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Fear Factory's Demanufacture is still my most hated album that I've reviewed on the Metal Archives (a pretty good read if you enjoy musical defamation), but Fear Factory do have some worthwhile output to their name. Not exactly a death metal classic, not even really a pure death metal album, Soul of a New Machine was one of my first experiences of extreme music and remains heavy as shit today, especially compared to the band's other "man against machine" wank and the nu groove phase they went through. If it gives any idea of perspective, I bought this on the same day as a Red Hot Chili Peppers album and it's flanked in my collection by stuff like Machine Head and Disturbed, so my first impression all those years ago was mostly surprise. After that surprise had waned a little, I thought that Soul of a New Machine was a bit too noisy, overly percussive, repetitive, impenetrable, and really quite long, most of which still holds true for me nearly 10 years later.
First off, Fear Factory were never death metal in the same way as Cannibal Corpse or Obituary or Death were: their brand of death metal relied on riffs and rhythms only, Dino Cazares probably never in his life going further down his guitar than the D string and that only because his fingers are too pudgy to play the small frets by the bridge. There aren't melodies or leads from any instrument, while the riffs are pummeling rather than thrashing or technical, having a definite industrial edge in some of the songs, as one can hear from the mechanized groove of 'Self Immolation'. Sometimes it's very fast and there are some nice semi-atmospheric descending scales that crop up a few times, but nothing particular that you might hang onto beyond the sheer brunt of the guitar. Added to that, the guitars are apparently synchronized with the bass drums, which was supposedly Fear Factory's big thing (I remember reading Chimaira's Mark Hunter giving special praise to this), though it gives less definition to the already dry guitar and the lower-pitched riffs just blend together as "heaviness" without being easily definable. However, listen to something like the opening of 'Flesh Hold' and you can see how some of the more varied riffs that twist and turn instead of stuttering on the low E really can latch in the mind and create both atmosphere and conditions for a good headbang.
Let me go on to the "impenetrable" and "really quite long" comments now, because those are quite the issue when listening to the album as a whole. Although many of the songs have repeating sections, especially repeating slogans courtesy of Burton C. Bell (he really gets into the "suffer bastard" groove of 'Martyr'), they don't actually make it easy to distinguish where the song is heading or how it differs from the last song since there aren't many hooks barring a few clean-sung parts in four or five songs. It might be a benefit that the songs don't follow a verse-chorus-verse pattern, because it keeps them short and unpredictable, but it also means that I quickly forget what happened during their length as well. The problem is compounded by the increasingly shortening song lengths towards the tail of the album, where the material is even less catchy (vocal hooks mostly disappear at this stage) and the experience starts to drag interminably. It would have been advisable to cut at least four or five songs to increase the impact of individual moments, as well as for the band to more clearly define the direction of some of them, such as 'Suffer Age', which is set up with skill and intricacy and then descends almost into a grindcore song, disregarding the suspense of its long introduction for a gruff blast through two minutes of misdirected intensity.
The more memorable songs tend to be those where Burton C. Bell's vocals stand out more or Dino Cazares mixes up the riffs to provide a tastier meal. The first 8 songs aside from the sample-heavy 'Crisis' and directionless 'Crash Test' arguably fit the criteria best, while the latter half gets more intense in its death metal blasting, though not exactly better, 'Desecrate' or 'Big God/Raped Souls' proving the most ferocious. 'Scapegoat' has a great clean-sung chorus about judicial error, while 'Martyr' and 'Scumgrief' might get first place in the groove stakes. Other moments of interest include the dark ringing notes that open 'Escape Confusion' and the great throaty bass tone that appears by itself in some of the introductions and transitions. Ultimately, though, there's just too much material here and not enough to make it all stand out from song to song. The remixes found on Fear Is the Mindkiller would successfully transform some of this material into more atmospheric and industrial pieces, but Fear Factory would unfortunately find their horrible niche with the next full length, and all would be downhill from then on.
