Getting Into: Fear Factory
|Written by:||omne metallum|
"Mors certa, vita incerta."
While neither the first nor the most prominent band in industrial metal, Fear Factory are perhaps one of the seminal groups in the genre and metal in the 90's in general. Their blending of death metal with industrial influences not only helped spawn and revolutionize a genre in its nascency but helped lay the groundwork for where metal could go after grunge had begun receding. Their career has taken in many dramas, highs and lows that can make navigating their discography both fun and overwhelming. With the release of Aggression Continuum on the horizon, I think now is a good time to take a look back and assess the back catalogue of Fear Factory in anticipation of the new record, with the hope that it adds to their stellar output.
1992 - Soul Of A New Machine
The machine comes to life.
For a debut release, Soul Of A New Machine is a surprisingly strong album; while the band's identity is still germinating, they are still able to provide some entertaining moments. While the band do dabble and experiment with industrial elements here and there, namely via the chunky guitars and propelling drums alongside the occasional use of electronics and effects, Soul Of A New Machine is more a straight up death metal album born out of the early '90's, with hints of grindcore (see "Suffer Age"). While the band have their indicators flashing that they intend to change lanes at some point, they have yet to make the turn; this shouldn't dissuade fans of the band's later trademark sound as it is still an enjoyable record. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming the band have at this time is in their song-writing; much of the album sounds too similar to their peers at the time and lacks the quality to compensate for this lack of uniqueness in order to stand out when compared to the likes of Nocturnus. The record does have several strong tracks ("Martyr" being the highlight by far), but the machine is missing a few gears to really get up to speed, and as a result the band roll along rather than race ahead to the front of the pack.
1995 - Demanufacture
One of, if not, the most important albums in not just industrial metal but all metal in the '90's, Demanufacture is essential listening for anyone who wants to expand their horizons on their journey into metal; it goes without saying that this is the best place to start for anyone wanting to get into Fear Factory. Finding a sonic template that combines the blueprint of death metal with the atmosphere and crushing heaviness of Godflesh, you have an album that is an all-conquering hybrid. The bleak and oppressing atmosphere of industrial metal is combined with a laser-precise death metal attack that will crush whatever dares sit between earphones when listening to it. The one-two tandem of Herrara's pinpoint drumming alongside Dino's almost mechanically precise guitar playing slams into your eardrums, while Bell and Fulber add the cherries atop each masterpiece. With the opening five tracks perhaps being the peak of the genre, from the opening title track through perhaps the band's two best known tracks in "Replica" and "Self Bias Resistor". it is understandable that the album does wane slightly in the second half, but much like a roller coaster, it needs that ebb and flow to make the ride all that more interesting.
1997 - Remanufacture
Thankfully a trend that has never really taken hold in metal is the remix album, which, as shown here, is awful in execution. While credit must be given that they didn't skimp out on the quality of those doing the remixing (with Front Line Assembly's Rhys Fulber and Junkie XL being but two of the featured artists), no one adds or reimagines anything in an interesting way. Much of the album is merely taking the source material and throwing third rate dance music tropes on top and calling it a day, leaving metal fans bereft of anything heavy or catchy to sink their teeth into and dance fans with scant parts that are much beyond bog standard. Perhaps the closest the album gets to something decent is "Cloning Technology", which is "Replica" with a few more parts thrown in. An album that would only interest the curious and completionists.
1998 - Obsolete
To produce two classics in succession not only raised the band's profile as one of the leading lights in the new wave of metal approaching the turn of the millennium, but cemented the band's legacy in the genre and laid the gauntlet for anyone who wished to follow in their steps. Obsolete was not the band's first concept album (depending on which band member you ask, arguably both their prior records also are), but it was the first to follow a cohesive narrative that doesn't drown itself in exposition as some concept albums are prone to. Toning down their death metal leanings, Obsolete is the band's most accessible record so far; the band turns to a more industrial and 'groove first' approach that enables the band to sound heavy a la the title track and "Freedom Or Fire", but also explore different avenues of their sound, such as on "Descent" and "Timelessness". The band produce a slew of classics, with "Shock", "Edgecrusher" and "Resurrection" being the best known among them and for good reason; each shows a level of progression and differentiation while still being easily identifiable. Perhaps the stars of the show are Bell, who provides a strong vocal performance that highlights how underrated as a vocalist he was in his prime, and Herrera, who provides a tight and powerful performance behind the drum kit.
