cover-fearfactory08

The second Fear Factory reformation led to the workmanlike “Mechanize”, but despite being a mild critical success the band wasn’t able to hold on to its lineup. Prior to the recordings of “The Industrialist” the new rhythm section of bass guitarist Byron Stroud and drummer Gene Hoglan took their leave. “The Industrialist” sees Fear Factory, now reduced to its central duo, return to its sciencefiction narrative for another conceptual undertaking that is similar to “Obsolete” in spirit, but to “Mechanize” in sound. It isn’t a return to the ambitious heights of “Obsolete”, nor is it a spiritual successor to “Soul Of A New Machine”, although it imitates aspects of both. In essence it is a return to the turbulent times of “Archetype” in more ways than one. It reeks of industrial process.

After three non-conceptual efforts the duo returned at long last to its techno-apocalypse narrative. The story is about an automaton, The Industrialist, which is the summit of all industries/technologies available at the time of its creation, gaining sentience. During the story it accumulates past memories and experiences while discovering the will to survive. This eventually leads it to guide others of its kind to join in the struggle against human oppressors that have enslaved them. Fear Factory turned its known narrative on its head by examining the machines’ point of view in its man versus machine concept. It is interesting in the sense that, in an attempt to reestablish the brand after a tumultuous few years, the central duo opted to remove as much of the human factor as possible in order to avoid conflicts and compromise. In the process to keep its struggling brand alive in an everchanging musical landscape and industry they became reliant themselves on the very technology they warned about on their most accomplished prior efforts.

fear-factory

More than before Fear Factory examines the flaws of organized religion. Christianity appears to be the target of convenience, albeit filtered through the aforesaid narrative framework. ‘New Messiah’, ‘God Eater’, ‘Depraved Mind Murder’, and ‘Virus Of Faith’ each present criticism of a different aspect of the subject in the most confrontational and direct manner since the “Soul Of A New Machine” days. None of it is particular engaging, and the lack of arresting imagery, or religious invertion, makes it sound formulaic. In comparison to the early works of Immolation, Vital Remains and Incantation it is all rather bland. The band quotes “The Da Vinci Code” thriller author Dan Brown with its choice of instrumental interlude. The title of the track ‘Religion Is Flawed Because Man Is Flawed’ is lifted in its entirety from the “Angels & Demons” novel. The drum programming effectively replicates the tones from the “Demanufacture” days, and Bell’s lamentable clean vocals actually sound better than on any of the prior records. ‘God Eater’ in part recalls the “Remanufacture” EP because of its heavy reliance on electronics and making its metallic aspects secondary at best. In fact it could almost be passed off as an early Nine Inch Nails song circa “Pretty Hate Machine” with Bell singing over it.

‘Depraved Mind Murder’ on the other hand sounds like an unreleased “Archetype” song. ‘Difference Engine’ for the most part aims to imitate “Demanufacture” cut ‘New Breed’ with its upbeat construction, although the track’s overall tempo is far lower. ‘Disassemble’ attempts to recapture the “Obsolete” vibe but suffers considerable damage due to Burton C. Bell’s insufferable harsh vocal performance. In a scarce moment it is here that his usually lamentable clean vocals are actually the lone selling point. ‘Human Augmentation’ finally explores the desolate ambient that made the closing to ‘A Therapy For Pain’ on “Demanufacture” so emotionally resonating. It was long overdue, and the result is expectedly downbeat. It’s easy to hear why this track is as polarizing as it is.

It is exactly the removal of the human element that makes “The Industrialist” as polarizing as it is. In order to save resources skinsman Gene Hoglan was replaced by a drum computer, programmed by Cazares and John Sankey. Byron Stroud departed prior to the sessions to, supposedly, greener pastures after not feeling respected by the central duo. As a result Dino Cazares played bass guitar for the sessions. That an industrial metal band would eventually end up using a drum computer seems like the only logical progression given how mechanical the genre tends to be. However with drummer John Sankey (of California-by-way-of-Australia outfit Devolved, itself very Fear Factory inspired) at their disposal behind the scenes it is more than puzzling as to why Bell and Cazares decided to not hire him as studio drummer for this album. After Raymond Herrera, and mercenary Gene Hoglan he would seem as the next logical hire. In the same sense the bass guitar, once Fear Factory’s most formidable weapon, is downplayed in favor of the guitars – and it isn’t nearly as vital to the compositions as it was during the Olde Wolbers and Stroud eras of the band. In order to regain control of its struggling brand Bell and Cazares have made compromises, and not all for the better.