Soul of a New Machine is distinct from the rest of Fear Factory's discography in that this album is death metal with only a slight industrial undercurrent. Soul of a New Machine plays more like an industrialized Napalm Death CD than the groovy, robotic sci-fi industrial metal works that would make up the rest of their career. Dino Cazares goes for riffs suited more to a traditional death metal audience and Burton Bell delivers most of his lines in a monstrous death growl that would make Barney Greenway proud. Soul of a New Machine is distinct as Fear Factory's odd debut as a death metal band.
Soul of a New Machine shows Fear Factory attempting, at an early stage, to establish a unique identity in the climes of early 90s death metal. There are a large number of features to this release that other bands hadn't bothered with at this time. Plenty of the riffs have a crunch to them thanks to some being adapted from techno rhythms, with the band themselves citing Martyr as an example. Most of the album's guitar pieces are strong on impact and go for a sound that revolves around sledge grooves rather than the jackhammer riffing of later material, giving the guitars less of a sound like a robotic drill punching into concrete and more like some giant junkyard monstrosity that crushes other hunks of rusting metal into cubes. The bass has an imposing tone to its crushing licks, adding to the apocalyptic feel made by the guitars. Drum work on this album resembles machine parts beating away to enhance this even further. The vocals are roared forth with the force of a pissed off giant bear and add even more strength to the already beastly and muscular sound here. However, there are times where Bell takes the opposite vocal approach and sings in a faint, ethereal voice resembling a computer generated one. This was a novel thing in death metal, using clean vocals to get lines across in a more ethereal fashion to add to the atmosphere and deliver more feelings of despair and desolation. On top of all of this, Fear Factory writes some really savage songs with great riffs and plenty of crushing rage. Martyr, Arise Above Oppression, Big God/Raped Souls, Crisis, and Scapegoat are particularly imposing standout tracks. Even in early 90s death metal, Soul of a New Machine goes far in looking to distinguish itself.
This is a good album to start with when looking at Fear Factory's early catalog. Fans of death metal and grindcore will find a lot to get out of this with its punishing and apocalyptic soundscape. Soul of a New Machine attacks with all the speed, power, and impact of a terminator invasion. Aside from a few songs focusing on blasting beats and tremolos, as opposed to riffing and pounding, and the bizarre Natividad which is just audio from a junkyard crusher, almost all the songs deliver something of destructive substance. Soul of a New Machine is a great death metal release that shows Fear Factory at their most primitive and forceful.
It actually surprises me that I like this so much, because this falls pretty far away from the proverbial basket most of my interests are found in. Yeah, this might happen to be a death metal album, but the obvious nu metal influences that would become more and more prominent with FF's later releases are already pretty visible here, though I grudgingly admit that they do this album more good than bad overall. There's an immense charm to the material found on Soul Of A New Machine because of it which turns it into a masterpiece where it had all the papers to be a trainwreck more than anything else. This album is pretty awkward, very clumsy and perhaps a bit compromised in its weirdness, but it still manages to hold up well against more obvious death metal masterpieces of its time as well as before and after its release. To call this a nu-death metal album is overstretching it, but the use of clean vocals, tendency to groove and pretty terrible lyrics definitely hint towards a more mainstream sound, of course further materialized on later albums.
Yes, you read it right though, Soul Of A New Machine is a death metal album, and a very unique one at that. It has the nu metal influences, but there's also the obvious industrial elements that characterize the band's sound, but what's arguably even more unique is that there's actually a healthy dose of early grindcore found here as well. Burton C. Bell does a nice job at imitating Napalm Death's vocals with his growls and some tracks definitely use some of the foundations that they laid a few years prior to this. I have to say, the weird combination of both brutality and melody (including the clean vocals) actually works pretty fucking fantastic. Sure, this album is unintentionally somewhat pretentious and awkward as a result, but again, it's that charm that keeps the majority of the album very enjoyable. It's wholly confused at times and doesn't really seem to know whether it should go flat-out brutal on us or instead treat us with a clean vocal passage, but most of the time the result is great no matter what.
