Crushing, heavy, and powerfully organic…
Review by Allan Jones
Release Date: 7 August 2015
I can still remember the first time I ever heard Fear Factory – the thundering impact of their industrial death metal has stayed with me ever since. The visceral, crushingly heavy sound was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and the way Burton C. Bell used his voice as a battering ram through the verses only to give way to the soaring choruses was revelatory. It horrifies me to think that was twenty two years ago this year.
Still, when I heard that a new album was on the way, I was intrigued. Could they recapture those earlier glories? Were they still relevant in a metal scene that has since discovered 7-string guitars and digital recording to capture the ridiculously low tunings that became fashionable in their wake? Had the hordes of nu-metal growly/clean vocals and the increasingly common use of programming to produce hard-hitting drum-and-bass and dubstep that followed in their footsteps stolen their thunder?
Judging by the likes of ‘Protomech’, Fear Factory certainly think not. Their trademark digitised machine-like drumming is still present, and Dino Cazares still manages to sound like a very angry machine that learned to play the guitar and was busy trying to kill everything with the resulting soundwaves. The drumming isn’t quite so cleanly digital – this time around, they’ve brought in Mike Heller to play on some of them, giving a slightly more organic feel in places. Can I tell the difference? I’m not really sure – Heller still sounds metronomically accurate and suitably clinical to me. This could be due to post-processing to digitally enhance his work, but it really doesn’t matter – Fear Factory were always about that organic/mechanical hybridisation and blurring those lines, so they fits that bill perfectly. They’ve also brought in Tony Campos on bass, too, to thicken out their already monstrous sound.
The entertaining science-fiction/technology conceit is still there, too, and Bell’s lyrics still strive for the blend of human and machine that gave their earlier albums a playful framework. There’s even the obligatory random manufacturing/electronics terms used for song titles, too. ‘Expiration Date’ captures this sentimentality perfectly, with cute little quotes from Blade Runner inserted alongside a beautifully melodic vocal and leaves you with the impression that the organic is just as important to the album as the mechanical.
Taken in isolation, it’s a great album. However, compared to Demanufacture or Obsolete, damn near anything will suffer. The production on the new album doesn’t help – it’s nowhere near as clean and crisp, and while it lends a more organic feel to the album, it comes at the expense of the crunch and impact of the rhythm section, and of the clarity of the guitar work. I suspect that analytical headphones might not be the best option.
But in all honesty, that’s really being picky as hell, because it’s a struggle to find things to complain about. It’s still crushing and heavy and powerful, but now there’s also a softer, organic side coming through, too, exposing the craft without losing the impact. Ultimately, this album is a perfect example of everything that Fear Factory are about – and that many bands are still trying to catch up to two decades later. If you were a fan back in the day, you’ll enjoy this. And if not? Give it a listen, because even now there’s no-one that sounds quite like Fear Factory.
8 out of 10
- Autonomous Combat System
- Soul Hacker
- Church Of Execution
- Battle For Utopia
- Expiration Date