Tokyo metalcore outfit CRYSTAL LAKE return with their second album under US label Artery Recordings, True North. Gaining a solid cult following in the west after the release of their 2014 EP Cubes and 2015 international debut The Sign, CRYSTAL LAKE are arguably the best metalcore act coming out of Japan right now, producing some of the hardest tracks from the scene in the last couple of years.
Starting with the same vibe as their last record with the haunting, Stranger Things-esque Alpha followed by their lead single Omega, a patented CRYSTAL LAKE tune with catchy riffs and ample drops all pieced together with some callous growls and throbbing double bass drums. Further heightening the energy with the next track Hatred, rocking an old school metalcore tone as the opening lyrics are almost rapped by frontman Ryo over a muffled guitar before breaking into another round of vicious drums and brutal shouts with the most infectious chorus of the record.
At this point the album starts to gradually tone down the pace with Metro and the title track True North, before getting into what could be the band’s most unnoteworthy material of their entire discography as they drift in and out of some of the most generic sounds they’ve ever come out with. Like the mushy and “woah” filled Breathe Deep, and Black and Blue featuring RIZE Frontman Jesse, with its constant dull riffs, soppy lyrics, and Jesse’s rap rock vocals failing to add anything more to the song other than a slight early 2000’s nu-metal vibe.
But then CRYSTAL LAKE throw a curve ball by turning the second half of the album on its head with Six Feet Under, the band’s pure hardcore cut of the album. This song is like a nonstop beatdown from beginning to end, tearing straight into blistering riffs, rip-roaring hardcore growls and gang vocals wrapped up with a nasty chugging breakdown. As if the guys knew the previous two tracks would let the mood of the record down, Six Feet Under is perfectly placed in the track list as a healthy reminder that the band are still capable of dropping loud monstrous tracks like this, even if they’re not as frequent as we have come to expect.
With every new album, CRYSTAL LAKE are gradually expanding their sound and reaching out to a wider audience, but despite being the catalyst for some of the biggest bangers of the year, True North also holds some of the band’s blandest work to date. These guys do themselves justice when they go into a song hard and fast like with the tracks Hades and Mahakala off their previous records, but as much as I’m not feeling everything they’re trying to do this time round, I do admire the band’s ambition to constantly grow their music with every new offering all while never leaving their roots to fall by the wayside.
True North isn’t the bands best album, but they’ve still managed to pull off some killer tracks that really stand out as overall highlights of their discography. These guys still have the potential to release some prime material in the coming years, and if The Sign was the album that pointed CRYSTAL LAKE in the right direction, True North might be the album that takes them the distance of becoming a bigger name on this side of the globe.