Fear Factory seem to have had a tumultuous time over the last few years; splitting up at the peak of their popularity, successfully coming back minus their iconic guitarist Dino Cazares, then cocking it all up again with the release of the underwhelming (and some would say unfinished) Transgression album and then subsequently splitting again.
Almost a decade after that initial split the band have returned once more in yet another guise and amid more controversy than ever before. Vocalist Burton C. Bell and original guitarist Dino Cazares have reconciled the differences that have kept the once firm-friends apart since 2002, and they now form the core of this new outfit. Byron Stroud returns on bass, a position he took up for the band's first reformation back in 2003, after Fear Factory's then-bassist Christian Olde Wolbers switched to guitar to replace Cazares. This time around, Byron has brought with him his old Strapping Young Lad comrade and all round metal legend Gene Hoglan on drums. Long time collaborator Rhys Fulber also returns for synthesizer and production duties.
This means that two of the three members who have been with the band through their whole career, Christian Olde Wolbers and original drummer Raymond Herrera, are completely absent this time around and this is where the controversy comes in. According to Herrera in a radio interview from last year, he and Olde Wolbers never left Fear Factory and weren't even consulted by Bell and Cazares about the current reformation, and so, as far as they are concerned are still IN
Fear Factory, with Bell and Cazares' new project being a new band that have stolen the name! This has lead to much bitterness and political wrangling that meant Fear Factory had to cancel tours while rights to the name issues were sorted out. Hopefully, the fact that this album is now published under the Fear Factory moniker means that these problems have been sorted out.
So, amid all this chaos and animosity, is it even remotely possible that this album could be any good? It's hard to believe under the circumstances but in my opinion this is Fear Factory's finest creation since their 1995 masterpiece, Demanufacture
. The writing partnership of Bell and Cazares seem to have tapped into the old fire that drove them in the early days as if the intervening fifteen years never existed. The music is brutally heavy all the way through, it has that familiar precision that was always a trademark of the Fear Factory sound, whilst simultaneously feeling more raw and immediate than on albums such as Digimortal
The recruiting of Gene Hoglan, the busiest drummer in metal, was a master stroke. Raymond Herrera's shoes are mightily big ones to fill, and Big Gene is possibly the only man on the planet even remotely capable of filling them. And boy does he ever fill them! The drumming on this whole album is phenomenal. Pin-point accurate, powerful, heavy, fast as fuck and utterly, utterly insane. Gene Hoglan is a machine. And as such is probably ideally suited to play in Fear Factory, given the over-riding themes of their songs!
The teaming of long time band mates Hoglan and Byron Stroud, (S.Y.L., Zimmers Hole, Tenet - to name just a few of the bands that these two giants of the metal scene have played together in), gives these songs such a stable and confident base to build from that it's almost impossible for the other two band members to go wrong. Fortunately, both Bell and Cazares are on the top of their game. The song writing is some of the best of their career, ten tracks that feel familiar yet original, heavy as hell, yet melodic and catchy, never indulgent and never outstaying their welcome. Dino's guitar work is the best I've ever heard from him, (though to be fair I haven't really paid much attention to anything he's done since leaving FF in the first place), he even manages to work in some solos without making them feel jarring or unnecessary. Burton's growling vocals and screams seem to be getting more extreme as he gets older, which probably defies the laws of nature in several fundamental ways, while his clean parts are still as good as they ever were. The clean vocal parts, which have always been a staple of Fear Factory songs, seem to be used much more sparsely here than they have been in more recent albums, and as such seem to work much better, having much more impact on the songs when they do appear.
The terrible production that ruined Transgression is thankfully nowhere in evidence here. Fulber's production is crystal clear, managing to capture everything from the most guttural scream to the most subtle of cymbal strikes, and his keyboard work is nicely understated, adding layers of atmospheric sound below and around the main instruments.
In conclusion, this is a fine return to form for a once major force in the metal world. Let's hope the animosity between current and former members can be put aside, as a Fear Factory / Arkaea
(Christian and Raymond's new band) tour would be lovely. assuming Arkaea bin off their Linkin Park-alike singer and get in someone who's balls have dropped.