Still, at times it's inexcusable. Bell's growls aren't very exciting, they do their job at being 'death metal', but along with some questionable clean vocal sections and crappy lyrics there's definitely something to brag about. Like I said, the lyrics kinda suck, and his oftentimes simply mediocre vocals definitely hold the album back. The best examples are the opening 'speech' to "Big God / Raped Souls" (that's him, right?) and the inane chorus to "Self-Immolation" which -I am not kidding- has "Self-Immolation, Crying Out!" being repeated time and time again, with no alterations whatsoever. This becomes pretty fucking annoying at times, but luckily it isn't a very long song and apart from the crappy chorus it's actually a pretty good one nonetheless. It's clear that these lyrics are already full-fledged nu metal and the vocals also hint towards the genre, but that's basically it for the more obvious flaws.
I can only praise this album for its material, it takes a whopping 17 tracks covering 55 minutes to stop emitting sound, but I find that not a single second of it actively bores me even the slightest. The industrial elements used on this album definitely set it apart from more traditional death metal records at the time, because what really sounds like this? Fear Factory looked at death metal, and basically thought about how they could expand the genre, and I'm pretty damn positive that they did a fine job at achieving just that. Sure, clean vocals are sometimes featured in death metal, but this much? It's definitely a big risk to take, but Bell is generally a very good clean singer, he just tends to use it the wrong way from time to time. There are numerous clean vocal breaks on this album, but apart from a few they're all a joy to hear on an album that succesfully mixes so many genres together into 1 glorious piece of experimental glory.
Technically, this album gets the job done. It's not anything special as it's somewhat basic for death metal riffing standards, but Fear Factory made full advantage of their supreme knowledge of how to make simplicity work by creating what is hands down one of the catchiest death metal albums ever made. It's obvious that this doesn't need stark technicality or complexity to be good, as this isn't really a riff-dependant album, the fact that the riffs are pretty catchy is a nice bonus, but I feel the complete package of a band mashing as much as they could into basically every song here is largely responsible for what makes this such a joy to hear. Soul Of A New Machine is full of electronic effects, sound samples and unusual stuff for a death metal release that reveal this album's insanely interesting experimental nature. This is a work of immense depth, songs are somewhat clumsy but it's obvious that a lot of thought and care went into making each song awesome in its own right. The instrumentation is mixed, as I said the typical early 90's guitar doesn't have much to prove in terms of technicality, but the catchiness we get in return more than makes up for it, couple with that a genuinely great bass sound and an impressive drum peformance and you have something that simply works.
This is a really great album and, while definitely on the long side, proves to be one of the most recognizable and memorable outings of the 90's. I urge basically everyone to give this a spin, this album is just well-rounded and doesn't really lack anything it shouldn't lack. The mediocre lyrics can be blamed on the nu metal aesthetics already present here, but it's largely overshadowed by the immensely good chunk of material that this release contains. It's clumsy, awkward and probably not very self-aware, but it doesn't hold the album back more than strictly necessary. This is one of the most diverse death metal records ever, succesfully combining melody with brutality, and it sounds awesome. This is Soul Of A New Machine, experimentation done oh so right.
The first Fear Factory album stands in stark contrast to the rest of its catalog. Mostly sounding as a groovier inclined version of Napalm Death circa “Utopia Banished” and “Harmony Corruption”, it is catchy and aggressive in equal measure. The dichotomy between extremity and mainstream accessibility is already present here. Yet on “Soul Of A New Machine” the rough edges are still present making it very different from the band’s later groove metal material. That Fear Factory was a one-trick pony is abundantly clear from the onset, although arguably this record is one of its more diverse offerings. That it is often ignored for its more readily accessible material only makes it more interesting, even though the record is horribly paced, and confused sounding.
Fear Factory was founded in 1989 in Los Angeles, California by Mexican transplant Dino Cazares (rhythm guitars) and noted video game fanatic Raymond Herrera (drums). The early version of the band was rounded by a trio of forgotten bassists, of which only Andrew Shives made it onto the production credits of the band’s debut, and frontman Burton C. Bell. Initially the band went under the more death metal sounding moniker Ulceration before switching to Fear the Factory, and not much later the abbreviated (and more memorable) Fear Factory in 1990. After an unsatisfactory demo recording session at Blackie Lawless’ Fort Apache Studio in Hollywood, California with producer Ross Robinson, the band relocated to a different studio with Colin Richardson overseeing the mix. Instrumental in getting the band its new record deal after Ross Robinson won the court case against his former clients was Brazilian national Max Cavalera (from South American genre hopefuls Sepultura), who brokered a contract for the band with Roadrunner Records, a label imprint that at this point was fully supporting the international death metal movement, only to acrimoniously abandon it a decade later.
