Thirteen time zones away from their hometown of Osaka, Japan, Crossfaith are enjoying a rare afternoon off during the Warped Tour. “I feel like Spider-Man,” says Ken Koie with a chuckle. “We’ve been on the move nonstop, and we’ve travelled so far and moved so quickly in the past few years that it’s felt like we’re shooting webs and swinging through the air.”
Since first appearing in these pages in 2012, Crossfaith have taken their bludgeoning fusion of metalcore and electronica around the world, hitting the US, Canada, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia with anthems such as Jägerbomb while throwing the parties to match. In fact, Ken’s sipping a cold beer right now. He describes their tour ethos as, “Pretty much: party, play, party, play, party and sometimes puke.” Yet this time last year, it looked like the party and the playing might be over. Guitarist Kazu Takemura – conspicuous today by his absence – started having serious health issues. It was, Ken says, “the worst thing to happen to us in our entire music career”.
The problems began while the band were on tour last summer, visiting the UK before dates in France, Italy and Belgium. “When I was onstage at Download Festival, I was absolutely fine,” Kazu tells us from Japan. But the appearance would prove notable for darker reasons. “It was the last time I could play under the circumstances that I felt myself in perfect health,” he explains.
Most of us take for granted the ability to move any of our limbs in perfect synchronicity with our thoughts, but what if you stared at your hand and told it to move… and nothing happened? This is precisely what Kazu began to experience. “I had weird feelings in my left hand when we were out on the European tour,” he tells us. “It was just a little bit at the beginning. I wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong if I wasn’t a guitar player.”
In his autobiography, Dave Mustaine refers to his left hand as his “money maker”, because, for a guitarist, the fretting hand determines every note and chord being played, requiring superhuman heights of speed, reflex and dexterity. One can hardly imagine Kazu’s alarm when his hand began inexplicably slowing down. Neither rest, strengthening exercises nor ice alleviated the atrophy – his symptoms were getting worse. The band played dates in Japan, and at Reading & Leeds festivals. But as the deterioration began to affect Kazu’s playing, the rest of the band stood helplessly on the sidelines, waiting for some flash of hope. Eventually, however, they faced the facts and cancelled their north American tours with We Came As Romans and The Amity Affliction in September and October, plus California’s Monster Energy Aftershock Festival. Kazu’s doctors ordered him on an extended break from playing, referring to his condition as a “repetitive strain injury”, the sort of generic assessment that suggested a bit of rest would restore his mobility, and from November, the band continued with a support guitarist. However, something far more sinister was afoot. In December, after a series of tests, Kazu finally learned the terrifying truth behind his condition.
Ken explains, “Kazu was trying to figure out what was wrong, and he went to a lot of different hospitals before the doctors realised that he had experienced a brain haemorrhage. I can’t imagine how scared he must have been. His left hand is his most important body part.”
The doctors didn’t know what had caused it – it could have been anything from drinking, to a blow to the head, headbanging, the touring lifestyle, or stress. In the face of a sobering diagnosis, the band considered a hiatus, or even splitting up. Kazu concedes that, in his darkest moments, he entertained the possibility of never playing again. “Yes, I did consider that,” he explains, “but I didn’t want to give up before I tried my best to get better.”
And, true to his word, the guitarist is in Japan today, wholly dedicated to returning to the job, and literally re-teaching his left hand how to play. But his unshakeable focus has paid off – his rehabilitation has exceeded expectations, with his return to the band set for later this year. “I’m feeling that it’s getting much better. I’ll be back onstage really soon!” he tells us.
Kazu’s timing could not be better. This autumn, Crossfaith – completed by bassist Hiroki ‘Hiro’ Ikegawa, keyboardist Terufumi ‘Teru’ Tamano and drummer Tatsuya Amano – release their fourth and most anticipated album yet, Xeno. It’s a storm of thunderous metalcore undercurrents, pulsating torrents of electronica and a siege of pit-friendly anthems underpinning a dark and complex narrative exploring futuristic existentialism, and reveals the Japanese metallers to be far more than just a party band. Xeno appears as two characters – a female Artificial Intelligence entity keen to learn about the human condition, and as a human also named Xeno, whose despondence with the world has brought him to the brink of suicide.
“This world is fucked up,” says Ken, “especially the government. But every single person has a dark side. In the first song, System X, the main character wants to destroy the world because there’s just so much hypocrisy. After World War II, Japan refused to have the atomic nuclear weapons and the atomic bomb. But recently they voted to change their position [on nuclear power, voting to restart reactors following the Fukushima disaster].”
Outspoken and passionate, Ken insists that he will never back down from speaking his truth, stating, “Music is a place for saying what I want. It is the only acceptable place to express myself, to say what I want to say, and I’m not afraid of backlash.”
Each song represents a different emotion – Paint It Black is a full-throttle revenge fantasy while Tears Fall offers a sprawling meditation on love, loss and disassociation. And, of course, there’s the party anthem – Wildfire, featuring a guest turn by Skindred’s Benji Webbe, was turned around in lightning-quick speed. “We were Skyping with Benji,” Ken recalls, “and it was, like, 5am where he was, and he said, ‘Hey Ken, I’m gonna track this vocal right now!’ Literally in 15 minutes, he sent us the vocal file, and that’s what we used. It was fucking awesome.”
To say the band are pleased with the album is a heroic understatement. “After going through such a hard time with Kazu’s struggle, it was great to finally finish making this record,” says Ken. “And without a single doubt, Xeno is our very best album.”
Historically, Crossfaith have been reluctant to speak directly about the future, insisting that only here and now matters. But today, Ken is more forthcoming with the band’s aspirations. “Our dream is to play the Main Stage as headliners at Download – and I believe that we can do it,” he affirms.
Given what the band have achieved in the past 12 months, ascending from Kazu’s injury and a cancelled tour, to the Main Stage of Warped and the release of their most enthralling album yet, who’s to say he’s not exactly right?
Xeno is out on September 18 via UNFD. Crossfaith tour the UK with Skindred and Hed(pe) this November
Days Of Future Past
Concept album Xeno was partly inspired by sci-fi movies and partly by life in a band…
Ghost In The Shell
This 1995 Japanese anime film – soon to be remade with Scarlett Johansson starring – was years ahead of its time, exploring the intersection of gender, existentialism and technological evolution through a mesmerising narrative of cybercrime, super-hackers and political intrigue. “This film raised so many themes that we were looking to express on the new album,” says Ken. “Watch this if you haven’t seen it!”
Keanu Reeves’ character, the protagonist in the 1999 reality-warping mindfuck, The Matrix, inspired Ken to find optimism in an increasingly corruptible society. “Obviously the biggest inspiration for Neo,” Ken says, “is that he can change the world. That’s what our hope is for our new album – that it can also change the world.”
Meeting thousands of fans across the globe opened Ken’s eyes to the paradox of feeling alone in a crowd. “Humanity is essentially about being alone,” he says. “Even when we’re playing as a band, we’re each alone. Even when we’re partying, as humans, we’re all very, very alone. That’s what Xeno figures out in the last song.”
While making Xeno, Ken thought a lot about his place in the world. “I drew heavily from my own experiences, my own life, and from my view as a musician,” he reveals. “Like Xeno, I’m human and I’m still growing up. As a band, we’re all human and the band is growing up as well. But where I go and what I create comes from myself.”