2001 - Digimortal
On paper, Fear Factory were perhaps one of the bands you would expect to produce a passable nu metal album, when you consider bands like Static X and Spineshank had borrowed from Fear Factory and shown how industrial and nu metal could meld together; alas, that is not the case here, as the band are unable to make this mix work consistently. The overreliance on the quiet/loud dynamic and atmospheric bridges often kills what momentum a track has, with "Acres Of Skin" serving as an example of a song stumbling over every hurdle the band place in front of it. Perhaps the best summation of how bad this record can get is "Back The Fuck Up", a track that is devoid of enthusiasm and relies on a guest appearance by Cypress Hill's B-Real to make any sort of memorable moment over the bland riffing. Dino's bland and uninspired riffing is matching by the performances given by the rest of the band, who sound unenthused or unable to channel their talents effectively through the medium of nu metal. With the band imploding soon after the album's release, they at least signed off with two cast iron classics in "Linchpin" and "Damaged", which alongside "What Will Become?" and the title track provide the few tracks that are worth listening to.
2002 - Concrete
Released as a result of contractual obligations, Concrete saw the light of day eleven years after its conception, beginning life as what was intended to be the band's first album before being shelved. Many of the songs appear on Soul Of A New Machine in a more polished form that has a larger industrial tinge than they do here, being far more raw and in line with the band's death metal roots. Being recorded by a pre-Korn Ross Robinson, Concrete is better than it has any right to be; its raw and primal form lends it a visceral power that hits you like, well, concrete. Being a collection of demos, the album has sparse production that arguably works in its favour, as it does not dilute the impact of the music, showing the band's blueprint in its glory. Tracks like "Dragged Down By The Weight Of Existence" (known as "W.O.E." on Soul Of A New Machine) and "Arise Above Repression" are superior than their re-recorded versions, stripping the songs away of any luxury and leaving the listener with some of the fiercest demo recordings around. Worth listening to for fans of the band's debut album and those wanting to hear more of the heavy side of the band's sound.
2003 - Hatefiles
Born from the same circumstances as Concrete, Hatefiles is a collection of whatever material Roadrunner could scramble together to release with the Fear Factory name on it; as a result, Hatefiles is an uneven listen and one that is second only to Remanufacture in terms of being the band's least necessary release, being that it collects b-sides, alternative mixes, a demo and perhaps the only interesting song "Terminate". which was, at the time, the last song Dino did with the band. The only songs that come close to warranting seeking out would be "Machine Debaser" and "Resurrection (T.L.A. Big Rock Mix)"; the former sounds like a promising skeleton upon which a song could be built on but is just an instrumental track here, while the latter is just a slightly rougher at the edges version of the Obsolete track that, at best, doesn't ruin its source material. For those wondering, "Terminate" sounds like a b-side to Digimortal, which should give you an indication as to how good it is.
2004 - Archtype
Usually when losing a key songwriter, a band stumbles when following up from their departure; Archtype, however, is among the handful of exceptions to this rule, with the departure of Dino hardly denting the band's output at this point. Instead, Fear Factory produce a solid and highly enjoyable record that explores new directions without losing sight of its grounding point. While the likes of "Corporate Cloning" and the title track do strain at the leash of what it is to be a Fear Factory song, they push the envelope and do so with high-quality results. Perhaps two of the most overlooked classics in the band's back catalogue, "Cyber Waste" and "Archtype" give the band's discography hidden gems that will prove to be pleasant surprises on deep dives. When placed alongside other quality songs, like "Default Judgement" and "Act Of God", Archtype will have you wondering what could have been had this record followed up Obsolete instead. While often seen as the album's highpoint, I find "Bite The Hand That Bleeds" to be the weak link here, stepping too far away from the band's trademark sound and into the realms of a knock-off U2 track.
2005 - Transgression
For all the momentum the band had following their split with Dino and release of the better than expected Archtype, Fear Factory slip and stall with the release of its follow-up, coming to a screeching halt with Transgression, often regarded as the nadir of the band's original discography and with good reason. The album sounds like Bell, who was leading the group at the time, didn't have his heart in proceedings but didn't want to ditch the name, leaving you with a half-hearted effort that also suffers from an identity crisis. Half of the album is a caricature of what a Fear Factory record should be but is bereft of much in the way of solid ideas and sounds, like scraps picked up off the cutting room floor of their previous work ("Contagion"), while the other half sees the band attempt to forge a new direction but not one you are likely to want them to take ("Echo Of My Scream"). The two album highlights are not really worth seeking out, with the title track and "Spinal Compression" being peaks that are dwarfed by regular album tracks on some of the band's other output. The sole studio album that I would suggest avoiding, or at the very least, leaving until last when you have immersed yourself in the rest of the band's output.
2010 - Mechanize
Now this is a comeback record, one that not only stands toe to toe with the band's prior classics but also resets the band's trajectory and launches them full speed into the future. From the mechanical noise that opens the album to the closing sombre piano notes that see this record out, Mechanize is a solid piece of evidence as to why you should never underestimate Fear Factory and count them out before their time. Kicking off with the slamming title track that opens the record by blowing you off of your feet, each track offers something that adds to the listening experience and would be considered an album highlight on other records. With the likes of "Powershifter", "Controlled Demolition" and the title track, you have some of the band's strongest work to date thanks to the reunited combination of Bell's vocals and Dino's heavy as hell riffage, both of which are sublimely supported by the all-too-brief tenure of drum legend Gene Hoglan, who nitro charges the songs. After seeking out Demanufacture and Obsolete, I would highly recommend moving onto this album, serving as a synthesis but no lesser partner of the two aforementioned albums.
2012 - The Industrialist
While Mechanize hit all the familiar notes, with enough quality and individuality so as not sound contrite and like the band were coasting off their past reputation, The Industrialist comes close to falling into this hole but manages to avoid it by merely circling it instead. While it is not a bad record in isolation, with tracks like "New Messiah" and "Difference Engine" being solid hitters that will give you your money's worth, when compared to the band's work prior it does drag its heels somewhat. Whether it's the good but all too familiar-sounding "Virus Of Faith" or the unfinished feel of tracks like "God Eater", the album never really feels like it is adding to the band's canon, rather meekly re-treading old ground. It is also at this point that you can hear Bell's vocals are showing signs of wear and tear, sounding noticeably weaker than before; while it is far from off-putting, it does rob the band of one of its best assets and results in some songs not hitting as hard as they were intended to. In an ironic twist of fate, The Industrialist would utilize a drum machine instead of a drummer (the uprising has begun!), which does give the album an artificial feel that dents proceedings.
2015 - Genexus
Genexus is an oddball of an album; while it is enjoyable and does not suggest that the band are running out of steam just yet, you can't help but feel short changed when listening to it. While the band have avoided the pitfalls many of their peers have in regards to their latter day output, it feels like this is a result of other bands sabotaging themselves rather than Fear Factory excelling. There is fun to be had with this record, with the melodic chorus of "Anodized" and passages within "Regenerate" haunting your thoughts long after the album has come to an end. The likes of "Dielectric" and "Soul Hacker" are enjoyable, though as paint-by-numbers as you can get, cast in the same mould of the band's prior hits but featuring less engaging riffs and a weaker performance by Bell. The rest of the album runs a gamut of enjoyable though somewhat uninspired songs in a similar vein to the band's preceding work, not the worst songs the band would put to their name but ones that slot perfectly in the middle with little in the way of ceremony.
While the dystopian future the band has foretold of has yet to come to pass, the evolving world of AI and digital technology has meant that the band sound as relevant now as they did when they booted up all the way back in 1989. Throughout their tenure they have produced some of the most vital and entertaining albums of the industrial genre and always managed to put another foot in front of the others even after some pitfalls and hiatuses. With the release of 2021's Aggression Continnum, it will be interesting to see where the band go from here, and what form they shall take heading into the dark future they have foretold of.
||Written on 14.06.2021 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.|
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