Even at its heaviest Fear Factory was a decidedly hook oriented outfit, which wasn’t uncommon for the style itself but lend itself for cross-genre appeal. It seems that for every heavy or blast section there’s a sugary clean section, or a stomping groove part. The duality between extremity and accessibility is what reduces the middle section of the record to a test of patience. The first three songs (and ‘Scumgrief’ a bit later) are exceptional in the way they combine clean vocal hooks with bludgeoning death metal. Even though Fear Factory was obviously commercially inclined with its thick grooves and (sometimes contrived) clean-harsh vocal dichotomy the band’s sound is only partially formed on its debut. The repetitive riffing, and mechanical rhythm sections are in place, but Dino Cazares’ staccato, rhythm-only playing is still shrouded in early UK/US death metal stylings and techniques. The album is notably bass-heavier than anything that would succeed it. The bass guitar has that thick, murky sound one associates with Napalm Death circa “Utopia Banished” and “Harmony Corruption”. The bass guitar itself is also integral to many of the songs as in various spots it gets a solo break, or two.
It is not until ‘Scumgrief’, and the instrumental percussion track ‘Natividad’, which was dedicated to the memory of Cazares’ mother, that the record picks up pace again. “Soul Of A New Machine” continues with a number of meddling, directionless and confused sounding cuts until at long last arriving at the final third of the tracklist. The last third of the album is the most conventionally death metal sounding, and the least adventurous in terms of composition. Deriving most of its sound from Napalm Death these cuts operate at a breakneck pace, and spent little time on nuance and subtlety. It is the kind of consistency that the rest of the record lacks. Had the entire middle half been left on the studio floor, and recombined with the earlier mentioned four signature tracks (along with the instrumental interlude) of the record’s first third, it would have been far more concise and memorable in the long run. Now the album is just long with no payoff.
The album is supposedly a loosely conceptual record about man’s creation of a machine that either could be technological, or governmental. The lyrics haven’t yet zoned in on and fleshed out the man vs machine concept that would come to define the band’s prime era material, although the rough outlines are already accounted for. There are variety of subjects tackled on this album including personal relationships (‘Martyr’, ‘Leechmaster’, ‘Scumgrief’), introspection (‘W.O.E.’), animal lab testings (‘Crash Test’), socio-political dismay (‘Arise Above Oppression’, ‘Escape Confusion’, ‘Manipulation’), global conflict (‘Crisis’), faults of the criminal justice system (‘Scapegoat’, ‘Flesh Hold’) and religious hypocrisy (‘Lifeblind’, ‘Big God/Raped Souls’, ‘Self Immolation’). The industrial component of the band’s sound comes mostly from the mechanical rhythms, and the usage of samples (including “Full Metal Jacket”, “Blade Runner” and “Apocalypse Now”) along with the sparse use of studio effects. Much of it reads like a work-in-progress.
Burton C. Bell’s hoarse grunt is a commendable Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway approximation, but his clean vocals are terrible at best – even though the combination of both was novel at the time, and would later be famously adopted by Robb Flynn (Machine Head) and the metalcore scene at large. Being the last of its kind Bell would trade in his grunt for a harsh shout, and he would increasingly put more focus on the clean vocal hooks that first surfaced here. In totality this is Fear Factory’s most aggressive, and heavy release – and it is the culmination of its first phase after the aborted “Concrete” sessions of which the majority of material (albeit rewritten) is lifted. The core trio is in its designated place, yet the bass guitarist slot had yet to be permanently manned. Due to this rhythm guitarist Dino Cazares played bass guitar during the recording, despite Andrew Shives being credited as bass guitarist in the production notes. Andrew Shives was a glorified live member at best, as he doesn’t appear to have had any significant input in the writing of any of these songs, all of which were written by the Cazares-Herrera axis.
