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After an interpersonal meltdown led Fear Factory to fracture in two opposing factions, each carried on in their respective projects. Olde Wolbers, and Herrera regrouped with Bell enrolling Canadian bass guitarist Byron Stroud to continue under the Fear Factory brand name. Dino Cazares meanwhile put together Divine Heresy, a melodic metalcore band with death metal alumni Tim Yeung (Decrepit Birth, Hate Eternal, Aurora Borealis) on drums and journeyman bass guitarist Joe Payne plus an interchangeable frontman. In the interim Fear Factory had inked a new record deal with Liquid 8 Records, which proved to be just as damaging and toxic as the original recording contract and label imprint they finally sought to get away from. “Archetype” was the first of two Cazares-less Fear Factory albums, and it is as good as could be reasonably expected given the difficult and suboptimal situation from which it was conceived.

Fear Factory_02_großChristian Olde Wolbers moved to the guitar slot vacated by the removal of Dino Cazares. Byron Stroud took Olde Wolbers’ place as bass guitarist. On the whole it is a decent approximation of the “Demanufacture” sound, but fails to recapture the same spirit and conviction that album held. “Archetype” sounds like an imitation rather than a continuation. Freed from the constraints of its heavy-handed sciencefiction concept “Archetype” is far more direct, personal and confrontational in its subject matter. The spirit of “Soul Of A New Machine” looms over “Archetype” in the sense that it is far more loose than its carefully constructed predecessors, but that freedom comes at a price. The record notably loses steam in its second half, and most of its functionally impressive first half can’t hold a candle to the band’s best material of the Roadrunner Records days. That it was the one but last to feature the most identifiable rhythm section of Christian Olde Wolbers (guitars) and Raymond Herrera (drums) speaks volumes of how far the band had fallen to the wayside in order to remain marketable and musically relevant.

Most of the lyrics are less sciencefiction oriented and far more personal. Specifically, the band’s soured relationship with its former contractor Roadrunner Records is subject of several songs (‘Slave Labor’, ‘Corporate Cloning’, ‘Bite the Hand That Bleeds’), as is the fall-out from the highly publicized and acrimonious split with Dino Cazares (‘Cyber Waste’, ‘Archetype’). Other recurring themes are condemnations of religion, war and corporatism. It doesn’t help that “Archetype” is plagued by an inherent sense of duality. On the one hand it wants to stay in favor with the crowds that latched onto it post-“Soul Of A New Machine” yet its increased density and overall level of aggression at least suggests that the band intends to explore harsher realms again. The lack of a unifying vision allows Bell and company to explore any subject they wish, but it is detrimental to the overall pacing. Past Fear Factory records worked around a conceptual template, and each of the cuts was written with a predetermined objective in mind. “Archetype” has no such template, and this is particularly notable in its second half as it is littered with a number of aimless groove numbers that effectively dampen the experience.

Olde Wolbers does a commendable job in imitating Cazares’ rhythm-only staccato, and Herrera does the best with what he is given. The entire second half of the album, and some of the gentler moments expose an important difference. Instead of being rooted in forms of extreme metal, they instead sound like amped up alternative rock chords. When the band then chooses to cover the Nirvana track ‘School’ (from its often-ignored “Bleach” debut record) it is rather telling as to where Olde Wolbers’ true interests lie next to his established love for all things hiphop. Especially the soft bookends of the title track, ‘Default Judgment’ or the entirety of the power ballad ‘Bite the Hand That Bleeds’ should make this abundantly clear. Herrera’s drum patterns are mechanical as they always were, but they are far less complicated compared to past works and consist of straight up pop/rock beats elsewhere on the album. The keyboards and studio effects by John Bechdel fit the songs well, but don’t come close to matching Fulber’s best work. The artwork by Torsten Gebhardt fits the spirit of the record, but it hardly matches up to the high standards set by Dave McKean in the band’s classic trio of conceptual records.

As per tradition the band opted to track the album at a different facility than before. For “Archetype” Fear Factory recorded at Rumbo Recorders in Lagona Park, California with Ken Marshall producing. After the pristinely produced Cazares efforts “Archetype” sounds, for the lack of a better term, honest and crunchy. Past records tended to be on the overproduced end of the spectrum, and if there’s one thing to say about “Archetype” it is that it’s honest about its intentions. Gone is the overproduction, gone is the gloss – the record sounds closer to an actual thrash/groove metal record than the band had sounded in a long time. By abandoning its sciencefiction narrative (at least temporarily) it lit a fire under the remaining trio of Bell, Olde Wolbers and Herrera to prove that they were still relevant to the genre, and its fractured fanbase after the Cazares debacle. In order to give the album the proper market push promotional music videos were shot for ‘Cyber Waste’, ‘Archetype’ and ‘Bite the Hand That Bleeds’. Alas its new label partner Liquid 8 Records would sabotage the band’s reformation just a year later. That the label folded shortly after its cooperation with the band ceased seems only just in hindsight.

“Archetype” doesn’t so much revitalize the band’s sound as it cements that the trio can hold its own even with its central songwriting partner exiled. After the cinematic exercise that was “Obsolete” and the poppy vapidness of “Digimortal”, “Archetype” was a much needed reality check that had the band going back to basics. Competently written and produced, “Archetype” formed a workable template for the reconfigured unit. The goodwill generated by this record would be shortlived as its successor would tarnish the band’s somewhat repaired reputation, which eventually led to the band’s second split. It isn’t the best effort from the band by a long shot, but given the difficult circumstances from which it was conceived at least makes it a reliable, if lukewarm affair. In many ways it is the first non-canonical Fear Factory release, despite rekindling the band’s sense of purpose and direction. The very matter-of-fact presentation, and loose thematic of the band’s sudden self-awareness of having spawned a subgenre make it a confused but halfway efficient effort that scrapes by on more than just its disarming honesty.


