review - 28.04.2019 01:01

CROSSFAITH at a crossroads.

Having kept their fans ticking over on a diet of singles and EPs since their last album Xeno in 2015, CROSSFAITH finally deliver their fifth studio album, EX_MACHINA. Billed as a concept album, the back story involves an alternative future where the ruling class maintain control through technology and artificial intelligence, dehumanising people and essentially reducing them to drones. CROSSFAITH lay all this out with an introductory exposition dump in the opening track Deus Ex Machina. A bombastic orchestral arrangement backs a portentous narration, before transforming into a shrill and urgent techno beat that merges into the first song, Catastrophe.

The reassuringly familiar blast of Kazuki Takemura’s guitar is matched by Hiroki Ikegawa’s bounding bassline and frontman Kenta Koie lets rip with his trademark screaming only to flip to a more straightforward melodic vocal for the chorus. This back and forth between hardcore metal and friendlier, tuneful vocals is a theme that repeats throughout the album.

It's a powerful start that captures some of the raw energy of their live performances and they keep the momentum going with The Perfect Nightmare, the heaviest song on the album, fuelled by Tatsuya Amano’s ferocious drumming. Terufumi Tamano and his synths take a backseat for this straight up, full metal blast. For long term CROSSFAITH fans, if it’s the heavy stuff they’re after, this track delivers the goods, but the rest of the album takes a different turn from here on that may end up leaving some of them behind.

Rap has long been one of the ingredients CROSSFAITH throw into their metal/EDM mix, and the tracks Destroy and Freedom show how that can go one way or the other. The addition of American punk hip-hop group ho99o9 (pronounced ‘horror’, in case you were wondering) gives Destroy’s vocals a malevolent vehemence that the following track, Freedom, just can’t match. Previously released as a single in 2017, Freedom makes a reappearance on EX_MACHINA and despite its standalone origin it still fits with the album’s concept. It features guest vocals by Rou Reynolds of British electronicore outfit Enter Shikari and, while he’s perfected that post-hardcore American twang in his singing voice, his efforts at rap lack muscle. Having grown up on the not-so-mean streets of the English market town St. Albans, his speaking accent doesn’t deliver the punch this song needs.

Mixing and matching genres is all part of CROSSFAITH’s deal, but it’s an approach that has its pitfalls, as the second half of the album proves. Make A Move is a tangle of rock, metal and techno that flips from rap to a pop-punk gang vocal chorus. It sums up the scattered, grab-bag of styles and sounds that make up the rest of the album and it’s not the only song with a split personality on show here. Wipeout, their single from 2018, starts out metal before turning post-hardcore in the chorus, and Daybreak goes much the same way. Its old school metal guitars and barrage of double kick bass drum is ditched halfway through for a tinkling piano break and a big emo finish.

Milestone, is a step outside of EX_MACHINA’s theme and feels more like a song about the band themselves and their journey so far. After a fake-out metal intro it switches into an emo gang vocal ballad. Lost In You trades its run-of-the-mill Ibiza dance synth intro for a run-of-the-mill radio-friendly emo anthem and they go for the big stadium rock anthem with Eden In The Rain, which might get the crowd singing along, but how many of that crowd will even remember the tune on the way home? Oddest of all, although they’ve done this sort of thing in the past, is Twin Shadows, a light and gentle breeze of trance synth instrumental that stands out awkwardly on its own.

CROSSFAITH seemed to begin their shift to a more post-hardcore or emo sound with previous album Xeno. Though that record is not without its issues (we’re looking at you, Wildfire!), it still managed to maintain an overall consistent feel. With EX_MACHINA, lyrically they may stick more or less to their theme, but tonally and stylistically the album is all over the place. Variety is certainly a good thing, but this album often feels like a record made by three different bands.

The album finishes with a cover of Linkin Park’s Faint. In truth, it’s more of a copy than a cover and is yet another change of tone amongst the album’s jumble of styles. Joined by coldrain frontman Masato Hayakawa, they produce a version of the song that has passed through CROSSFAITH practically untouched by any influence of their own electronicore sound. It’s a slick, well made facsimile but ultimately it’s hindered by their deep respect for the source material and the man they’re paying tribute to, the late Chester Bennington.

The mish-mash of styles on EX_MACHINA begs some questions. What do CROSSFAITH actually want to be? The English lyrics, lighter vocals and arena crowd-pleasing singalong “wo-o-ooh” choruses suggest they’re looking west, trying to appeal to a wider audience and tempering their crashing electro-metal sound into a more radio-friendly offering. Are the band at a crossroads, trying to figure out which way to go for overseas success? Their heroes Linkin Park moved to a more commercial sound in their later years and CROSSFAITH’s friends and compatriots ONE OK ROCK went the same way, unashamedly chasing their own American dream. Whichever road CROSSFAITH take, they need to make a decision and stick to it.
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