“Soul Of A New Machine” was recorded at Grand Master in Hollywood, California with producer Colin Richardson manning the console. It is a rather typical production for the time with thick, crunchy guitars, murky reverb-laden bass guitar tones and an earthy drum production that squarely focuses on bottom-end heaviness. For its debut the band worked with graphic designer Karl Kotas. “Soul Of A New Machine” is dedicated to the memory of Dino Cazares’ parents. In totality “Soul Of A New Machine” is a worthwhile effort for a young band still finding its sound and identity. It certainly isn’t the best of its kind (Napalm Death just did this sound earlier, and well, better), and it is a pity the band didn’t explore this direction on future output. Given some trimming, and more focus Fear Factory could have been an interesting death metal band. Afterwards the band would opt for a direction change while keeping its base elements in place. At least Fear Factory would be able to write its signature album, and a worthy follow-up. Its career path afterward is somewhat bumpy due to industry pressure, interpersonal conflicts and the want to recapture a thing that wasn’t exactly stellar to begin with.
Review originally written for Least Worst Option - www.leastworstoption.com
Fear Factory have always played radio rock disguised as "metal" throughout the entirety of their history as a band, but with this album they seem to have fooled some people into thinking they had a "death metal past". In reality, this is the same product with a different skin. The same commercial soul rests in this machine and was all that Roadrunner Records needed to test the waters before dropping their entire death metal roster to make way for Coal Chamber, Slipknot, and Nickelback (except Deicide since they still made money). While the surface traits of this album seem to have been borrowed from the Napalm Death and Godflesh (maybe even Pitch Shifter) recordings of the time (to the point of not being signed by Earache for being too derivative of their roster), what we really have is an aesthetic mash-up that functions as yet another prototype for Nu-Meddle that deserves it's place next to Pantera, Chaos AD, and Biohazard in the pantheon of recordings that ruined music for future generations.
The bands aesthetic seems to be juxtaposing Napalm Death derived power-chord rhythm riffs and vocals against Godflesh inspired discordant melodic passages and clean vocals. Thankfully, the grunt/growl style of vocals do a pretty good job at imitating Barney Greenway and the cleans are kept to a Justin Broadrick imitation which isn't annoying unlike the later faux-operatic U2 styled singing vocalist Burton Bell would later utilize on their more obviously Nu-Meddle recordings. The lyrics tackle on interesting subject matter (judicial system, animal lab testing) but are written in an angsty "keeping it real" simplistic manner that have more in line with their Korn-y descendants. At worst, lyrics become "personal" or a parody of generic death metal lyrics (Manipulation and Desecrate, respectively).
The main thing this band did that would inspire legions of mall musicians is varying up rhythm picking patterns of 2 notes or chords against kick drums into a mechanical groove for a "machine like" feeling. Some tag this 'industrial' because of this feel but, despite ornamentation through samples on select tracks, the compositions feel more akin to the alternative rock of the day that is analogous to the dreadlocks-wave that was just beginning (Rage Against the Machine).
Songs are organized into a standard verse-chorus format, where verses are filled with grooved out power chords or mechanically patterned rhythmic chugging of notes, and choruses are "melodic" affairs with a repeating meme (if not song title) that occasionally are accompanied by melodic sung vocals. It gets boring very fast, especially if you're already accustomed to real death metal since this has more in common with the Nirvana album of the time on a structural and communicative level with it's radio formatted display of suburban misery (where angsty loud choruses are verses here instead, choruses the whining drone). In other words, a corporate sham right out the gate. It comes off as being aesthetically unpleasant with it's intent to sound aesthetically pleasant by making the "brutal" sections seem "warm and fuzzy" when thrown next to those "safe and reassuring" choruses.
Tracks like Scapegoat and Crisis place an emphasis on vocals and have shuffling rhythms akin to rap music (sure enough, the riff to 'Scapegoat' was stolen by Korn for use in their single "Blind") and are representative of Fear Factory's unfortunate contribution to the music scene at large. Some variation to the formula occurs on select tracks like 'Desecrate' which sounds like a mash-up between Deicide and Napalm Death, one of few songs with melody embedded into a blasting angry verse riff but soon devolves into generic mosh death during the bridge that's not unlike Benediction. 'Flesh Hold' seems to ripoff Napalm Death's Utopia Banished throughout, being nothing but aggressive grinding death riffs but having melody incorporated during a couple of those riffs. This album's flow is also inconsistent, with the B-Side (or all songs starting from Big God/Raped Souls) having afterthought experiments such as Self-Immolation (the most "industrial" song here, utilizing a dance rhythm throughout) and Arise Above Oppression (a Napalm Death short blast track), where one idea is used and exhausted before the track ends, seemingly cobbled together at the last moment to fill time on this album.
