Japan’s Crystal Lake offer up quite an enigma on their latest release and first for new label Sharptone Records. The band, known for their angular, progressive metalcore have decided to go in seemingly multiple directions at the same time. Helix not only ramps up the progressive technicality, heaping doses of nu-metal, hip hop, and melodic hardcore reveal themselves throughout.
This is an example of a record where no two songs sound alike, and while that diversity does pay off in an album that continually keeps listeners on their (ear…?) toes, one can’t help but feel like the result in a bit uneven, especially after the rousing start.
Opening one-two punch (after the obligatory and unnecessary intro) “Aeon” and “Agony” come across like a mix of Born of Osiris and Oceans Ate Alaska at their best—the delightfully spastic energy melds well with a wonderfully insane vocal performance from Ryo Kinoshita. What’s odd is that aggressive flair really never resurfaces, though “Apollo” gets close with a song that basically embraces every avenue of Crystal Lake’s new style: melodic, nu-prog metalcore, plus, it’s got a hook to die for.
The band’s take on The Ghost Inside’s (come back soon, guys) trademark melodic hardcore fuels “Lost In Forever” and “Outgrow,” both of which find a way to be as interesting as they are catchy. The former is a particular highlight with a nice feature from likeminded Gideon. Crystal Lake’s keen emphasis on groove over anything else helps elevate even the more rote tunes.
That comes in handy when the record falters when more hip hop and nu-metal elements creep in. “+81” and “Just Confusing” are the worst of the lot, with awkward verses and more ungainly creative risks (rapping, auto-tune) falling rather flat. That emphasis on interesting groove and angular aggression actually works wonders with “Hail to the Fire,” a song that invokes Ill Nino and Korn—no joke. Aside from the laughably macho lyrics, the song’s a delightful little pit-starter.
While it may sound like Crystal Lake have strayed too far from their metalcore roots for their own good, Helix is too damn energetic and fun to be anything other than a success. Sure, some experiments were hopefully one-and-done, but the increased emphasis on melody, texture, and groove highlights a band who isn’t comfortable resting on their laurels.
Helix is a very interesting record, but it also feels like a transition point for greater pastures ahead. It hints that the next step for Crystal Lake is likely a groovier take on melodic hardcore, and the fact that they do that very well on this record is cause for further optimism.