Crystal Lake – True North


Artist

Album

True North

Label

Artery Recordings

Year

2016

Genre

For Fans Of

FACT, Crossfaith, The Ghost Inside.

Summary

The expected and the unexpected, all in one.

Rating

70 / 100

Crystal Lake, the Japanese hardcore/metalcore outfit and not the electronic DJ duo from Israel, are quickly becoming one of my favourite bands of late. That is in no short part due to their solid 2014 EP, ‘Cubes’, and last year’s killer full-length ‘The Sign’. Despite my adoration of the band, at this point in their career, I have come to expect a certain sound from them. However, fourth album ‘True North‘ challenges those expectations by being both equally familiar and unfamiliar in its musical delivery and its influences. And I just know that this will be Crystal Lake’s most divisive release for many fans.

But if I hadn’t of just spilt the beans about this new record, you wouldn’t know anything different was laying in wait by looking at the first two songs – Alpha’ and ‘Omega’. As per their name, they are two sides of the same coin and they flow together as a single heavy beast (that breakdown at the end of the latter, though, holy shit). The band’s generic, yet heavy and well-delivered brand of hardcore and metalcore is all over these two songs and it makes for a strong start to ‘True North’. However, from this point onwards, the unexpected starts to become the new normal, but so too does the album’s inconsistency. 

Hatred’ is the album’s obnoxious “hype” track, and the weakest offering with its simply dumb lyrics of “You have awakened the son of Satan/money, power, famously you show the world your fake shit” and “What is my name, bitch?“. Prior to hearing this record, I’d hoped Crystal Lake would move on from writing songs like this (i.e. ‘Hades‘), but no such luck. ‘Hatred‘ shows the band’s love of hip-hop and rap with fast vocal phrases and brief R’n’B sections but it feature such fucking cringe-worthy lyrics that it matters not. In fact, it sadly sounds like a watered down Crossfaith song – which isn’t saying that a whole to begin with, anyway – and lacks most of the aforementioned acts over the top layers of synth. It’s pretty bad, to be honest. However, for a song that is actually good, consistent and somewhat unexpected, you’ve got ‘Metro‘. ‘Metro‘ breaks away from the overdone guitar chugging with its clean guitar solo and bright guitar leads, and they contrast so well with not only the drumming but also Ryu’s Kinoshita screaming, his cleans and the female vocals found in the final third of the track. (And yes, Kinoshita still sounds like a vocal clone of The Ghost Inside’s Jonathan Vigil when he screams). The closest sound I could compare ‘Metro‘ to is that of ‘Dreamcatcher‘ and ‘Mercury‘ from their previous album; except that this song feels like the next step in the evolutionary process of that melodic sound.

Now, at this point that I thought I’d heard Crystal Lake at their poppiest and at their most melodic. Oh, how quickly I assume. The warmer bass tone, clean guitars, and singing that introduces and defines ‘Breathe Deep’ genuinely surprised me and it felt like a pop-punk band had slipped their own song onto this album’s track listing in some truly weird distribution error. But this is no error; this is the sound of the new Crystal Lake album. The rest of the song displays zero signs of their heavier metalcore sound, which is more than fine with me, as it shows these guys can really step out of their shell with their songwriting. You know how I said before that this record would be divisive, well yeah; ‘Breathe Deep’ is going to be one of those divisive moments, but a song such as this is a big win overall, I feel. 

Moving on, the energetic and damn solid tune that is ‘Black And Blue’ brings the heaviness back around hard but it still contains its fair share of melodic moments; from the backing vocals to an immensely catchy lead riff that Dance Gavin Dance would be more than happy to steal, to the fitting and effective guest spot from Jesse McFaddin of Rize. After the brief and immensely forgettable interlude that is ‘Walk On Water’, you hit the final song, ‘Waves‘, and it’s here that the band’s melodic, non-heavy elements and their metalcore sound merge together in the most potent form. This five-minute epic is such a superb example of how Crystal Lake make their music feel fresh and how they keep it engaging; from the chorus/flanger-tinged guitars, the clean riffs, the rapping, the vocoder effects, the female vocals halfway through and by also delivering one of the album’s tightest, hardest breakdowns. Shit, even though a cheap fade out concludes ‘Waves‘, it is still the crowning moment of ‘True North‘ and a truly fitting end to Crystal Lake’s most diverse record to date.

With that being said, you’ll find plenty of the “usual” Crystal Lake sound with the record’s anthemic, breakneck fast title track. But sadly, while it isn’t a bad song per say, it is far from great and feels like an entry-level B-side of The Ghost Inside, just with more simplistic lyrics. Which is funny considering that this Toyko outfit actually covered ‘Wide-Eyed‘ earlier in the year, with all proceeds going to TGI (the champs). Likewise, ‘Six Feet Under’ is a very generic hardcore song, from the two-step drum patterns, the song’s build-up, the chord progressions, to the vocals deliveries – both the mid-range screams and the low growls. What’s interesting here is that the song has some actual impact due to the preceding song’s not just being typical hardcore/metalcore retreads. Yet all of that goes out the fucking window as I cannot abide by the head-shaking edgy lyrics that make up the song’s second half. Just look at this bollocks:

You think you can hold me down?/Well, you’re dealing with the devil/So do what you want, say what you will/Out of the mouth comes evil, go fuck yourself“.

Hearing that felt like I was listening to Attila’s new album, or worse still, the new Upon A Burning Body record. I also mentioned the awful lyrics of ‘Hatred‘ earlier and look, the lyrics aren’t all that great throughout the entire record, or they are at the very least, quite simplistic and inoffensively cliché. There are no intricate lyrical narratives being spun here, folks, which is fine, as not every album needs to be a giant conceptual think-take spanning a seventy-minute run time. In saying that, the lyrical quality is lacking here and that may be in part due to the band being Japanese and having English be a secondary language of sorts. I suppose that’s why bands like Germany’s FJØRT and fellow Japanese act, Dir En Grey, stick to their native tongues lyrically as it avoids that issue. Although, we do live in a world where Brokencyde exists so you can always find worse lyrics and song themes just a few clicks away. I don’t know why you’d willingly submit yourself to that aural torture, but you do you. 

Conclusion

Crystal Lake is really starting to step out of their hardcore, metalcore shell and an album like ‘True North’ sets them strongly down that path for the future. It’s still heavy and it most definitely fits their usual sonic template with plenty of palm-muted chugs, tight breakdowns, and heavy screaming, but the band is instrumentally and melodically branching out now. And that’s for the better, as it’s these moments that provide the record’s highlights, and ‘Waves’ may just be one of the band’s greatest. I just know in my bones that this record is bound to be divisive listen for a lot of new and older fans, and it begs the question: “Just what will the next record sound like?”. However! Despite the musical diversity and as much as I love the idea of bands taking steps towards changing and evolving their sound, I must say that this is actually one of Crystal Lake’s weakest releases. While more personalised and while still good, it’s just far from being their best.

Tracklisting

  1. Alpha
  2. Omega
  3. Hatred
  4. Metro
  5. True North
  6. Breathe Deep
  7. Black And Blue
  8. Six Feet Under
  9. Walk On Water
  10. Waves

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