That's the album in a nutshell - angry and hackneyed groove patterns and variations of similar rhythms patterns drone on before a melodic chorus and back again with any variations to the formula coming through incomplete failed experiments, never mind this band's attempt to make death metal "nice" being a failure of an idea to begin with. It is machine like with it's dishonesty, assembled through the parts of other bands with a focus group like flow chart mentality.
It would be wiser to listen to Streetcleaner and early 90's Napalm Death than this (the last track on Napalm Death's Utopia Banished is more effective at bringing a sense of "contemplation" to blasting frustration aimed at society than the entirety of this album). It should be no surprise the route this band would take since this album just seemed to be a space for the band to stretch out into more commercial pastures by using what was popular and trendy at the time as a spring board. Vapid. Purchase some Godflesh and Napalm Death instead.
Sometimes this band's name is more associated with unfriendly genres like nu/alternative metal, but I simply can't hold anything against their debut album. It was released accurately during death metal boom in USA and Sweden and enriched style's arsenal with new ideas, not that usual back in time.
Although Soul of a New Machine relies more prominently on rhythmic, metallic basics then on a discordant soundscape of the early industrial metal, a fascination with Godflesh's pioneering works is directly mirrored here and there. Fear factory tune their guitars down and let them howl powerfully in a cascade of piercing tremolo-picked lines or thick palm-muted chords, but in a manner you may call "industrial". Riffing is intentionally monotone and robotic, like it is produced by some mechanisms, rather than by beings of flesh and blood. Rumbling bass patterns are very heavy in the mix and raise instant comparisons with Godflesh once again.
Burton C. Bell has a great death metal voice, which excellently suites an idea of industrial-infused death metal. It is not extremely low, but strong nonetheless, often deranged and tortured. And yes... clean vocal parts in death metal? Quite unexpected. Truth must be said that this exact style of a clean singing eventually became common for bands like Limp Bizkit or Slipknot and some accuse Fear factory of bastardizing "righteous" metal with such an innovation. But again, in 1992 this was something new and not standardized by anybody. And it works on the album in question. Clean vocals create a nice contrast to a general musical backbone, so devoid of life and warmth, like a solitary, desperate living soul tries to struggle with a lifeless world, where machines reign, and emotion is a word of no meaning.
This album is very heavy in sound and in some places pace and aggression levels even border on grindcore. Nevertheless, in the first place, I adore songs, on which the band manages to retain a weird sense of melody, based on interactions between somber vocal melodies and mechanistic, heavy instrumentation. Check out "Scumgrief" for a perfect depiction of that feel, this track just lures you into a vortex of a melancholic mood. Scapegoat, mainly intended to unleash ultra-heavy, slicing guitar riffs and commanding guttural death metal snarl upon listener's ears, suddenly has a calm chorus with a despairing vibe, emitted by Bell's clean voice. "Self-Immolation" is my favorite here though. Short and intense, it features an unsettling tremolo-picked melody during the chorus and probably the most disturbing and agonized vocals of the whole record. And I have noted only few stand-out tracks, while there are plenty of them here. "Martyr", "Crash Test" or "Escape confusion" will unavoidably satisfy everyone seeking for the moments of a hysterical head-banging.
Lyrics are quite simple, but a message is interesting and intimidating. You may find a wide array of social-related themes covered, from anti-religion and wrong accusation by the law to depression and even animal testing (Crash Test). That draws even more connections with industrial genre lyrically, with bands like Front Line Assembly or Skinny Puppy being keen on similar dystopian subjects, than to death metal with its usual Satan/gore/violence stuff.
