Well this has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? There were genuine worries that Crossfaith would never get round to releasing another full-length again, especially after 2015’s lacklustre Xeno which hasn’t held up all that well since, and saw them knocked down a few pegs in the overall metalcore food chain. Thankfully reputation repair seems to have been a priority with the series of EPs that have released since, seeing the Japanese quintet returning to the heavy electronics that had previously been such a selling point, and that their last full-length had unwisely cut back on. But now, here’s EX_MACHINA, looking to consolidate the strides that Crossfaith have taken into a brand new album in typically sleek, stylish fashion, with a heavily cyberpunk- and anime-inspired narrative surrounding the uprising of the Demons against the Angels, the upper classes whose reliance on artificial intelligence has turned them into dehumanised drones.
If that all sounds incredibly over-the-top, it’s because it totally is, but that’s always been what’s given Crossfaith the edge against the competition. Even when electronica-soaked metalcore was the norm, there was a feeling of it being integral to Crossfaith’s sound rather than there to capitalise on trends, so much so that it’s prevailed for them while others have seriously lagged behind. Even now on EX_MACHINA, there’s a sense of drama to these compositions that Crossfaith have nailed when it comes to adhering to their own ambitions; Catastrophe and Make A Move are the sort of pulsating electro-metal ragers that easily conjure images of the grimy, dystopian Tokyo woven into this album’s DNA, while Lost In You is the single moment of towering power-balladry that’s always welcome on these sorts of albums, and Daybreak feels equal parts cybernetic meltdown and triumphant ending. The epilogue of a virtually note-for-note cover of Linkin Park’s Faint doesn’t quite fit in with anything else, but it’s nice that it’s here anyway.
Really though, that’s indicative of something of a shift in Crossfaith’s outlook, now keeping the past in view as well as the hyper-focused present and future, and when that all comes together, there’s something startlingly potent about EX_MACHINA that the band have never really tapped into before. So while Ho99o9 and Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds only further sharpen the bleeding-edge blades of Destroy and Freedom respectively, there’s more than a hint of Slipknot-esque groove and slam that weaves its way throughout, especially on The Perfect Nightmare, and Ken Koie’s vocals have been honed to an even greater extent, not only in more fluid, prominent singing than ever before, but in the deathcore influences that are now peppered around. It makes Crossfaith feel more like a fully-formed band now, rather than simply shunning everything else in favour of what’s shiny and cutting edge. Of course, that’s all still there to a degree (production-wise, there’s not a blemish to be seen in almost every aspect), but in terms of how everything comes together to make a satisfying whole, this is probably Crossfaith’s best work to date.
That’s definitely a good thing too, considering how many have opted to write them off as has-beens, or a band who imploded along with the scene they led. And that’s not entirely untrue – they’re definitely not at the stature they were four or five years ago – but EX_MACHINA still deserves every bit of praise it gets, not only for being a great album in its own right, but also seeing a band get back on the horse and live up to their potential again. Whether all of that will go noticed remains to be seen, but in a just world, it should; Crossfaith have worked hard for what they wanted, and it’s paid off enormously.
For fans of: Enter Shikari, The Browning, Fact
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘EX_MACHINA’ by Crossfaith is released on 3rd August on UNFD.