Fear Factory

Any band with 20+ years to its name is bound to evolve, but Fear Factory has never gone through massive upgrades to their OS (band members though, different story). Soul of a New Machine was industrial death metal in its molten form, and Demanufacture refined it into cold blue steel. Remanufacture sent it through the crusher and the chop-shop. Obsolete added sonic firepower but stripped down the feature set, while Digimortal added hydraulic nu-metal bounce.

So it’s not surprising that their new release, Genexus – so shiny! so chrome! – recalls classic moments from throughout their discography – especially after Mechanize and The Industrialist reset the bar. The FF template just hasn’t ever changed enough to give any other impression.

“Autonomous Combat System” does open with cinematic orchestration, but then it’s the soul of a familiar machine after that. By the time the chorus kicks in, I felt like I was listening to a reworking of “Shock” (still one of their best all-time tracks). Same with “Dielectric,” right down to its distorted warbling intro. Great track all the same; the classic FF sound is always invigorating, and the Andy Sneap production and return of a real drummer (Mike Heller, formerly of Malignancy) are welcome as well. Next track though, the first single “Soul Hacker,” is less so, with more of Digimortal’s nu-metal lurch (“Linchpin” in particular) and a sing-songy chorus. Compared with the much stronger follow-ups “Protomech” and “Genexus” – both of which sound like more electronic-accented versions of Demanufacture tracks – “Soul Hacker” just feels out of place and thrown in, possibly to hook the Five Finger Death Punch crowd out there.

There’s another more ‘accessible’ track later on called “Regenerate,” but oddly enough, it’s the album highlight for me. That’s largely because of its chorus, which is anthemic and satisfying. I can’t say the same for many other tracks’ choruses, unfortunately. Take the chorus on “Battle for Utopia” for instance – it should be uplifting and heroic (it’s the climax of the album’s concept narrative), but instead sounds warbling and indistinct, without a strong hook. And although Fear Factory and Burton Bell deserve credit for successfully bringing clean choruses into death metal – long before melodic death bands did in the early ’00s – the bar has been raised considerably since then (Soilwork’s The Living Infinite being the current gold standard.) Even much more brutal acts like Cattle Decapitation and Anaal Nathrakh have been employing ‘clean’ vocals lately to impressive and epic effect. FF’s choruses could be so much bigger in order to match the awesome firepower of the metal in the verses.

In my review of The Industrialist a few years ago, I also noted that some tracks freed up longtime collaborator Rhys Fulber to incorporate more electro elements than ever before. I was hoping for an even more powerful presence on this next one. That didn’t exactly happen, though “Battle for Utopia”’s synths recall 80’s new wave, while closing ballad “Expiration Date” has a more modern and dreamy electro feel. I still would love to hear Fulber truly unleashed one day; whenever his main act Front Line Assembly incorporates metal into their industrial dance sound (check out the timeless Millennium, or 2009’s IED), it’s well, electrifying.

In some ways, Genexus feels like a greatest hits album – a time-travel jaunt back to the days of Demanufacture and Obsolete. You could consider it as the pinnacle refinement of the FF sound, but to me, and especially after the big surprise of Mechanize in 2010, it just feels like another enjoyable album off the assembly line. And in a time when movies, for instance, are reinventing and reinvigorating classic franchises with bold new executions (some successful, others not), Genexus is disappointing for how little it wants to innovate.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
August 18th, 2015


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