Concluding the review, I may recommend Soul of a New Machine to everybody into extreme metal. Get it straight – back in time it was very refreshing and interesting effort to create death metal version of Godflesh. Throughout the years Fear factory have been losing initial death metal traits, sometimes right to their total extinction (and they reactivated them on Mechanize), but some of their work easily may be of value to adepts of "true" metal, so don't be frustrated by the band's connection with a mass media or alternative metal.
Fear Factory, along with Godflesh and Ministry, is a pioneering industrial metal band that I can’t fucking stand. Their vast influence on later extreme metal is so often overstated considering how grating and repetitive they tend to be: their definitive album Demanufacture not surviving one playthrough in my collection despite it being acquired for pocket change. However their debut still managed to pique my interest, as allegedly Soul of a New Machine confined itself to the harsh realm of death metal without the mechanical attributes of industrial music and unnecessary melodic passages that so taint their later material. Unfortunately, though the band were indeed performing death metal at their earliest stage, their fascination with the static, unpleasant, non-musical industrial movement is pronounced, if not fully implemented, and the album suffers appropriately.
Perhaps the only thing that Soul of a New Machine successfully achieves is a wholly unique atmosphere for its era, as it’s hard to imagine anything else this minimalistic and degenerative about in ’92. Its cold, processed sound and repetitive riff structures punctuated by sampled film clips was surely alien for its time, with only the Napalm Death material of the time being remotely similar in nature. Still, its unique nature is not necessarily appealing, particularly to those fascinated by the increasing complexity brought to death metal, both American and Swedish. Fear Factory’s regressive approach is stifling to the imagination and it’s no wonder that that their post- “Industrial Revolution” works are compared to nu-metal. One can only assume that groups like Drowning Pool and Disturbed were impressed by Fear Factory’s plain yet crushing rhythms and tonal ambiguity, though those others clearly ignored the more extreme portions of Fear Factory’s sound, as you won’t hear any tremolo blasting in any of the derivative works.
That Fear Factory sound roughly alternates between stuttered, yet simple Meshuggah-like patterns and unexpected explosions of Napalm Death-like intensity. The minimal rhythmic approach is supported by Burton C. Bell’s weakened Barney Greenway impression, which nonetheless becomes more appropriate as the album plays on. The tonal ambiguity I find so jarring is that, despite the group’s supposed dedication to providing the most oppressive, dystopian atmosphere possible (in approximation of early Godflesh, which despite my dislike, I can at least admit they achieve what they’d set out to do and probably care little about my opinion on their work), the odd melodic bits glare through the murk and undermine the general dreariness of the record. I had figured that these parts hadn’t been implemented until later in their career (Demanufacture onward), but Burton’s tuneful, if a bit monotonous, clean singing feels out of place on this otherwise singularly discordant piece. Additionally, the subject matter leans toward the personal and juvenile, whereas a more abstract and speculative approach might have been more cogent and appropriate given the musical accompaniment.
There is a forward-thinking ebb and flow to the way these tracks are constructed, with numerous thoughtful riff progressions and a strong, varied approach to percussion that stands out in the wake of future records, where said percussion devolves to match Dino Cazares' uninspiring guitarwork. But repetition is still the fatal flaw, particularly in a track like “Martyr,” which staggers over the same passages over and over again (particularly in the chorus, a mistake to be repeated throughout the album), not to mention has these queer growl-whispering passages from Bell. There’s also an unusual arrangement of the many, many songs on the record, with its slowest tracks occupying the opening slots while the most consistently death metal-ish tracks show up in its final third or so. It is the hybridized middle tracks that tend to be the most memorable, such as “Arise Above Oppression.”
Call me a traditionalist, but I’d probably have preferred a more conventional death metal record, devoid of the experimentation and with a more complicated rhythm section. But as you may not be me (in fact, I’m sure you’re not), this record’s particular atmosphere may provide enough appeal to justify its shortcomings. There is far more depth here than on their future recordings, none of which I can recommend. Its unique qualities may grow on you even should it provide an unimpressive initial listen, though as of this writing, I cannot yet consider myself a fan.
