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Thursday, March 11, 2010

CD Review: Fear Factory - Mechanize

Fear Factory - Mechanize
2010 Candlelight Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



At their best, Fear Factory was the nineties' tech-grind pickup of Voivod. In many ways, Fear Factory inadvertently mimicked the sound exploration paths of the 'vod. For all intents and purposes, Fear Factory's ratchety Soul of a New Machine is comparable to Voivod's Rrroooaaarrr in the sense both albums were precursors to the revelations each band excavated on their respective follow-ups. Subsequently, Fear Factory found their industrial-thrash niche with Demanufacture and Obsolete as Voivod pulled the handles to their art deco speed picker on Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross.

While apposite types of bands, both Voivod and Fear Factory are regarded as pioneers, one for engineering a cyberpunk sound very few have the talent to fully replicate, the other for altering the face of metal with blast beat inferno rhythms. Both share the distinction of radically changing their methodology as well as personnel on later works, i.e. Angel Rat, The Outer Limits and Phobos for Voivod, Digimortal, Transgression and Archetype for Fear Factory. While we're at it, we can note each band hit a hallmark in their reknowned careers where the true fans got it, but the masses at large let them blow by: Nothingface and Concrete respectively.

In the case of Fear Factory 2010, suffice it to say the internal politics have become more the story than a band which lit up a celluloid dukeout between Johnny Cage and Scorpion in the first Mortal Kombat film with their blazing classic "Zero Hour." As each member has either left altogether or simply taken powders from Fear Factory to pursue their side projects such as Divine Heresy, Arkaea and Ascension of the Watchers, the home base itself has been left in a questionable doubt to this point.

Sure, Archetype and Transgression are both solid post grind-era Fear Factory records and each bring something to the table from the stance of songwriting differentiation. However, there's no question in anyone's mind Fear Factory's signature vibe is that which was breathtakingly cultivated on Obsolete and Demanufacture.

Cut to this year, as Christian Olde-Wolbers and Raymond Herrera (master innovator of today's blast beat technique) bolt from Camp Fear Factory into their impressive alter unit Arkaea. Back from sojourn is wayward guitarist Dino Cazares with the supplementation of Strapping Young Lad superstars Bryon Stroud and Gene Hoglan. Thus this all-star re-imagination of Fear Factory brings the noise, the ambience and the trip hammers of the old days on Mechanize, easily the heaviest album this group has expounded since Obsolete.

Between last year and this one, established veterans of the metal scene who have either released sub-par contract fillers or dabbled so left of center from their cores are all drifting back to their bread and butter resonance.

For Fear Factory, it means massiveness to the extreme, set on the same ionized bpms they made their reps on. Mechanize is freaking relentless, a booming exclamation point from surviving member Burton C. Bell and his returned armsman Dino Cazares that the time for brushstroking and abstracting is expired. Instead, time to thrash again.

The always-electrifying Gene Hoglan has Ray Herrera's stop-go polyrhythms down to a tee. Just the title track opening Mechanize gets old Fear Factory listeners snug into the group's familiar speed and pothole-swerve lane, while "Industial Discipline" literally whooshes onto a metallic Autobahn complete with snug synth highways guiding the brutal velocity of the track. Yes, it feels just like the nineties again for this band.

With zilcho mercy, the tempest of speed continues into the maniacally-driven "Fear Campaign," which drives on virtually two tempos from Hoglan, settling into mid-tempo snakes on the bridges and breakdowns before accelerating again on each intermittent bar. You imagine this inception of Fear Factory screaming in the studio, "Take that, Dethklok!" while Hoglan smacks the crap out of his kit and Cazares whips out a deadly solo. All of it is child's play compared to the neck-snapping chaos reigning over "Powershifter," which rattles on two modes of punishment, the slower measures actually becoming the more abusive.

The welcome back of Cazares is a hot topic behind Mechanize, and he sure as hell as sounds like he's missed being a part of the script--his tone-flogging riffage on "Christploitation" is obscenely giddy. Meanwhile, Hoglan and Stroud bringing pro firepower to Fear Factory's recalibrated pistons are their own story.

Burton Bell is another a facet altogether on this thing. Still one of the most intimidating growlers in metal history, he owns his territory on Mechanize, which is hard fought for when your current bandmates are all world-class. Older than he was on Obsolete and Demanufacture, Bell's screams are only nastier, while his cleans wield perfectionist's sage. He's a Yoda of his craft, plain and simple. Bell's peformance on the beautifully brackish "Final Exit" is one of the most stellar he's ever delivered.

Without understatement, Mechanize is the album Fear Factory's long-timers have been scratching about ever since the group gained notoriety with their mid-tempo stomp favorite "Linchpin." A fast and chewy number like "Controlled Demolition" hails both the Demanufacture and Digimortal eras, still growing heavier and faster with pure exhiliration.

Some may argue Mechanize is a step backwards for this band, to which everyone else will likely be boisterously replying "Well, duh! Hell, yes!" As the saying goes, sometimes you have to step back to move forward. No disrespect intended towards Herrera and Wolberts, who are both gentlemen of their trades, but Mechanize plays confidently like it's nobody's fool and it rewards all who come ready for some serious ear-gouging.

Rating: ****1/2

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