When Fear Factory unleashed their debut album Soul of a New Machine in 1992, it would have been damn near impossible to predict that the band would still be releasing albums some twenty years later. Their volatile sound utilized the more traditional sound of modern death metal, but combined it with numerous elements that really set Fear Factory apart from any of their peers. Singer Burton C. Bell was a pioneer (for better or worse) of clean-singing massive choruses interspersed with guttural verses while guitarist Dino Cazares utilized a machine-like precision in his riffs. Add in a healthy dose of electronics and a man vs. machine storyline and the Fear Factory sound was born.
But even the heartiest of machines will falter at some point and Fear Factory is no exception. Over the past two decades, the band has undergone several lineup changes and even split entirely on a few separate occasions. After 2005’s disappointing offering Transgression, the band went on hiatus and could have easily just called it quits. But five years later, Burton reconciled with Dino and resurrected the Fear Factory moniker for 2010’s Mechanize and the band has been going strong since.
Which brings us to Genexus, the latest chapter of Fear Factory’s ongoing man vs. machine saga. Album opener “Autonomous Combat System” is everything fans have come to expect from the band, from the machine gun syncopation of the guitars to the cautionary warning of technological evolution provided by Bell. And while Bell and Cazares sound as powerful as ever, the real standout on the track, and really the entire album for that matter, is drummer Mike Heller. After experimenting with a drum machine for 2012’s The Industrialist, Fear Factory returned to using a live drummer on Genexus and it makes all the difference in the world. Songs like “Adonized” and “Regenerate” are propelled by Heller’s masterful double bass and intricate cymbal work, which merits paying close attention to. The punch of Heller’s drums thunder throughout the record, providing an organic feel to the mechanized thrashing, an element that’s been sorely missing since the departure of original drummer Raymond Herrera.
In fact, Genexus might just be the strongest album Fear Factory has released since Cazares’ return. Throughout the album, the band exudes a confidence in their songwriting and delivery not heard in full since their breakout album Obsolete. Genexus is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, proof of which can be heard on the album closer “Expiration Date.” Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, the track is a glossy, pop-inflected and damn near cinematic masterpiece which showcases a side of the band rarely seen. It may be a turn off for those strictly seeking to headbang until they barf, but the pummeling brutality of the nine tracks preceding it should alleviate those concerns. For the rest of us, it’s a stunning display of melodic songwriting that all too often goes unnoticed in heavy metal.
That’s not to say that Genexus is a completely unexpected record. Burton’s signature storytelling is in top form, as is the rhythmic syncopation of Dino’s guitar strumming. Also returning to the Fear Factory fold is longtime collaborator/producer Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly fame, who provides some of the electronic flourishes that weave seamlessly through the album. With the core of the Fear Factory sound intact, the trio forged ahead on Genexus and created an album that is certainly more predictable than surprising for hardcore fans, who will know what to expect and shouldn’t be disappointed with the results. However, for those experiencing Fear Factory for the first time, or for returning fans, Genexus offers a wealth of different sounds, textures and emotions not heard from the Fear Factory camp in some time. For example, “Church of Execution” features numerous stylistic elements from the bands past, from the crushing precision of Demanufacture to the punishing groove of Digimortal. It’s a timeless song that stands up to anything in the bands diverse back catalog.
Fear Factory have had a long, winding and often complicated history but somehow, they’ve managed to survive. The amount of break ups, lineup changes and setbacks they’ve endured is grounds for admiration alone, but considering that they’re still releasing albums, let alone really good albums, in spite of all of their challenges is simply astonishing. It just goes to show that while the machine may falter, with the right parts in place, it will never totally fail.