Mechanize |AFM Records, 2010|
1. Mechanize, 2. Industrial Discipline, 3. Fear Campaign, 4. Powershifter, 5. Christploitation, 6. Oxidizer, 7. Controlled Demolition, 8. Designing The Enemy, 9. Metallic Division, 10. Final Exit
I've been waiting for this new Fear Factory album with great enthusiasm. I have always appreciated this band nevertheless their highs and lows (the proof is the sumptuous discography that stands out in my CD collection!). I was very curious to test this new “program” with the return of Dino Cazares
in the line-up and Rhys Fulber/Greg Reely on production/mixing, but also the new entry of Gene Hoglan on drums, another Strapping Young Lad member as the bass player Byron Stroud who joined F.F. In 2004.
To be absent at roll-call are founding members Ray Herrera and Christan Olde Wolbers.
Leaving aside all the controversies and gossips about this new reunion, there’s a lot of things to say about it... (for those who want to deepen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanize), I was lying in wait, especially after the disappointment of "Transgression" (it includes “atrocious” Killing Joke and U2 covers!) and the half false step by Burton C. Bell with his "Ascension of the Watchers" project, that didn’t convince me at all.
So full of expectations I was ready to be besieged by the Human Machine of Hate. Unfortunately all my excitement got shattered at the very first listen: this album is monotonous and repetitive. The bright spot is that the “departures”, or more correctly the allowances of Ray Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers have weight on the paper only because I must acknowledge that this change in the line-up has brought a hardiness that was lost in "Transgression", and overall it’s better than that album without a doubt.
It also has a more minimalist sound (they probably tried to revive the magic of the “Soul of a New Machine” days) and it gets directly to the point without getting lost along the way.
Let’s talk about the things that I don’t like about this album. I understand that their “lifeless/machine-like” music may derive from their propensity to mechanical rhythms, but I am surprised that this is the result of a 20 year artistic career. If this is the pinnacle of their artistic achievement, then I don’t see any greater evolution, because there's nothing on this album what has not been already heard on the previous works. It’s a pity though, because I’m talking about an influential band with great potential. We must not forget “Fear Is a Mind Killer”... Back in the day, it had changed the song-writing of both Front Line Assembly and Fear Factory forever, as well as many bands of the 90's influenced by a fusion of the “machine” coming along with the synthetic sounds by Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber.
Moreover, I have an impression that they decided to restrict themselves in doing what they can do the best, without getting lost in experimentation that could become counterproductive, a little of what Ministry did with their last trilogy.
Mechanize was advertised by AFM Records as a combination of passion and innovation as well as the link between "Demanufacture" and "Obsolete". Honestly it seems to me a little too excessive for the promotion. There is no question that the band did it with passion but the result is hurried, well below those albums and light years away from "Soul of a New Machine", where “Mechanize” pales in comparison to it.
I was more impressed by “Archetype” (my favourite F.F. album) where, as sung by Burton: “The soul of this machine has improved”, and the songs had more catchy refrains than on this new album.
The paths of Rhys Fulber and F.F. have crossed many times in the past, and they chose his professionalism again to produce this new album. I don’t dispute Rhys Fulber’s and Greg Reely’s talents, but the electronics used by F.F. have never totally satisfied me, especially on the Nu Metal album “Digimortal”. I always expected more from their sound manipulation, this is the same feeling that I’ve had with Static-X, another Nu Metal band from Los Angeles... there must be something in the L.A. Air! :)
Yes, you read it correctly, I used the "Nu Metal" term (that means everything and nothing... I could have used also a term Cyber-Metal or Groove Metal instead of it) because I don’t consider Fear Factory (or bands like Machine Head) as a pure Industrial Metal band, and basically because their first tin-pot demo “Concrete” (written in 1991, but released in 2002) can be classified as the ancestor of this music style (Ross Robinson used it as a business card to promote his production skills with bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Sepultura, & Deftones). They have some Industrial influences of course (notably on “Soul of a New Machine” and “Demanufacture”), but sometimes they took it too seriously, like when they sampled refinery noises for 3 minutes on "Remanufacture", or in the song “Natividad” on "Soul of a New Machine". If you listen carefully to albums like "Obsolete", "Digimortal", "Archetype" and "Transgression" (80% of their discography) or hits like "Edgecrusher" and "Linchpin", they are more of a crossover band, who mixes electronica and metal to the point that they can be classified even as Cyber-Grind in some songs. Is this a sin, or does it mean their albums are dreadful? Not at all! If their music had been dreadful I wouldn’t have bought their CDs :)
After this disquisition about their music style, let's go back to focus on “Mechanize”, moreover there's not much to say except that the last song "Final Exit" confirms my impressions: Rhys’ pads and drones create an atmosphere a little too reminiscent of old songs like “Timeslessness” and “Ascension”.
Anyway, there are also some positive things, after a few listens and becoming more familiar with this album, I must admit that this time the sound design of the electronics, though much in the background, really fits well with the songs (unlike in "Digimortal" for example) and together with Burton’s lyrics & as always, are the only things that satisfy me.
For the lovers of the limited editions, there’s also a digipack version that includes exclusive on-line bonus content and a bonus track: a re-recorded version of "Crash-Test" (the difference is almost imperceptible), a 20 year old song, already released on their debut album.
In conclusion, “Mechanize” shows the best and the worst of Fear Factory, and their biggest limit, a hybrid band that has never gone beyond its limits, only to disappoint both the "Industrial purists" for their Death Metal sound and the Metalheads for, although small, electronic contamination. Is it solid? Yes it's like a marble, just like one of Strapping Young Lad albums, you’ll be getting punched in your face for 45 minutes. No doubts, the splendid artwork presaged a mechanical sound like never before.
Is it innovative? No, unfortunately there’s nothing new.
(Marco Gariboldi, February 12, 2010. Proofreading: Scott M. Owens. Must not be used for promotional or commercial purposes. See a Legal Note for the copyrights below)