Music

Are Crossfaith rock's last true believers?

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Crossfaith is experiencing an existential rock ‘n’ roll crisis. It’s not stopping them from partying like rock stars, though.

“I’m a bit hung over,” vocalist Kenta Koie tells me as our interview starts. He was out drinking the night before with programmer and keyboardist Terufumi Tamano. “I can’t even remember what I sang at karaoke.”

The band, which also includes bassist Hiroki Ikegawa, guitarist Kazuki Takemura and drummer Tatsuya Amano, is celebrating 10 years together. A decade in they are still on an upward trajectory that is taking them to large venues both in Japan and overseas.

Yet rock’s place in the world today weighs heavily on their minds. In August, Crossfaith released the digital-only “Freedom” EP. The second song, “Rockstar Steady,” finds Koie questioning what has happened to the genre over the past decade while engulfed in the band’s signature barrage of chugging guitar and steel-tipped synthesizers. “Who buried the rockstars? / Did everybody crawl back in their holes?” he growls before bemoaning that “everybody’s poppin’ like a Justin B.” The line is fittingly angry for a metalcore outfit, but striking in its confusion at the genre’s diminished stature in 2017.

“Ten years ago there were so many rock star rock stars, like Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park,” Koie says. “Those are the guys who really influenced us … but now the number of people like that is getting smaller and smaller.”

He’s not wrong. The musical space Crossfaith occupies remains dominant in Japan but has mostly given way to hip-hop and EDM abroad, spurring plenty of “rock is dead” thinkpieces in the process. Ten years in, Crossfaith is doing fine … but the guys have started thinking about the bigger picture.

It was a different world in the mid-2000s when Koie, Tamano and Takemura formed a metalcore cover group while still students in Sakai, just south of Osaka. Amano and Ikegawa eventually entered the picture and Crossfaith formed soon after. Koie has fond memories of “making music, drinking alcohol and just partying.”

The group emerged at an odd moment for heavy music, though. Linkin Park, the most commercially successful nu-metal group, had passed its sales peak but remained one of the world’s biggest bands. Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot held similar positions. Crossfaith’s sound — highlighted by Koie’s rap-scream and Tamano’s electronic touches mingling just right with the metal being played by the remaining trio — could attract a loyal fanbase and enough buzz to play festivals and open for artists like Enter Shikari — but they could only climb so high.

“Rock music over the past 10 years has been more like grunge, it has gone back to something natural and organic,” Koie says. “Ten years ago it was more dazzling, more mainstream.”

Crossfaith is keeping up the fight. The “Freedom” EP allowed each member a chance to explore something different.

“I wrote the last song on the album, that was the heaviest one,” Takemura says of the chugging “Diavolos.” “I was trying to capture my passion when I started a band. I was trying to go back to the basics.”

Tamano, meanwhile, loaded up on analog synths (including his favorite, an OB-6), saying he wanted to bridge the gap between EDM (referring to hard-hitting electronic music in the style of Skrillex, who Tamano says is “interesting”) and metal, a task Crossfaith has been hammering away at for a few years now.

“With techno, they always play like two or three hours as a DJ,” Koie says, while Ikegawa does a little fist pump that looks like it’s straight from the Jersey Shore. “EDM (acts) express their music in like three minutes. It’s way closer to rock, like a roller coaster.”

So when Crossfaith, a group that has been dabbling in electronic effects since its beginning, showed up at the EDM-centric Ultra Japan festival last month it seemed to make sense.

“It was interesting,” Koie says of the band’s Ultra set. “There were so many people but, uhhhh, most of them didn’t know about music.”

“Come on!” Ikegawa counters. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“Well, maybe they know EDM,” Koie replies.

“But that’s not a bad thing,” Ikegawa says, recalling the way the group had to work to impress the audience the first time they played a show in England. “It felt like we were going back to where we started.”

A more physical sound dominates Crossfaith’s latest EP, from the sci-fi title track featuring guest vocals from Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds (a friend of the band, who Ikegawa says “will be sitting somewhere and reading a book” while everyone parties backstage) to “Rockstar Steady,” with a particularly riled-up guest verse from Jesse McFaddin, head of Japanese metal trio Rize, who Koie describes as a “living legend.”

“Rockstar Steady” also captures the group’s current state of mind. When I ask them why they think rock has seemingly receded from the musical frontlines, it triggers a lengthy discussion among the members themselves. Koie’s initial argument focuses on ambition and notes how other artists, in rap for example, really want to be big.

“I think there are still rock stars, but they’ve changed their shapes,” Ikegawa says. “When I saw this documentary about the Korean rapper Keith Ape, what he was saying was totally what a punk rock kid would say. With a rock band, they want to change kids but they don’t necessarily get them, there’s a gap. But with rappers, it’s easier for their lifestyle and message to be taken up by younger listeners. It’s a cycle.”

Crossfaith hasn’t completely lost faith in the new generation of rockers, though. The members reminisce about a show in Russia earlier this year that saw kids in the mosh pit light fireworks during the set.

“When you see those situations it feels like you are truly in a rock band, you know,” Ikegawa says with a big smile.

Now in a downright nostalgic mood, it’s guitarist Takemura who brings up a memory that causes everyone else to get reflective — meeting Linkin Park at Australia’s now-defunct Soundwave Festival in 2014. Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington, committed suicide in July.

“We told them what they meant to us, how we used to watch their DVDs. How they pretty much helped influence us to start out as a band,” Takemura recalls.

“We would cover their songs in school,” Koie adds excitedly.

“And when Chester was getting into his car to go back to the hotel, he looked at us and said ‘Do your best’ and then drove off,” Takemura says. “It was so cool.”

After 10 years, it looks like Crossfaith is in a position to encourage a new generation of rock stars. For the sake of rock ‘n’ roll, we wish them luck.

Crossfaith is currently on a nationwide tour that runs through Dec. 24. For more information on performance venues and dates, visit www.crossfaith.jp.

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