XENO is unlike any other album released this year. It has a story of hope, failure, love, betrayal and death like no other woven into its fabric so skillfully it's impossible to tell where truth ends and fiction begins. It's both an escape from and examination of reality that reveals more and more truths the further it delves.
Produced by Josh Wilbur (Avenged Sevenfold, Lamb Of God, Hatebreed) and mastered by Ted Jensen, XENO takes the groundwork laid by 2013's APOCALYZE and 2012's ZION EP as well as the band's vast touring history and catapults them into a whole new league. Not just because the album contains the best and most fluent tracks Crossfaith have ever written, but because it's an artistic endeavor like few others, with roots in manga, anime and the furthest reaches of its creators' minds. Front man Kenta 'Ken' Koie, guitarist Kazuki Takemura, bassist Hiroki ‘Hiro’ Ikegawa, keyboardist Terufumi 'Teru' Tamano and drummer Tatsuya Amano are, quite simply, operating on a different level.
At the end of last summer, after a grueling festival run, Kazuki confided in Ken that his hand felt slightly weird and he wasn't comfortable playing guitar. What started as a simple problem – maybe a trapped nerve, maybe he slept on it, maybe anything – sharply escalated when the guitarist followed the mystery problem down a rabbit hole. He had, it transpires, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and the issue with his hand was a minor manifestation of a deeply serious problem. “He was,” admits Ken grimly, “very lucky. We all were. We thought the band was finished, and this was the worst thing that had ever happened to us.”
But because Crossfaith's never-say-die attitude runs through his veins – in this case, a little too literally – Kazuki steamed through an intensive course of physical rehab that, helpfully, involved playing a lot of guitar. At this point, after working through “Vanguard” and the thrilling “Ghost In The Mirror” (on which Caleb Shomo from Ohio breakout rippers Beartooth guests), Teru told Kazuki that he had an idea about a character called Xeno. Or rather two characters.
There are two Xenos – one a non-corporeal female digital intelligence that seeks to understand the complexities of human behavior, and the other a human with a death wish. After the AI boots herself up (the sound of which is captured on the album's intro, “System X”) she inserts herself into the brain of the human Xeno. He is so distraught with the state of the world that he, on the brutal chaos of the title track, destroys the entire world and then returns to his mother's womb, desperate to create reality again so people have a second chance.
“Everyone has a dark side,” says Ken. “Everybody is so hypocritical. And everything – our world – is being completely fucked up by so many people, especially the government. It's easy to see what they do. So Xeno, the person, decides to do something big so he can hit reset and start again.”
And all this time she lives behind his eyes, watching and learning and trying to understand just why people do what we do. Throughout the album all shades of human life are rendered: “Paint It Black” deals with gleeful revenge, “Wildfire” (enlivened by the exhilarating Benji Webbe from Skindred) is all parties and serotonin peaks and the colossal “Tears Fall” speaks of love and loss with the deftest of touches.
But at the album's close, she notices that the one feeling that binds humanity together is loneliness. Despite how busy they are, how many other people they surround themselves with and what the smiles on their faces say, there's an ache below the surface that she simply wasn't prepared for.
“And this feeling, this loneliness that Xeno discovers – it's the same way we feel after a show,” explains Ken quietly. “She didn't expect people to feel this way when they live the lives they do, and it's the same for us.”
Crossfaith have transcended everything they've done before to create a headspinningly complex and futuristic allegory. And, somehow, it cuts to a simple truth at the heart of life in 2015.