Originally written by Jordan Campbell
For nearly ten years, the Fear Factory brand has been struggling to survive. Arguably, the band peaked too early; creatively on Demanufacture, their 1995 masterstroke, and commercially with its follow-up, Obsolete. The shadow of these records has been more than ominous; it nearly destroyed the band. Attempts to court mainstream success while simultaneously satiating their fanbase failed — three times. The band splintered into warring factions — twice. As a result, many fans grew exasperated, frustrated, and increasingly skeptical.
I’ll spare you the full historical walkthrough, as it has been documented elsewhere at great length. (And quite poorly, I might add. Serious metalheads should be averse to the tabloidization of our culture, not quick to embrace it.) If you’ve been out of the Fear Factory loop for a while, there are only three things you need to know about Mechanize: First, Dino Cazares is back where he belongs, driving the band he founded. Second, he (and Byron Stroud, obviously) brought Gene fuckin’ Hoglan along for the ride. Third, Mechanize is easily, and quite shockingly, the best Fear Factoryrecord in fifteen years.
Against all odds, Mechanize is the comeback story of 2010. This is the record that longtime devotees have always hoped Fear Factory had left in the tank: that elusive sequel to the unfuckwithable Demanufacture. While Obsoletecertainly has its moments of brilliance, Fear Factory‘s Blue Record is the quintessential metal-for-the-masses release of the 1990’s. Sure, Vulgar Display of Power may have been more lowbrow popular, and Chaos AD may have been more street-savvy, but Demanufacture was more versatile, original, and timeless than its contemporaries. It still sounds fresh and unique after all these years, and for that reason, a direct stylistic sequel such as Mechanize still manages to hit harder than a truckful of tungsten.
In an instant, the revamped lineup stakes their claim; the opening (title) track is a weirdly exhilarating rush of brand new déjà vu. So familiar, but so…fucking awesome. Dino’s riffing seems effortless, even as it sinks into your sinus cavity like the claw-end of a hammer. Gene’s lethal battery erases any falsely-implanted doubts of the new lineup’s veracity. And by the time Burton belts out his first soaring call-to-arms (2:47 in, to be exact), it’s clear that Fear Factory has finally rediscovered their pulse. They just needed the right element(s) to come together.
The crucial element is the tandem of Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell. This has always been the true creative nucleus, and the mutually challenging one-upsmanship of the record reinforces this. Bell, who once questioned his passion for the aggressive aspect of his delivery, is absolutely hostile on this thing. His refrain on “Mechanize” surely burst the capillaries in his sclera, and the throat-shredding sadism on “Fear Campaign” raises legitimate concerns for his welfare. On previous works, Bell could be accused of grasping for hooks where they didn’t exist–and then forcing them into holes where they didn’t belong. Not so on Mechanize. In fact, the hooks don’t sink their talons in until the gears spin multiple times, as the primary intent of the record seems to be skull-caving brutality.
Credit is due to Hoglan for pushing FF‘s long-dormant death metal aspect to the forefront. The living legend brings an almost Krisiun-esque heaviness to the record, even while assimilating into the Fear Factory collective perfectly. (In other words, he hasn’t “pulled a Cesca.”) His interplay with Dino’s home-sweet-home riffing and fragmented arpeggios is positively crushing. The full-on gallop of “Controlled Demolition” could pulverize concrete; the adrenaline-jack of “Powershifter” is devastatingly infectious…and, well, fuck it. The whole damn record destroys. Destroys. Every element of the FF sound has coalesced into a cold, menacing mass of mechanical precision. Even the long-lost fifth member, Rhys Fulber, returns to add his unmistakable, industrialized depth.
With time, the subtleties of this overwhelming behemoth begin to reveal themselves, lodging themselves into your psyche and spiking themselves skyward. The nods to their past are hidden within these new tracks like fiery bursts of treasure. Obsolete fans will strike gold with the Fulber-enhanced atmosphere of the closing tracks. “Designing the Enemy” is a versatile gamut-running of the band’s trademarks, tossed and scrambled with dexterous freshness, and “Final Exit” is a solemn anthem from the school of “Descent” and “Resurrection.” Their beauty is a crisp, calming epitaph forMechanize‘s skin-peeling apocalypse.
While the midsection definitely has a couple of “Body Hammer” / “Flashpoint” moments, there are no true faults in its armor. This isn’t the kind of record that is going to convert nonbelievers, and that’s exactly why it works. It’s a Fear Factory record for the old guard, and the record thatArchetype wanted to be. This time around, the creativity and talent matches the ambition, and the finished product is nothing short of stunning.
A new decade. A new beginning. A new future. Fear Factory anno 2010 are not fucking around. And it’s about damn time.