2_fearfactory

For the first time in its quarter of a century long career Fear Factory returned to the same facility they used for the sessions of the preceding record. The majority of the album was recorded at Surplus Studio in Van Nuys, California with Rhys Fulber producing, alongside Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell. Guitars, bass and additional vocals were subsequently recorded at Darth Mader Music in Los Angeles, California with Logan Mader producing. Cazares had worked with Mader previously on his lamentable Divine Heresy project. Returning for a second time for “The Industrialist” is American artist Anthony Clarkson. It is the second of two Fear Factory releases on Candlelight Records through a licensing deal with Cazares’ and Bell’s Oxidizer, Inc. publishing company. In order to give the album a proper marketing push three singles were released with ‘Recharger’, ‘New Messiah’ and ‘The Industrialist’. Only the last of these received a music video treatment as the format was on its way out in favor for the cheaper lyric videos.

Despite all the strikes against it “The Industrialist” is actually a far better album than “Mechanize”, even thought it misses that album’s human element. The second album of Fear Factory’s second reformation is a summation of all Cazares eras with an added dose of aggression and bottom-end heaviness for good measure. That it doesn’t hold a candle to the band’s prime material is a given at this point, and not entirely unexpected – but given the various line-up reconfigurations and stylistic deviations that the band underwent it is a surprisingly solid and cohesive effort. That it reunites Bell and Cazares with producer duo Rhys Fulber and Greg Reely works in its advantage tonally even though long-time artist Dave McKean seems to have been abandoned for Anthony Clarkson. “The Industrialist” isn’t a return to the lofty heights of “Demanufacture” or “Obsolete” nor is it a spiritual successor to “Soul Of A New Machine” – above all it is its own creative entity that is aware of its past, and present failures and successes.

cover-fearfactory07

“Mechanize”, the first effort of the band’s second reformation, is a mixed bag. It stands to reason that it was the most aggressive, and heaviest record since the band’s 1992 debut. It is the first since 2001’s “Digimortal” to feature both Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares, who reconciliated their differences and rekindled their alliance in the aftermath of the “Transgression” debacle, on the same record. Complemented by a new rhythm section that was only to last for a single outing “Mechanize” offers more of the same, arguably in a more brutal fashion, but not necessarily better at that. That the band was passed its prime was more than clear on the two Cazares-less albums - of which only the first was worth hearing - that preceded it. No amount of gloss can hide full-on creative decay.

Fear Factory returned to its more aggressive “Soul Of A New Machine” sound, but within the stylistic formula established by “Demanufacture”. On the whole it was a decent approximation of the “Demanufacture” sound, but it failed to recapture the same spirit and conviction that album held. “Mechanize” sounds like an imitation rather than a continuation. The bass-heaviness has notably increased, and Stroud’s murky bass guitar tone remains intact from the one introduced on “Archetype” a couple of years before. The same ailment that defined “Archetype” is present on this record. “Mechanize” does its best in reminding the listener that it is a Fear Factory record in lieu of actually being one. This isn’t surprising in the slightest as both this record, and its aforesaid predecessor, was borne out of a situation of conflict against an opposing faction.

fear-factory4518156The lyrics are in fact more in line of “Soul Of A New Machine” in the sense that they more personal, venomous and direct. As implied by the album title the lyrics abstractly deal with the subject of man becoming part of the authoritarian, corporate, government and military machine, becoming structurally mechanized and ensnared in various aspects of society. The allusions to and usage of sciencefiction imagery remain present, but the lyrics are far more direct and confrontational than they have been in a long time. Despite the confrontational nature of most of the lyrics, they are surprisingly low on expletives. Subject of several songs is the acrimonious split with former members of the classic rhythm section Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera (‘Powershifter’, ‘Designing the Enemy’). It goes without saying that this is hypocritical from Bell’s part as he spent a good amount of time spitting venom at his current partner on “Archetype”. Other subjects of the record include condemnations of organized religion (‘Christploitation’), mass media fear mongering (‘Fear Campaign’), the 9/11 terrorist attack (‘Controlled Demolition’) and euthanasia (‘Final Exit’).