By the time “Digimortal”, the fourth Fear Factory record and last in the classic constellation, hit the market the band was riding on a wave of increased popularity and visibility. They were a beacon of hope in a creatively bankrupt subgenre. What should have been the band’s ultimate statement eventually ended up being their swansong. In retrospect it seems as if the ‘Cars’ cover on “Obsolete” was a harbinger of things to come. Forced by its then-label Roadrunner Records to write more radio friendly material the band was sabotaged creatively at every turn. “Digimortal” is the last chapter in its ongoing man vs machine narrative, and the end of an era in any number of ways.

The album is a good deal heavier than “Obsolete” in terms of depth and range in the production work, but it continues the regression that defined that album as well making a few notable errors of judgment in itself. From a technical level it is the least guitar-centric and most vocal-hook oriented effort in the band’s early discography. There’s an increased presence of electronics, loops, beats and samples along with more attention in regards to prominent clean vocals, most of which are centered around choruses, or alternating verses. While the preceding Fear Factory works were hardly complex by any standard, “Digimortal” invests all of its energy in pop format song structures that it takes the wind out of what ordinarily would have been fairly powerful groove metal songs.

“Digimortal” retains the essence of the Fear Factory sound, but erodes it through lighter songwriting and capitalizing on the populist nu-metal/mallcore sound. A good number of the songs have the rhythm guitars in support of the pumping bass guitar and drum beats. While catchier overall it is not nearly as dynamic in terms of composition as the two albums that preceded it. As per the “Demanufacture” template, there are a number of (power) ballads. On here these are represented by the duo of ‘Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies)’ and ‘(Memory Imprints) Never End’. The more typical Fear Factory cuts are relegated to the back of the album, with tracks like ‘Acres Of Skin’, ‘Byte Block’ and ‘Hurt Conveyor’. The exception to this rule is ‘Damaged’ which arrives early on in the tracklist, but is surrounded by poppier cuts that take away much of its impact and immediacy.

The riff construction and drums (in rhythms as much as its actual patterns) appear to be overly simplified to fit the verse-chorus song structures, and it is hard to shake the impression that these are mere skeletons of more engrossing, better songs. Each of the preceding records marked a regression from the last, and a further watering down of what once was a somewhat interesting and choppy death metal outfit. Where “Obsolete” had guest vocals by electro pioneer Gary Numan, here none other than Louis Freese (B-Real) from Cypress Hill provides a guest rap. B-Real appears on ‘Back the Fuck Up’, and on this cut even Bell does an illfated attempt at rapping. Which ends about as well for both as Ice-T’s lamentable appearance on the Six Feet Under album “True Carnage”. Their well-meant attempts to stay current with the tastes du jour end up horriby dating it in retrospect. None of it is ever truly terrible, but the guest appearance by B-Real doesn’t add anything meaningful to the song, or its corresponding album either.

This is the last in the original man vs machine triptych. Man and machine have become merged, unable to be separated without causing immense harm to each. The title is a portmanteau of ‘digital’ and ‘mortality’ in that man has created immortality through technology, but is no longer able to separate where man ends and machine begins. The lyrics in themselves are interesting enough, but the forced pop structures require fairly simple lyrics to fit the songwriting. Had the band been allowed to write what they wanted to write no doubt these songs would have been ten times more interesting than they are here. The album was pushed by two music videos, another properly budgeted effort for ‘Linchpin’, and a cost-effective live video for ‘Damaged’ were shot. The album was a commercial - and critical flop, and due to mounting interpersonal conflicts the band schismed shortly after the album’s global touring cycle was completed.

For the third time in a row the band opted to track the album at a different facility than the album before. “Digimortal” was recorded at Ocean Studio in Burbank, California with trusted producer Rhys Fulber. Further digital assembling and recording were completed at Armoury Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia. The band had originally planned to work with famed producer Bob Rock, but he declined. Toby Wright was subsequently approached, but he was committed to producing an Ozzy Osbourne record. Pre-production was completed at Studio Dee in Glendale, California with Malcolm Springer. Central to the writing sessions was the idea of simplification. While initially conceived as a non-conceptual effort it was later repurposed to fit the band’s ongoing man versus machine narrative. Bass – and rhythm guitars have an equal prominence in the production, although it undoubtly is Christian Olde Wolbers’ booming bass guitar that is the most interesting in the grand scheme of things. For all intents and purposes “Digimortal” is blessed with the glossiest production the band had ever experienced, before or since.

In the period of 1999-2002 Roadrunner Records was known to push its key outfits into more marketable territory. Along with notable victims Machine Head and Sepultura, Fear Factory also fell victim to this industry trend. It is something from which they never truly recovered as its output since then as been spotty at best. The band would later depart the label after the “Digimortal” debacle, and reconfigure itself. The result of this would be the release of the lukewarm but effective “Archetype” before experiencing a similar bout of executive meddling which effectively led to the band’s second breakup. Each of Roadrunner’s 90s key players underwent a similar trajectory, as a result of its meddling each outfit experienced its own identity crisis in trying to recapture the vibe that got them signed in the first place. The story of Fear Factory is one of many, but unlike a lot of its contemporaries they escaped their fate relatively unscathed.