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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Fear Factory

Mechanize

Review by Mike Korn

I had written off Fear Factory quite a long time ago. Following the acrimonious departure of guitarist Dino Cazares in the late 90's, the cyber-metal band never really seemed to be the same, culminating in the horrendous Transgression, which is surely one of the worst albums ever released by a major metal band. News of Cazares reconciling with former bitter enemy and Fear Factory singer Burton C. Bell was surprising, because their split was nasty with a capital “N”. Now that things are hunky dory between Burton and Cazares, the other long time members of the band have been brutally dumped, resulting in more bad feelings as well as the band Arkaea.

I still didn't hold out much hope for a new Fear Factory disc, but lo and behold, Mechanize is surely the best record they have done since Obsolete. It doesn’t surpass their all-time classic Demanufacture but it certainly doesn't suffer much in comparison. The return of Cazares is the key. This guy has such a distinctive style of guitar playing that nobody can adequately fill his shoes. Mechanize is bursting with those brutal staccato guitar riffs that typify the FF sound. Another advantage is the addition of drum wizard Gene Hoglan to the fold. Former skin beater Raymond Herrera was more machine than man in that department, but Hoglan is one of the few who can match his skill and maybe even up the ante. With Hoglan behind the kit, a reinvigorated Cazares thrashing away and the rock solid bass of Byron Stroud on tap, Bell has also found his mojo again. The album is full of both grinding growls and transcendent melodies.

At some points it still sounds like "typical" Fear Factory, albeit with more conviction, but when it is at its best, Mechanize reminds us of what made this band so great during its heyday. This is one time I am glad to be wrong!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mechanize

A grim mechanical pounding provides the expected introduction, before giving way to hammering piston-like riffs. This is what we expect from Fear Factory and it doesn't disappoint. The electronic samples and beats add that cold industrial feeling to the song while Bell's vocals veer between harsh urgency and soaring melody. This tune doesn't surprise, but it serves notice that these guys are playing for keeps.

Industrial Discipline
Now the record kicks into overdrive with this relentlessly thrashing bruiser. This is as fast and brutal as anything they've ever done, including their debut Soul of a New Machine. Even so, there's still time for one of those mystical sounding choruses to haunt your brain. Gene Hoglan's drumming is inhumanly intense here.
Fear Campaign
This track also keeps the pace high with a mixture of classic thrash and the typical staccato FF sound. An eerie keyboard sound becomes more prominent. I like some of the little touches like clever guitar fills and sound effects that elevate this above the "standard" Fear Factory sound. There's a pretty cool guitar solo, which is quite rare for these guys.
Powershifter
While this track is enjoyable because of its sheer energy and brutality, it brings absolutely nothing new or different to the table. This time around, the riffing really does seem kind of rehashed, though it's delivered with fierceness. 
Christploitation
The intro to this one is weird and eerie, with a backward piano motif and evil synths. It soon morphs into an excellent blistering thrasher. The piano and synthesizer additions are truly ominous and give the song the feeling of a horror movie soundtrack. This is one of the more creative and interesting tracks on show.
Oxidizer
“Grinding” is the word I'd use for this abrasive number. It's another choppy chugfest but the chorus has a certain catchiness to it and the industrial aspects seem to be much more emphasized. Bell's throaty roars have rarely been better. 
Controlled Demolition
This is another one of my favorites. The meaty riff here could have fit in on Demanufacture with no trouble at all. It boasts another one of those oddly soaring vocal melodies that Fear Factory specializes in...and one of the better ones, at that.  It's a great mix of all-out aggression and futuristic atmosphere.
Designing the Enemy
This is a slower, moodier cut with some drifting ambience to it, though not lacking in heaviness. Bell's vocals are often droning but melodic. A crunchy groove arises but this is one of the less frantic cuts and it is a slight departure from the usual Fear Factory template.
Metallic Division
This pounding track is pretty brief and brings more typical FF chugging, though mixed with some pretty subtle electronics and sampling.
Final Exit
Both lyrically and musically, this covers a lot of the same ground as "A Therapy for Pain" on the classic Demanufacture, but it's more than just a rehash. I really like the more relaxed sections with the jangly guitar. It makes for a nice break from Cazares' usual relentless barrage - although you definitely get your share of that, too. This qualifies as a "ballad", I guess.  Though the song deals with suicide and right to die issues, the overall tone is uplifting. The album makes its own exit with subdued piano and some quite pretty ambience.
 
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