Almost like the twelve years since Obsolete never happened

Fear Factory was perhaps my favourite band in the mid-90s. I used to listen to Demanufacture every day, saw them everytime they came out including their first Big Day Out appearance where they simply owned and even wore the tour shirt until it fell apart.

That said, everything after Obsolete pretty much sucked (although Digimortal isn’t as bad as it’s painted–take “Back the Fuck Up” off it and it’s much better), and I lost interest in them for a long time. It was always going to be interesting to see what they would create after Burt Bell’s astonishing announcement last year that he and Dino Cazares were mates again and working under the Fear Factory name once more at the expense of Ray Herrera and Chris Wolbers.

In some regards, Mechanize is an astounding album, the likes of which many probably believed this band would never make again. In the 15 years since Demanufacture, entire movements in the metal genre have risen and fallen, including the nu-metal scene that album’s basic sound inspired, so the question was always going to be whether Fear Factory could return and still be relevant.

And the answer is yes, because Mechanize is the heaviest, fastest, most vital and best album they’ve made since 1998. Like their classic albums, it opens strongly, persists with bursts of controlled brutality fired one after the other with equal precision, then drags toward the end thanks to the uninspired “Designing the Enemy” and pointless interlude “Metallic Division”. These are quickly forgotten however thanks to “Final Exit”, a brilliant fusion of dynamics, melody, melancholy and crushing heavy metal that is easily one of the best songs they’ve ever done. Elsewhere it seems that Cazares has dug himself out of his safety bunker a little, coming up with a bunch of new riffs for the Fear Factory machine. My criticism of him in the past was his seeming reliance on a handful of patterns, but on Mechanize he stretches himself further than he has in a decade or more, even squirting out a solo in “Fear Campaign”, a track that has a bit of everything including a spoken growl through the breakdown and a fearsome scream of rage right at the beginning. For his part, Burton does what he’s always done vocally but at the lyrical level he’s changed focus. His writing was always subversive but he’s stripped away the Philip K. Dick-style metaphors for the more direct approach he first used on Soul of a New Machine. It’s great to hear Rhys Fulber back too. His contribution to Demanufacture is one of the main things that turned it into a landmark and here again, especially on “Final Exit” and the brutal as fuck “Christploitation”, he helps add that layer to the Fear Factory sound that it has lacked for a long time.

Some have accused the band of playing it safe here, and that’s fair. Despite a couple of stylistic divergences like a guitar solo, this is very identifiably Fear Factory: the militaristic beats, the rhythmic groove, tight staccato riffs (though somewhat less repetitive than before), the alternating growled/clean vocals–all the things this band originally brought to the genre. But this is what their fans have wanted for a long time and they’ve shown they still do it better than anyone. Fear Factory is back to being heavy and relevant again. It’s almost like the twelve years since Obsolete never happened.

1. Mechanize
2. Industrial Discipline
3. Fear Campaign
4. Powershifter
5. Christploitation
6. Oxidizer
7. Controlled Demolition
8. Designing the Enemy
9. Metalllic Division
10. Final Exit