You’d think if a band is going to make a concept album about a troubled future, there’s no better time to set it than the present. Doing things the obvious way isn’t Crossfaith’s style, though.
“There are so many reasons we decided to set it in the future,” says frontman Kenta ‘Ken’ Koie of Ex Machina, the Japanese band’s fifth album and the follow-up to 2015’s critically acclaimed Xeno. “Our attitude has always been that we should be constantly pushing to make something different. The idea of a futuristic sci-fi world not only excites out intellectual curiosity; it allows us to pose questions about our future that also affect our present.”
Ex Machina is set in an alternative near future in which the ruling class, known as Angels, maintain their world through artificial intelligence and other technology, which dehumanises people and effectively turns them into drones – as explained in the opening title track, Deus Ex Machina.
This, and the other 12 songs Crossfaith have written for the album represent the voice of the resistance – in the form of underdogs known as Demons. Ken was inspired to include these figures by Devilman Crybaby, particularly on the Slipknot-esque Catastrophe, the frantic, bloodcurdling The Perfect Nightmare and the epic assault of Daybreak, rather than because they wanted to provide a comment on religion.
“There’s no particular religious message,” clarifies Ken. “In order to explore the dualism of humans, we decided to include Angels and Demons, which are opposing elements just like fire and water.”
“Angels aren’t necessarily good and demons aren’t necessarily bad,” he explains. “The most important theme is that we should never stop questioning the world around us.”
Deus Ex Machina 1:40
The Perfect Nightmare 3:58
Destroy (feat. Ho99o9) 3:38
Freedom (feat. Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari) 3:21
Make A Move 3:21
Lost In You 4:15
Wipeout (Album Mix) 3:56
Eden In The Rain 3:19
Twin Shadows 2:21
Faint (feat. Masato from coldrain) 2:45
Ex Machina is certainly a relentless album that strives for the listener’s attention, and is unquestionably the heaviest that Crossfaith have put their name to since forming in their native Osaka in 2006. This is helped in no small part by the addition of some other musicians that share the band’s firebrand status. This includes industrial hip hoppers Ho99o9 – aka New Jersey duo theOGM and Eaddy – who bring their characteristic brand of bile to the pulversising Destroy.
“Our manager introduced us to their music,” explains Ken. “Then we saw their live show when we were on the same bill as them at a festival in China; it was super-energetic and had this primitive quality, which we thought could complement our sound, even though their vocal styles are very different to mine. They have their own principles, too; I asked them to add their voices to the gang vocals on the song, but they didn’t because they don’t sing other people’s lyrics. That might make some musicians mad, but I totally understood their attitude. They brought a wildness and danger to the track.”
While that track is on the caustic side, Freedom represents one of the album’s catchiest moments, and features an impressive cameo from Enter Shikari frontman Rou Reynolds.
“We first met Enter Shikari years ago,” says Ken of Crossfaith’s relationship with the St Albans electronicore stars. “I explained to Rou the story behind Freedom, of how the civilisation is developing so rapidly that everything becomes about convenience, and questioning whether that’s a good thing. I asked Rou to think about his interpretation of the word ‘Freedom’ from a British perspective, because we obviously had it covered from a Japanese perspective. His lyrics ended up being a perfect fit.”
If there’s one anomaly on Ex Machina, it’s Milestone. The album’s ninth track is as riffy and rousing as the other tracks, but is more about Crossfaith’s story than that of the overarching narrative.
“I don’t know why but I had the feeling that I should write a song about the band,” explains Ken. “It’s kind of out of the concept of the album album, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how important it is.”
Milestone is important, because it distils Crossfaith’s ethos. It features the lyric ‘We’re always on the edge’, which is certainly true. Since their inception, Crossfaith have been on the edge of a fusion of rock, metal, electronica and big ideas on their albums; and the edge of euphoria with their live shows. Ex Machina is the album on which they walk that fine, fiery line more skilfully and seismically than ever.