In an attempt to retain as much control over the product as possible Cazares and Bell made sure that everything - from writing, production and eventual release - were kept strictly “in-house”. As a result of having next to no input from external voices much of “Mechanize” ends up sounding like a somewhat thicker sounding Divine Heresy record without any of the overt metalcore stylings of that band, and with a slightly superior vocal style. Burton C. Bell’s vocals show their deterioration as years of heavy touring and aging have taken their toll in his vocal chords. Especially his cleans - which were never particular good to begin with - now resemble a bad Paul Hewson (Bono from long-running Irish rock/pop band U2) impression.

BCBell_small“Mechanize” isn’t one of Bell’s better performances. His shouts remain serviceable, but his clean singing is as appallingly awful as it has ever been. The contrived harsh-clean dichotomy doesn’t help matters in the slightest. Dino Cazares’ performance fares better as his riff set has improved ever so slightly, and now he even does a fiery solo in the video track ‘Fear Campaign’. The album is opened with factory sounds of metal being crushed, and instead of exploring the template that “Demanufacture” set years before the duo is content to just reproduce it, in sound as much as in pacing and overall structure. As much as the record is often sold as a return-to-form it is in actuality a mere reminder that the reviled Cazares-Bell axis at least remembers what got their band signed in the first place so many years ago.

As much as “Mechanize” considers itself a modern day throwback to the brighter “Demanufacture” days, several key aspects seem to be missing. Instead of working with Dave McKean (as on the classic albums) Fear Factory commissioned artwork by American artist Anthony Clarkson. The bass guitar, once so formidable in the band’s prime era material, is docile and unremarkable. The band is also far way from the days of “Obsolete” where imagery, lyrics and music worked in unison to sell its conceptual techno-apocalypse narrative. Conception 5, Bell’s short story that formed the basis for the record, was hardly revolutionary in that regard – but it was still leagues better than the very broad socio-political – and interpersonal subjects the band chooses to tackle on this platter. It’s quite hypocritical in fact to hear Bell spitting venom at former members Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera, just a few short years after lashing out at current co-conspirator Cazares, with whom he is now aligned. No amount of vitriol can mask the fact that the band now has to lower itself to personal attacks against former members as a basis for song material. The factory has been long since abandoned.

The new rhythm section consisting of Byron Stroud (bass guitar) and Gene Hoglan (drums) makes a serviceable debut, but is criminally underused otherwise. Hoglan’s involvement with the band was merely at the request of his long-time friend Byron Stroud. Hoglan is credited with co-writing half of the songs of the record. ‘Designing the Enemy’ is special in the sense that is has its electronic drums programmed by Devolved skinsman John Sankey. Sankey’s involvement as a studio musician with the project effectively foreshadows the follow-up to this record, as the band would remove any other band members in favor of its central duo. “Mechanize” was recorded at Surplus Studio in Van Nuys, California with Rhys Fulber producing, alongside Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell. It is the first of two Fear Factory releases on Candlelight Records through a licensing deal with Cazares’ and Bell’s Oxidizer, Inc. publishing company. A promotional music video shot for ‘Fear Campaign’ and a live video for ‘Powershifter’. Additionally, a third single was released with atmospheric album closer ‘Final Exit’.

FEARFACTORY_M-P04

That the same critiques that were leveled at “Archetype” can be applied to “Mechanize” is not surprising in the slightest. Both records were conceived under virtually similar circumstances, but by opposing factions. What is surprising is that Burton C. Bell partook in each incarnation, and changed alliance to whichever faction seemed to have the strategic upperhand. Another thing that the record amply demonstrates is that both factions in fact need each other in order to write its most coherent and poignant material. “Mechanize”, much like “Archetype” before it, is merely functional from a technical standpoint, but hardly the pined for return-to-form. Ever since its second reformation Fear Factory has been missing its crucial part: its soul. Even though the production values have increased to the point of artificiality, and the pace has been upped considerably – what remains is a hollow husk of a band, as banal and pedestrian as it was, that was once on the brink of making a dent in the mainstream metal scene.