Japanese band Crossfaith break new ground with their ‘heaviest’ album yet, Ex-Machina.
Japanese five-piece Crossfaith have always been an interesting addition to the metal scene, expanding the genre with electronica influences that push the boundaries of heavy music. Their latest album Ex-Machina is no different. Rather than expanding into a more electronic and lighter hardcore pop realm – which we have witnessed in their previous record Xeno – Crossfaith have moved into a more industrial and gritty distorted sound, shaping their music to reflect the futuristic/artificial tone and setting of their concept album.
The album’s concept is based upon the band’s desire to ‘pose questions about our future that also affect our present.’ This is explained further by the band’s label, UNFD, who clarify that the album depicts ‘an alternative near future in which the ruling class, known as Angels, maintain their world through artificial intelligence and other technology’ – dehumanising humanity and exchanging individuality for convenience by removing meaning and incentive from life. As frontman Kenta Koie explains, this message comes as ‘grave warning for our future’, reasoning that modern technology, on its current trajectory of development, ‘take[s] out [an] important process to think about individuality in exchange for convenience.’ The album follows Koie’s view and expresses a ‘voice of the resistance – in the form of underdogs known as Demons.’ Rather than fully analysing future society, Koie instead explains that neither Angels or Demons are ‘necessarily good’ and ‘bad’, instead, he uses them as a way to explore human ‘dualism’ and the ‘important themes… that we should never stop questioning in the world around us.’
Beyond the lofty ideas that form the basis of the album, its sound is based more squarely within reality and really maximises the themes that Crossfaith conceptualised. Being one of the only Asian bands, bar other popular groups like Baby Metal, to break into western mainstream realms, they have extensive grounds to experiment and draw other elements of Japanese and Asian electronica music culture into their sound. This electronic focus is nothing new for Crossfaith and is key to previous hits like 2013’s Monolith. However, in this record, they combine industrial synthetic sounds with some incredibly distorted guitar riffs and breakdowns that give their sound a far more brutal and guttural feel.
This change can be felt from the beginning as the album welcomes fans with the familiar intense electronic dance track Deus Ex Machina. From here, we are then thrown into a vicious assault on the senses with the fierce beats of Catastrophe. This is swiftly followed by the piercing breakdowns of The Perfect Nightmare and the gritty, heavy-rap of Destroy and Freedom which feature artists Ho99o9 and Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari. Although mostly clustered towards the beginning, other powerful tracks like Daybreak, with its trash/power/grind-metal-esque growls and guitar sequences, and in other songs like Faint and Eden in the Rain are littered throughout, provide evidence that they are focused on a heavier sound.
UNFD describes these tracks as ‘Slipknot-esque’, and it is undeniable that certain elements of Slipknot’s style have been borrowed. However, there has also been an enormous amount of additions to this sound, such as Djent guitar riffs and fast-paced drumming, adopted from a wide variety of heavy sub-genres. When combined with Crossfaith’s unique style of synth and clean vocals, it would be more appropriate to label this style as distinctly Crossfaith-esque. Their ability to incorporate so many contrasting elements into one singular creation is something attempted by very few, and even then, only succeed rarely in instances such as this. Although, Crossfaith have not abandoned or alienated their audience from their older styles. Ex-Machina offers several softer tracks that focus more centrally upon synth and clean vocals. Tracks like Wipeout and Twin Shadows which feature a larger amount of electronica, seem to echo their older material almost identically. Similarly, tracks like Lost In You and Milestone express a more emotionally charged tone, focusing upon lyrics and melodies as tools to evoke feeling.
This is something that Crossfaith evidently felt was critical to maintain. Milestone has been described as ‘anomaly’ and breaks the conceptual design of the album. Usually, a concept album, especially one with such potent meaning such as Ex-Machina, would not be interrupted, but frontman Koie made it clear that he felt it important to ‘write a song about the band.’ Although he does not offer an explanation, the label correctly concludes that these lighter, more emotionally tracks ‘distil Crossfaith’s ethos.’ They offer a greater diversity, depth and clarity to Crossfaith’s extremely multidimensional sound, offering a bridge which ties together the extremes which form their music.
Their latest album manages to pull off the impossible, combining various elements of the metal and electronic genre to create an almost perfect product of power and emotion. As their label suggests, Crossfaith’s album is another example of their ability to ‘walk that fine, fiery line’ of ‘rock, metal, electronica and big ideas’ that combines into the band’s unique style of sound.