MECHANIZE: A THOUGHTFUL REVIEW FROM A PERSON WHO ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDS FEAR FACTORY
Say what you will about Fear Factory – you’re probably correct. Their faux-industrial flourishes of synths are ignorable at best and ridiculous at worst, Dino Cazares’ stop-start riffs blend together after a song or two, their sci-fi themes cover the spectrum of cheesy to horribly cringe-worthy, Burton C. Bell’s singing sounds like Justin Broadrick’s slow brother moaning in a karaoke contest, that their whole approach could be interpreted as watered down extreme metal for the Hot Topic goth set… they’re all pretty apt if they’re not a band you grew up with (I’m looking at you, Axl Q. Rosenberg). But say you’re sixteen years old, the oldest sibling and cousin on both sides of your parents’ families, don’t have any cool uncles with Overkill patches on their denim jackets or exhaustive NWOBHM collections, don’t have any friends that are into Cannibal Corpse or Slayer or Napalm Death (or a whole lot of friends at all, really), and your parents bond over their love for James Taylor. You can’t just go from zero to Carcass. Thus, bands like Fear Factory exist: to ease the transition between Nine Inch Nails and the wealth of perverted delight death, black, and doom metal have to offer. For that reason and really that reason alone, I can never hate on Fear Factory. They don’t stand up to a lot of scrutiny, but they do what they do well, and serve as an excellent gateway into extreme metal for the unsure and uninitiated. From Fear Factory I moved to Slipknot’s first album, and from there I moved to Reign in Blood. From there, it was all downhill very, very fast.
So I was delighted to hear that Dino had waddled his way back into the FF fold; admittedly, the only thing that kept me from completely hating (as opposed to just mostly hating) Divine Heresy was Cazares’ riffing, even if it did have a tendency to grow stale in that confines of that shitty, shitty band. I stopped following Fear Factory with Digimortal (B-Real guest verse = I’m all set with your band. That even goes for Outkast, as far as I’m concerned.) and have since only thrown Demanufacture or Obsolete on every now and again for some healthy nostalgia. I’ve obviously moved on to heavier and/or more esoteric metal, and thus didn’t need the band anymore to satisfy my heaviness quotient. And oddly enough, Mechanize, the band’s reboot after two Dino-less records, is an album exactly for that audience: while still undoubtedly a Fear Factory album, for better or worse, it’s full of embellishments those familiar with and fond of metal outside the realm of Fear Factory will recognize. In doing so, the band may have made the most satisfying album of their career, and quite possibly their heaviest. Though half the original lineup is gone, the spirit remains the same, if not drastically improved.
From the opening moments on forward, it’s apparent that Mechanize is undoubtedly a Fear Factory album. The title (and first) track begins with a percussive industrial intro, along with the main riff filtered almost out of existence. But when the band kicks in, there’s a renewed sense of purpose and improved plan of attack: Cazares plays an 8-string instead of a 7 to add an extra layer of density to his rigid guitar work, Bell barks like a post-apocalyptic general in a James Cameron movie (well, before he started making the ones about doomed steamliner love stories and blue cat people), and Gene fucking Hoglan is being Gene fucking Hoglan on the drums. The band are still working within the boundaries of what they’ve always been, but despite their faithfulness to their original mission, they’ve somehow improved upon it. The rest of Mechanize continues in this fashion: the militant riffing of “Christploitation,” the effective good cop/bad cop routine of “Powershifter,” the powerful and surprisingly tuneful closer “Final Exit” (which gives Demanufacture’s “A Therapy for Pain” a run for its money for Best FF album finale) and the awesome, awesome riff that rears its head ¾ of the way through “Desigining the Enemy” all point to a band that have matured enough to enrich their sound, but not matured enough to not make occasionally cheesy sci-fi metal. But even the cheesiest moments of Bell’s singing and Rhys Fulber’s synth fiddling and processed sampling are either lost to the power of nostalgia or merely overshadowed by the ample heaviness the rest of the album provides. Mechanize is remarkably tight, and its transgressions can be easily forgiven.
The album’s MVP, though, is Gene fucking Hoglan. Though his role as sticksman-for-hire is well known by now (his drumming for Dethklok elevated the band from nifty Metalocalypse footnote to pretty decent melodic death metal band), his playing in Fear Factory is goddamn magnificent, playing surgically precise when necessary, but adding virtuoso flourish in every now and again to keep things interesting (even including blastbeats on occasion, which sound awesome in the context of a FF album). Maybe Hoglan’s playing has made Fear Factory a better band, or maybe Dino’s work in Divine Heresy has made him the sort of guitarist now worthy of a drummer as proficient as him. Either way, with much due respect to original drummer Raymond Herrera, those pining for the band’s original lineup after Mechanize are doing so for the sake of completism. An original lineup reunion would have been a blatant cash grab; the album half of Fear Factory have put out in its place works great on its own merits as well as hinting at a fruitful future for this incarnation (if they can stay together long enough to do so). Mechanize will certainly please the band’s fans as well as put a smile on the faces of those who have moved on since the band’s late-90s heyday. Fear Factory are dead; long live Fear Factory.
Socially Awkward 16-year old with dubious musical taste’s score:
(5 out of 5 horns)
Jaded Elitist Douchebag Adult Who is in No Way Socially Awkward score:
(3 out of 5 horns)
(4 out of 5 horns)