Fear Factory are back. This is a band who were touted as the future of metal, back in the day, mostly because of the sci-fi themes that were an integral part of their work. Not too shabby, considering the music was largely groove-metal with keyboards and a lyrical stance that reflected The Terminator, Blade Runner and Brave New World. Usually before the chorus. Mind, this was after the debut (Soul Of A New Machine) which although showed glimpses of what was to come, was largely death metal with the odd sample here and there. Things really took off after the release of 'Demanufacture' and after a few hiccups - most notably a well publicised falling out between band members which resulted in a split, reunion and split again, things got back on track.
It's been said that Fear Factory were like a breath of fresh air back when they first came out as they were one of the first bands to dive head-first into genres in an effort to create something original. By taking the heaviness of death metal and mixing it with the rhythms of industrial, they were unique. However, despite a couple of changes, they've largely stuck to the same formula over the years. Now whereas that is OK with some bands (Iron Maiden, Motorhead and AC/DC have been making the same album for nigh-on 30 to 40 years), is it really acceptable for a band who once prided itself on being ahead of the game - something they bragged about when they did the remix album but...it was the 90's, practically EVERYBODY had a remix album out at some point, or - at the very least - had at least a couple of remixes as the b-sides for singles. Besides, the attempt to mix metal with electronic music was mostly a failure as once the novelty wore off, no-one stuck around for long. Mind, Red Harvest were fucking decent. Anyhow...
This is the third album since guitarist Dino Cazares returned to the group and...well, it's business as usual, to be fair. Like all the other albums since his return (Mechanize and The Industrialist), it features the main ingredients from what made 'Demanufacture' such a hit, namely the machine gun-esque riffs, rapid-fire drums and vocals which alternate between clean singing and growling. And whilst it (and the aforementioned others) don't hit those heady heights, it's certainly better than the alternate-metal pretentious of 'Obsolete', the nu-metal chasing 'Digimortal' (Which is actually quite decent and not exactly the total cluster-fuck I made it out to be) and the tedious and shite 'Transgression'. And since Dino returned to the group, there have been more line-up changes! On this album we have drums by Mike Heller (although a drum machine was recorded for some songs) and although Tony Campos (former Static-X bassist) is now a member, bass duties were handles by Cazares himself. Indeed, it seems that since his return, the line-up changes have been coming thick and fast! Not that I'm implying anything. Ahem...
1) Autonomous Combat System - the first track to open the album and so far, we're in familiar territory. It basically sounds like the last five or six years where since the band found it's feet once more, they appeared to have abandoned all endeavours to experiment and instead are sticking to a formula they're familiar with. Frantic opening with the usual staccato riffs and drums.
2) Anodized - Has a bit of a stop-start thing going with it, not too bad and definitely a change, usually, FF are more straight ahead than this.
3) Dielectric - Reasonable clean vocals in the chorus. Not really much else to say about this one as it's pretty much standard FF-fare. I've a feeling the whole album will be like this.
4) Soul Hacker - YOU'LL NEVER TAKE MY SOUL!!! Another weapon in the FF arsenal - the dramatic shout opening! The main riff is quite bouncy and crunchy, this should be a good one live! One assumes that Burton C. Bell is singing about Man vs Machine, as usual...
5) Protomech - A song that's been with me since they released the 'lyric video' for it a month ago. Now it's on the album. And based on what I've heard so far, it's the 'Top Tune' so far. A song about a man who has became machine, it could almost be about John Connor in Terminator: Genysis. It's not a major spoiler as you saw what happened in the fucking trailer before the movie came out! The best 'clean vocal melodies' in a while,
6) Genexus - Another ripper of a song, this is all fast riffs, typewriter drumming and a chorus which feels like it's pulling you down into hell. Not much melody to this one although the ever-present backing keyboards are excellent. Definitely an album highlight.
7) Church Of Execution - Starting off with electronic sounds, it then goes off on a snappy little trip. It sounds like another one which would get the crowd moving live or on the dance floor. Some excellent electronic arrangements compliment the guitar-work, a very good song.
8) Regenerate - whilst still carrying FF's most famous traits, it's a lot more straightforward than usual, in terms of structure. Still a heavy song, although it's not as good as what's came before it. Intro is good and reminds me of SYL before launching into the kind of riff that FF are famous for. Mind, it's got a catchy chorus so I wouldn't be surprised if this was a future single.
9) Battle For Utopia - Another electronic intro (sounding like drum machines), it then turns into a song that has a very similar structure to something off 'Archetype'. The clean vocals on this sound like they were sang through a towel wrapped round the mic. Luckily, it ends up adding to the overall vibe of the song which is lucky. Not sure what the lyrics are about, probably man v machine. Well, it is Fear Factory!
10) Now this one has a great opening! It sounds like the end credits of a sci-fi movie. Almost like Vangelis. The music is great but the main problem is the vocals. Aside from sounding again like they were recorded with a towel around the mic, they seem to have vocal effects on them. And they end up quoting the movie Blade Runner midway though (well, it's a slight variation of a line near the end of the movie) which adds to the Vangelis vibe, as he did the soundtrack. Truth be told, it's not a bad song.
Well, there you have it - the best Fear Factory album since 'Archetype', It's basically everything you'd expect and want from a Fear Factory album. Whilst they're never going to reach the heights of 'Demanufacture', as long as they keep releasing stuff as good as this, they should be OK for years to come. The only drawback I can find is that the clean vocals are not as good as they usually are. The production is perfect with the right balance between 'polished' and 'raw'. And, for a change, the ear candy is not too overpowering. Buy it, you can't go wrong.
8/10 - Oh now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart.
Top Track - Protomech.
This album is available on iTunes.