Fear Factory - _Mechanize_
(AFM / Candlelight, 2010)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (9 out of 10)
Strangeness abounds in the Fear Factory camp over the past year, a veritable soap opera of WWE-style allegiance shifts and back stabbing. To recap: in March 2002, singer Burton C. Bell announced his departure from the band, which led to the entire group calling it a day... temporarily, at least; it later came out that Bell left because he couldn't get along with guitarist Dino Cazares, and -- as it turned out -- neither could anyone else. Mutual dissatisfaction agreed upon, the other members decided it would be more prudent to just jettison Cazares rather than scrap the entire Fear Factory brand altogether.

2004 witnessed a successful reunion album, that year's _Archetype_ being almost unanimously considered a return to form after the lukewarm _Digimortal_ which preceded the breakup. However, the group would later claim that their next album, _Transgression_, was severely compromised by their label rushing them to get an album out to promote on their upcoming Gigantour dates. _Transgression_ came out, no one cared, and once again it appeared Fear Factory was on ice.

In April of 2009 -- completely out of nowhere -- Bell announced that he'd made amends with Dino Cazares and that they would once again be collaborating on what was initially promoted as a new, untitled project. Roping in then current FF bassist Byron Stroud and Stroud's Strapping Young Lad bandmate Gene Hoglan on drums, it was quickly revealed that this was not to be a separate project at all, but rather a new incarnation of Fear Factory. Existing guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera were left out in the cold and, in interviews, seemed openly mystified about their fate. Promising to cockblock the Bell / Cazares appropriation of the FF name with every legal roadblock possible, Wolde Olbers / Herrera succeeded in stalling their efforts long enough to get a few early festival appearances canceled, but in the end Bell and Cazares seemed to win out... at least they were able to get a new record on the shelves with no serious opposition.

And so here in 2010 we have yet another Fear Factory "comeback" record with the fewest original members yet. And you know what? It's the best, most relevant thing they've done since 1998's _Obsolete_. Get past the superficial "wtf?" reaction to the backstage drama and none of this should come as a huge surprise. Stroud has been playing bass for the band since they kicked Cazares out and moved Wolde Olbers to guitar, so he's had several years to absorb and contribute to the FF legacy. Hoglan is not only a musical chameleon but has been holding down a rhythm section alongside Stroud for years, and to top it all off he's probably the second best drummer in metal history behind only Dave Lombardo (anyone who wants to flip flop those rankings would get no particularly indignant outrage from me).

So in spite of these lineup changes, you'd never know anything had changed just by listening to the record. Hoglan in particular adopts the Herrera blueprint so completely and enthusiastically it's almost eerie. Regardless of the personal issues that got him booted from the band to begin with, Cazares has always been a superior guitarist and riff writer than Olde Wolbers, and Stroud is the equal of Olde Wolbers on bass as well, so if anything this incarnation of FF is at least mildly superior to any previous lineup.

But the musicianship is not the whole story, nor even the primary draw. What makes this a legitimate "comeback" (the band would probably hate that term but by any objective yardstick it's apt) is the fact that this is the best batch of songs FF have written in twelve years. Lyrically, rather than diving back into their old "Terminator" fantasies of man being taken over by their own machines, the band resurrect _Archetype_'s themes of using mechanization as a metaphor for modern human life. The title track is the most obvious / least subtle example of that, and sports one of the heaviest, most detuned guitar riffs heard on a FF song in years. Longtime keyboardist Rhys Fulber is back on board, adding color and atmosphere behind the grinding death metal rave up and giving the guitars a chance to breathe. Fulber's contributions are most felt on the synth-heavy "Christploitation" and in the lengthy closing outro of "Final Exit", both of which are right up there amongst the best songs on the album.

The biggest comparison between _Mechanize_ and _Obsolete_ is the abandoning of nu metal flourishes and getting back to the band's bread and butter, which is brutal, industrial death metal riffing with cathartic, epic choruses, as epitomized on "Controlled Demolition" and "Fear Campaign". Burton Bell sounds completely reinvigorated (not that the rest of the band doesn't), and like an extreme metal version of Ronnie James Dio or Rob Halford, his voice hasn't diminished a lick over the last twenty years. In the end, my gut instinct is to feel like Ray Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers got the shaft, but the truth is only the band members really know what went down behind the scenes, who drove what wedge where, etc; if we had to vet the character of every artist before we could allow ourselves to enjoy their work we'd never truly give ourselves over to anything. So enjoy a band reestablishing their identity and relevancy and leave the drama to those who get paid to give a fuck.

Contact: http://www.fearfactorymusic.com

(article published 28/7/2010)

8/12/1995 A Bromley Fear Factory: The Fine Art of Noisemaking
3/23/2004 X Hoose 8.5 Fear Factory - Archetype
8/12/2001 Q Kalis 6 Fear Factory - Digimortal
7/8/1998 A Bromley 5 Fear Factory - Obsolete
5/13/1997 A Bromley 8 Fear Factory - Remanufacture: Cloning Technology
5/19/1999 A Wasylyk Fear Factory / System of a Down / Static X Nile's No Show, Not Nice
7/14/1997 A Wasylyk Fear Factory / Type O Negative / Drain / Powerman 5000 Be Afraid, Be Very Very Afraid
1/2/1997 A Bromley Fear Factory / Kilgore Smudge / Carped Tunnel A Fearful Freak-Fest
3/14/1996 A Gaudrault Iron Maiden / Fear Factory A New Maiden in a New Era
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