DJ & Music Writer from the UK

Fear Factory – A Listener’s Guide

Restructured

The remaining members of the band focused on separate projects for the next few years – Burton C Bell released the first Ascension Of The Watchers album and also guested on a few Ministry songs, whilst Christian and Raymond formed the band Arkaea with members of Threat Signal, and Raymond also had his increasingly lucrative side-line as videogame soundtrack producer to fall back on.   

It wasn’t until 2009 that we heard from Fear Factory again, and with a new line up.  Dino Cazares was back, Herrera and Olde Wolbers were out, Byron Stroud was back on bass guitar (though only for live performances) and with him came extreme-metal drumming veteran Gene Holgan, ensuring the necessary triple-picks and double-kicks were both well covered.  Rhys Fulber also returned as producer, having been absent during ‘Transgression’. 

Fear Factory - Mechanize (Cover)

The end result of this was the 2010 album Mechanize. With both the original guitarist and longest-serving producer back on the team, we finally get a Fear Factory album that resembles their glory-days machine metal sound.  Well, at least in an aesthetic sense.  It’s certainly the most accomplished Fear Factory album of the 21st century on a technical level, but that is also it’s key failing.  It’s TOO technical.  There’s still something intangible missing – the cathartic purpose of their 90s recordings is for the most part, missing. 

Industrial Discipline’s enslaved-by-the-machine concept, offset by Powershifter’s stand-up-and-take-control vibe reminiscent of “Self-Bias Resistor” is as close as they get to recapturing this feeling.  The remaining songs, for the most part, are impeccably performed and produced, but few of them leave any lasting impression.  There are some innovations in the writing, with Dino breaking from his rapid rhythmic style to throw in a few lead guitar passages, most notably on Fear Campaign.  However, such things only notable here due to their rarity in the albums that came before.  “Guitarist Plays Melody” wouldn’t be a headline in most other metal bands. 

The only other standout is the lengthy album closer Final Exit. It’s a profound statement on the dignity of euthanasia, and musically stands out as equal parts hybrid of Factory-issue rhythms and the cleaner, more melodic style of Ascension of the Watchers.  It’s the first time Burton C.Bell has managed to successfully integrate his alt-rock ambitions into the sound of what is still his main band.  Whether you care for this style of song or not, it’s still the only real stand-out in the later stages of the album, an album I really wanted to like more than I eventually did. 

Singles and Versions:  Digipak versions offer re-recorded versions of one of two Soul of a New Machine songs – either “Crash Test” or (if you’re lucky enough to score the Japan edition) “Martyr”.  Only relatively small modification have been made to both – essentially just bringing the pair up to 21st century recording standards.  There’s also some very rare versions containing an additional CD (or even cassette!) with some of their 1991 demos.  Too lo-fi for my ears, but devoted old-schoolers will want to seek this out.

Fear Factory - The Industrialist (Cover)

2012 saw further changes to the Fear Factory live line-up, with Matt DeVries replacing Bryon Stroud on bass and Mike Heller replacing Gene Holgan on drums.  This had little effect on the recording of The Industrialist, which was primarily a Burton & Dino affair, though with significant input from producer Rhys Fulber as well as John Sankey (of Devolved), who was brought in on drum programming.  Yes, after years of making their studio drumming sound as machine-like as possible, they finally took the next logical step (or substantial short-cut) of doing all beats via use of electronics.  Also, for the first time since Obsolete, we have a full-blown narrative running through the album, with the underlying story provided in the CD booklet for those of you still collecting such things.

So, what we have here a beatbox driven Fear Factory album, called ‘The Industrialist’ build around an elaborate concept with a member of Front Line Assembly co-authoring a number of the songs.  As a FF fan writing from the industrial rather than the metal perspective, this should have been right up my street.  Sucks to be wrong, doesn’t it?  The issue I had with many on the songs on the previous album is present throughout here, proving to be overly precise, mechanical and often too esoteric on a conceptual level.  This kind of thing is commonplace out on the elitist fringes of both the industrial and extreme metal scenes (something they have in common), but for a band which still aims to pack out venues and trigger mosh pits, it just doesn’t sit right.

