Fear Factory are back at last. Following on from the hugely successful pair of albums ‘mechanize’ and ‘the industrialist’, it has taken three long years for Fear Factory to return to the fray to deliver yet another album of heart-pounding industrial metal mayhem, but the wait has been more than worth it. Hugely influential, Fear Factory could easily be forgiven for resting on their laurels, but instead they continue to develop the exciting hybrid sound that has long been their unique domain. With Rhys Fulber once again on board and Andy Sneap mixing the album, Fear Factory sound razor sharp and inspired, not least because of the arrival of new blood in the form of drummer extraordinaire Tony Heller (who has been touring with the band for some time but who makes his recording debut with the band here) and bass legend Tony Campos (Ministry, Prong and Soulfly). The result is the typically intelligent, devastatingly powerful ‘Genexus’, a record that once again questions the nature of man’s relationship with technology.
Opening with ‘autonomous combat system’, a voice intones “people are always fearful of something they don’t understand”, giving voice to a theme that has ever run through Fear Factory’s oeuvre. With huge, astringent chords droning over a melodic synth line, it is Tony Heller’s martial drum beat that brings the pain and immediately Fear Factory sound more mechanistic, more brutal than ever. With juddering synths and Dino’s instantly recognisable guitar pummelling the listener into submission, the way is cleared for Burton to make his entrance and he does so with a raw power that is utterly awe-inspiring. As has long been the habit Burton juxtaposes a searing, barked verse with a melodic chorus and the result is one of the best Fear Factory opening tracks since the monumental ‘shock’ from ‘obsolete’. ‘Anodized’ keeps the pace, Tony’s metronomic beats paired up against Dino’s earth-shattering riffs and once again we’re reminded ‘Obsolete’, that blistering conceptual masterpiece that still remains one of Fear Factory’s finest moments. ‘Dilectric’ opens with psycho-esque strings ramping up the tension before Dino takes over the melody and the track tears into the sort of skittering cyber-enhanced metal that can only be Fear Factory. It’s an adrenalin charged monster of a track, with Rhys Fulber’s deft synth work stamped all over it, and increasingly it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this may yet be the best fear factory album since Dino’s return. ‘Soul Hacker’ opens with Burton roaring “You’ll never take my soul” in defiance over a crushing guitar line that then breaks down into a stuttering, Terminator-inspired monster that takes no prisoners. Similarly gnarly is the cutting-edge cyber-thrash of ‘Protomech’ that sounds fresh and inspired despite essentially following the blueprint laid down by the band all the way back in 1989.
Ending in a mellow haze of piano and synth, ‘Protomech’ successfully lulls the listener into dropping their guard, making the arrival of the title track all the more intense. Showcasing Fear Factory at their tech-metal best, ‘Genexus’ is a white hot blast of double-kick work and Dino’s relentless guitar stabbing away at the temples. Even so, the song takes a surprising direction, the band showing a greater awareness of dynamic than on previous tracks and the result is one of the album’s highlights. ‘Church of execution’ opens with typical Rhys Fulber keyboard stabs building the atmosphere before things open up in typical fear factory style. ‘Regenerate’ features keyboards that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Rick Wakeman album underpinning a ferociously melodic piece that sounds like an alternate soundtrack to the terminator grafted into a heavy metal piece. ‘Battle for utopia’ with its cacophonous opening of clanging metal sees the album heading towards its close and then ‘Expiration date’, the epic, eight minute finale, brings the album to a melodic and very different conclusion. More Gary Numan than Ministry, ‘Expiration date’ is an unexpected highlight that shows that, even after all these years, Fear Factory are still not afraid to push themselves in new directions when the concept demands it, and ‘Expiration date’ proves to be an effective and interesting conclusion to the album.
Fear Factory are a band who have long mixed high concepts with brutal metal and progressive elements. They have had numerous successes, and a few missteps, along the way, but since the band reformed in 2009 Fear Factory have done nothing but cement their impressive reputation. It’s too soon to tell perhaps, but my initial feeling is that ‘Genexus’s is better than ‘the industrialist’ and at least on a par with the excellent ‘mechanize’ although greater familiarity will show whether it does, in fact, exceed that release. However you look at it, Fear Factory in 2015 are more relevant than ever with their themes of man vs machine and musically they are more ferocious than ever. Most impressive are those moments when the band step outside their comfort zone, most notably on the closing ‘expiration date’, but the fact remains that even the band’s familiarly aggressive hybrid of pulsing industrial elements and full-on metal sound better now than ever. Whilst ‘Genexus’ is unlikely to win over those not previously keen on Fear Factory’s cold, industrial nightmare, for fans of the band it is a powerful, bold record that underscores the band’s unique power and it stands tall amidst their impressive back catalogue. Highly recommended.