Fear Factory
Digimortal

Progression, foresight and innovation are all words associated with Fear Factory’s debut album, Soul of a New Machine. The Californian space-metal outfit blended styles as diverse as Godflesh, Head Of David, Swans and Frontline Assembly with death metal sensibilities to forma musical expression far beyond the primitive brutality of Pitch Shifter and Ministry-isms of Skrew. Unfortunately, the aesthetic that pushed Fear Factory to the forefront of heavy music (and the mainstream) seems all but lost in an attempt to cash in on the current flash of interest from pop culture.

With that said, I move somewhat skeptically into my first Fear Factory listen in over two years. Music is cyclical, but time moves on, so I don’t discredit Fear Factory for making their fourth full-length, Digimortal, more accessible, less abrasive and infused with Rhys Fulber electronica. In actuality, I quite like what’s happening on the album, as I’ve been a fan of Burton C. Bell’s singing (you know, not the growling kind), Rhys Fulber’s immaculate production qualities and Raymond Herrera’s machine-like drumming. I guess I’ve always had issues with guitarist Dino Cazares’ incredible lack of imagination when it comes to writing forward-thinking material. Hell, he’s surrounded by talent, so why in the world some eight years later is he still writing lazy Pantera/Korn power (or lack thereof) riffs? I can’t begin to think how these songs come together. Well, actually, I can.

He’s sitting around at some L.A. pad jacking licks off his favorite non-techie bands, so that when he comes to rehearsal he can offer up, “Dudes, listen to this riff! I wrote this one myself.” Such uninspired power chording can be heard on just about every single one of the album’s tracks, but I’ll reckon opener “What Will Become” and the title track (with it’s not so insightful scratching) are supremely guilty of such appropriation. Elsewhere, especially on “No One,” Fear Factory are still using tricks of the trade to impress us metalheads with ‘neat’ sounds — come on guys the drill/alarm sound is old — and the rap style vocals of Bell reek of trite Bay Area thrash. “Linchpin” is on my good list, I’ll say. The pulsing drums and post-apocalyptic musings, especially when Bell goes into singing mode, is hard to resist, with its heavy-radiohit-heavy song combination. “Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies)” and “(Memory Imprints) Never End” are radio-friendly tunes that I’d rather hear than recycled thrash riffs, because I honestly appreciate a good song when I hear it; I’m guilty of listening to Orgy’s Vapor Transmission on occasion.Cazares’ actually displays that between his bouts of theft, a bright idea (sans distortion) means interesting soundscapes. Such sunspots are also heard in the midsection of “Acres of Sin,” where his effect-laden plucking creates necessary sound dynamics.

Yet, is it just me, or do I hear a distinct Type O Negative influence on Bell’s vocal lines and delivery? I could be having a reaction to Digimortal’s rap track, but “October Rust” not only affected millions of fans but Fear Factory as well. Lines have been crossed on Digimortal, and there’s no way around, but I feel “Back the Fuck Up” is the sort of hybrid mediocrity better left to saps like Limp Bizkit. I have nothing against rap, honestly, and I think underground darlings Candiria perform it with urban class, but here it’s crass and insulting. I assume that if it were a good song compositionally, I’d be speaking differently about it.

Production-wise things couldn’t be more exceptional, though. Fulber is a true genius when it comes to layering, intensity and subtlety – the panning and background happenings are truly what makes Fear Factory different sonically from all the fucking mundane mainstream crap being ‘publicized.’ I can say Fear Factory have created a great release, but next time (four years from now) I hope they continue writing excellent, if not completely accessible, tracks like “Linchpin,” “Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies)” and “(Memory Imprints) Never End” to satiate my pop cravings.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Allan Richardson
April 21st, 2001

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