The opening title track at least has ambition, a six-minute statement of intent with echoes of past Track 1 glories, especially “Demanufacture”.  The album then gets caught into a pattern of Dino and Burton simply doing what they always do, machine-gunning the listener song after song with such efficiency that the whole experience begins to get quite tiring.  The nearest we get to an out-and-out anthem is New Messiah, and I’m running out of way to describe what makes this one different from all the others.   The album ends with a length ambient composition Human Augmentation, but forgot to preface it with a song (their usual approach with such things), final proof that on this occasion, Fear Factory didn’t have as many good ideas for their latest concept as they originally thought they did.

Singles and Versions: The digipak editions offer a remix of “Difference Engine” by Blush Response.  Whether they were trying to stay in touch with the current industrial scene or simply jumped on the Blade Runner reference, it’s sadly wasted on the early 10s bass music obsession that blighted many remixes at the time.  There’s also a cover of Pitch Shifter’s ancient “Landfill” – a valid tribute to a industrial grindcore influence but there’s only so much they can do with a song this obscure.  Again the Japanese get the best bonus – an acoustic version of “Timelessness” – one of the only FF songs that could survive an “unplugged” remake, and a hint of what Burton was trying to achieve with Ascension of the Watchers.

There has been talk of a new version of this album recorded with Mike Heller’s live drumming, but I haven’t heard anything else about it since it was announced in October 2020.

Fear Factory - Genexus (Cover)

With Tony Campos (Static-X, Soulfly) replacing Matt DeVries on bass, the album Genexus arrived in 2015.  Having listened to it a couple of times, I’m getting the distinct impression that the intention h was to make ‘Demanufacture Mk 2’.  The overall tone of this album is as close to their 1995 classic as anything from the intervening two decades.  And there are several points in opening track Autonomous Combat System where I thought ‘didn’t Demanufacture do this?’ – everything from the factory noise background synths to the opening riff – even Burton’s metre during the opening lines brings back memories of that iconic album opener.

Another revisited concept is the use of electrical terminology as a metaphor for empowerment  -where once we had a “Self-Bias Resistor” we now have Anodized and Dielectric. A hymn-like coda to the penultimate song?  What Pisschrist once did now becomes the job of Battle for Utopia.   A long-drawn out final song that decays to ambient noise – “A Therapy For Pain” now reaches it’s Expiration Date.  It’s not like they haven’t used these techniques all throughout their backcatalogue – but on this case the tactics of recapturing past glories seem more blatant than ever before.

Ironically, the simplest song is the most successful.  Soul Hacker hits upon a metal groove from the outset, Burt roars out his technologically-themed diatribe, with Dino throwing in one of his occasional guitar solo excursions, just to remind listeners that he can get a tune as well as a rhythm out of his axe when he so chooses.  It’s the highlight on an album which cannot be said to be bad – the only problem is the hit rate of truly memorable songs remains low.  Notably, the band’s autumn 2015 tour was based around the 20th anniversary of ‘Demanufacture’, with the new albums relegated to three tracks in the encore.  Fear Factory might have rediscovered what they do best, but in the process reminded themselves of when they did it best – and that was two decades previous.

Singles and Versions: Digipak versions deliver a couple of bonus tracks.  Al Jourgensen put in a mix of the title track, now titled “Mandatory Sacrifice”, which doesn’t so much smooth off the rough edges as add a whole bunch more.  “Enhanced Reality” is a synth-heavy ballad, and possibly final proof that Burton wanted to flee the confines of the Factory and instead form a band where his songs wouldn’t have to battle the relentless metal machine  for attention.   The Japanese version also add a remix of “Dielectric” called “Maximum Voltage Capacitor”, but I’m beginning to lose patience with all these Radio Shack parts catalogue song titles.

Fear Factory toured in 2016, but then everything began to fall apart.  The recording of the next album began, various side-project also aired, interspersed with lawsuits from the ex-members.  Rumours circled as to whether the album or even the band still existed.  It came to a head in October 2020 when Burton C.Bell – the only continuous member – announced his departure from the band.  The long-awaited album Aggression Continuum is still coming out in 2021, as his vocals were recorded some years ago, but how Dino plans to promote and tour the album given the current state of both the band and the world at large remains to be seen.  Don’t expect a pre-release review or anything, just be assured I’ll post an update here in a few months and report back once the new songs have had a chance to sink in.

Next Page…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *