The buzz surrounding Osaka’s Crossfaith seemed to dissipate as quickly as it arrived. The quintet quickly amassed formidable reputation based on their exhilarating live shows and their intriguing blend of EDM and modern metalcore. Unfortunately, the excitement the band brought on the live front failed to translate to record, and their profile soon began to stagnate. Ex_Machina, therefore, perhaps seeks to recapture the attention of the metal world by appealing to a more mainstream audience. Yet, although it feels somewhat watered down in scope, it also constitutes their most focused and effective studio effort thus far.
If there’s one word which sums up Crossfaith’s previous output, it’s “oppressive”. While the band’s compositions are undeniably crafted with care, they have also often felt overwhelming. Their blending of EDM and metal tropes in the past has often equated to an endless bass barrage, further leading the melodic and atmospheric elements of their sound to be obscured. Ex_Machina brings that melody and electronic texturing to the forefront, resulting in a record that—for the first time in the band’s history—primarily feels “fun”. For all the inherent aggression in their sound, Crossfaith’s live shows have always been a joyous occasion, and this album finally reflects that sense of joviality.
Ex_Machina also finally sees Crossfaith capitalising on the push and pull that each of the disperate aspects of their sound bring to the table. Whereas with previous releases it’s felt like the band have had their foot to the floor the whole time, here they’re happy to rein things in when they need to and allow them to build up again. The net result is that the various drops and beatdowns feel like they hot harder, even if the album is perhaps, objectively speaking, the band’s lightest offering. The Knife Party-esque rave build-up of “Deus Ex Machina” into the almost nu-metal bounce and high-octane chorus of “Catastrophy” is the perfect of this give-and-take mentallity. That the band are able to keep this mentality going throughout most of the record renders Ex_Machina not only Crossfaith’s most dynamic record, but their most memorable as well.
It’s also the most varied outing the Osakans have put their name to. Along with the nu-metal tinges hinted at earlier, the album also sees the band collaborating with Ho99o9 (pronounced “Horror”, or so I’m told…) and Enter Shikari‘s Rou Reynolds for a pair of hip-hop-inclined numbers in “Freedom” and “Destroy” (irrespectively). The bouncier nature of the album’s material often brigs to mind Of Mice & Men in their prime—particularly “Perfect Nightmare”, which more or less jacks the climactic breakdown of that band’s “The Depths” for its main riff—and Koie Kenta’s strained rasp is regularly reminiscent of Atreyu‘s Alex Varkatzas. Lead single “Wipeout” sounds far more comfortable in its album setting than it ever did heading its eponymous EP, released earlier this year, and emerges both as a late highlight, and arguably the album’s strongest number of the back of its frantic, melodic chorus; while “Make a Move,” oddly, channels the kinetic excitement of Refused‘s “New Noise” into a memorable, upbeat, dance anthem.
Unfortunately, the album’s back third still leaves a lot to be desired. Ex_Machina‘s final four tracks consist of two ballads, back-to-back, a short instrumental and “Daybreak”, which begins by sounding like Atreyu at their most viscous, before exploding into a plethora of uplifting, choir-backed “woahs”. “Daybreak” is great, in spite (perhaps because) of its overblown nature, and I’m sure will be closing out the band’s sets from here on. However, everything leading up to it is pretty cringey, particularly “Eden in the Rain”, which again sounds like Of Mice & Men, except this time at their absoulte wettest. All of this is tagged by a cover of Linkin Park‘s “Faint”, featuring Masato Hayakawa from Nagoya post-hardcore crew Coldrain. As a cover, it’s fairly nondescript—sticking more-or-less identically to the original. I suspect its main purpose, however, is simply to give the band an excuse to bust it out regularly at their live shows (as they have done with The Prodigy‘s “Omen” in the past), which I’m also completely fine with, and honestly sounds like a lot of fun.
With Ex_Machina, Crossfaith have finally delivered an album as consistently entertaining and invigorating as their live show. While there may be stronger material littered throughout the rest of their discography, the band’s fifth full-length is easily the most consistent and fully-realised entry into their catalogue so far. The record’s final moments aren’t its strongest and could have used some trimming, but it’s not enough to undo all the good done elsewhere, and the record as a whole remains the most enjoyable well-rounded outing the band have come up with yet.
Ex_Machina is out now, through UNFD. Order and stream it here.