The Perfect Nightmare'. This is the closest Crossfaith have ever come to being a deathcore band; blast beats, destructive breakdowns, menacing riffs, and lower-pitched screams. And I fuckin' love it! With the exception of that reality-shattering breakdown heard half-way through 'Daybreak', 'The Perfect Nightmare' is the darkest and heaviest the quintet have ever sounded. Yet on the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the album's central ballad piece, the melodic and tempered 'Lost In You'. Then there's 'Milestone', an uplifting and triumphant sounding piece that also seems to act as a commentary on the journeys and successes Crossfaith have experienced in their career. Not just within their native Japan, but to the rest of the world as well. Even though I'm not their biggest fan, that's a pat on the back that's definitely due.

Another win for 'Ex_Machina' is the band's cover of 'Faint', a fantastic rendition that closes out this new record. It takes the original 2003 Linkin Park tune, adds in some instrumental changes and a few extra notes with their synth strings, gives it a nice Crossfaith makeover, and still pays fitting homage to the fallen Chester Bennington. Vocalist Kenta Koie has truly nailed the timbre and emotion of Chester's voice for this 'Meteora' favourite with his performance here; really capturing the power and heart of the song in the process. Crossfaith surely would've made Chester (and the rest of Linkin Park) more than proud with this awesome cover. The very same goes to coldrain frontman Masato who also guest features on the song; a perfect fit to help pay further tribute to a deceased artist that's clearly impacted the life and work of Kenta, Crossfaith, Masato, and coldrain alike.

[caption id="attachment_1103962" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Crossfaith, 2018, looking as stylish as ever. [/caption]

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However, there's a couple downsides to this record; certain tracks that just don't stick to the wall like some of their siblings do. Namely, 'Wipeout' and 'Make A Move' seem like semi-fun yet overly filler songs that are only really meant to be played live; flying in one ear and out the other with little weight. They lack the urgency and seriousness of others songs present, thus making them feel weaker in my mind. Almost like whatever energy and speed Crossfaith had cultivated earlier on changed over to a lighter-hearted vibe so such party-metal cuts could take shape. They're not bad songs per say, but they are the songs I find the most lacking. They're the tracks I'll be skipping any and every time I come back to 'Ex_Machina'. Actually, I tell a lie: that's probably what I never enjoyed about Crossfaith's earlier material. These borderline-soulless songs - songs like 'Wipeout' and 'Make A Move' - that are all about cheap electro-metal thrills and hooks rather than having any lasting musical impressions, unlike say, 'Catastrophe' or 'The Perfect Nightmare'. (If you couldn't tell already, I really fucking like those two latter songs).

One equally hit and miss moment is the album's intro piece, 'Deus Ex Machina'. I love a good, short introductory song that smoothly transitions into the next song; keeping the pace and flow of the record fired-up. While 'Deus Ex Machina' does this well, it also comes packaged with this metaphorical yet melodramatic monologue about angels and demons that just feels super corny. Also, while I utterly adore Enter Shikari and whilst Rou Reynolds' vocal feature on 'Freedom' is inarguably the best part of that entire track, 'Freedom' is a year old now. As such, it's inclusion here seems a little forced. Plus, given how strong some of the actual fresh material is here on the album (take 'Milestone' as just one example), I would've loved to have seen Crossfaith dig deeper and add in genuinely new tracks instead.

Speaking of 'Freedom', judging from the lyrical content (and visuals) of that song, as well as the likes of 'The Perfect Nightmare', Crossfaith are trying to construct a bigger conceptual narrative of science fiction dystopias within their music. A world in which the line between man and machine, government control and personal liberty all blurs to horrible degrees. Yet most of the record's lyrics just don't seem to go any further or deeper. It all feels kinda... inconsistent. Which confuses me. As Crossfaith's sound and aesthetic are pretty much tailor-made for such wider conceptual stories to exist within, yet the band seemingly doesn't take larger steps in that direction. (And if there is indeed a wider narrative here, then they haven't made it as clear or as defined as maybe intended). Hopefully, Crossfaith can rip off the band-aid and really create a fitting sci-fi tale to co-exist come their next LP or EP. For they absolutely have the musical chops, potential, and aesthetic to combine such themes with wicked, over-the-top electronica-heavy metalcore.

After sitting on the outskirts of Crossfaith's sound for years now, 'Ex_Machina' has finally pushed me over the edge and down into their cyber-metal digital realm. Despite a couple duds that just don't match the seriousness or urgency of this record's excessively better takes, I'm honestly more than happy to have now been plugged right into Crossfaith's futuristic, synthetic world. Fingers crossed that future updates aren't riddled with any bugs.

  1. Deus Ex Machina
  2. Catastrophe
  3. The Perfect Nightmare
  4. Destroy (feat. )
  5. Freedom (feat. Rou Reynolds)
  6. Make A Move
  7. Lost In You
  8. Milestone
  9. Eden In The Rain
  10. Wipeout (album mix)
  11. Twin Shadows
  12. Daybreak
  13. Faint (Linkin Park cover)

'Ex_Machina' is out now via UNFD.