After gracing us with a couple of demo tapes Fear Factory gave us the release that would kick-start their career. With the release of Soul of a New Machine they began a legacy of ever progressing style that started as just another death metal band. The industrial element of this first full length release was kept to a minimum, but present throughout. The overall sound of this album is raw. The guitars sound to me a bit like the overall feel of Left Hand Path by Entombed. The styles aren’t the same at all, just the recorded sound. The death metal elements are a dead on match for the genre in the early nineties.
The album starts out with Martyr, an excellent track in my opinion. There is heavy riffing to bring the album to full steam immediately. Then, sustain is utilized on one note with the high hat to set the beat. Then the spoken words and drum set up the tension. The heavy riff kicks back in and sets you headbanging about your room. The song follows this loosely as a pattern until the finish. Nothing technical or brutal, just death metal, with clean vocals added in for the industrial feel.
Crash Test begins with a grating industrial tinged scraping noise. Some shouting is added into the background as the song surges into a thrashing frenzy. It is a bit repetitive I admit, but halfway through the songs kicks into another equally heavy riff and the tempo is slowed. A bridge ensues and we can take a moment to breathe, and then you’re plummeted straight back into the first riffing. The song is simple in comparison to much other death metal, but there is no denying the urge to get up and move. The lyrics themselves are interesting in the fact that they are about animal testing. The death shout instead of a death growl serve this song well and add to its intensity.
The track Natividad is a break from the metal and a cool approach to the industrial side of the band. The track consists of what sounds like large machinery in a factory. If you listen hard enough you may find a pattern to the jumble of sounds. You might also find yourself imagining that you are witnessing the machines doing their work. This track helped the lay the foundations of the industrial side of Fear Factory’s brand of metal.
The song Suffer Age starts with a high guitar piece tightening up the coils of the track. The bass and drums are added in and a sense of impending chaos becomes more obvious. The intro is greeted with clean vocals in the background. Now the pressure builds as some riffs are introduced while dueling between the guitars and drums. The song then explodes into its death metal glory. The snare beats and the vocals dominate while the guitars tear up the background. A sample is thrown in and the tempo changes without losing momentum. After a short bridge the song kicks back into the death metal sound. Ending abruptly as it started I can only imagine how much fun the pit was when they played this track live.
Desecrate begins with a short battle of riffs between guitar and bass. They join forces and plunge you into a fast and heavy song. The vocals are still the death shout as the rest of the album, however have an added effect worthy of the Fear Factory name. The song then move itself into a more groove oriented, but still heavy as hell section. This alternation takes place twice before a new riff is brought into the mix. The chord progressions are heavy for the whole track no matter where they are played on the fretboard. The riffage continues for a few more quick cycles and then finish abruptly.
I’ve only chosen a few songs, but this is the overall feel for the album. The standard slow and heavy lines are present in most songs. Likewise, the fast mosh oriented progressions are present throughout the whole album. The production quality is pretty high for a band of this nature from this era. If you are looking for a slightly different take on early nineties death metal I recommend picking up this album. Their death metal edge fades away as time passes, but this jewel lives on.
Ah, Fear Factory. The first stepping stone for many a metalhead into the depths of the underground. The nostalgic representation of a metal fan, as he spins Demanufacture or Obsolete and takes his mind back to the days of just discovering the weird and wonderful world of extreme metal. To many reading this, Fear Factory would fall into the echelon of nostalgia – not that this is a bad group to be lumped in, to be truthful, because it’s the kind of band that you can go back to every once in a while and get caught in the industrial-esque delights this band can conjure, and you can reminisce.
As much as all that is truthful (at least, to me), one album that you can’t do such a thing is their overlooked debut Soul Of A New Machine. This is what Fear Factory were before they turned into the plodding, industrial machine they are today (whether or not you figure Transgression fits that mould is discussion for another time). This is them raw; stripped of any direction or path, and just pumping out what they knew, and loving it. Despite their other albums having structure, this one has pure feeling, which makes this album stand out amongst their long history…not just because it’s stylistically separate, but because you can feel the air-thumping aggression within every note, every hit and every vocal line. I wouldn’t say that their subsequent albums are inferior without the bare-boned power on display here, but if you could imagine Obsolete with Soul Of A New Machine’s production values, then that would’ve been one bitching album.
What makes Fear Factory the band that they are would be the vocal deliveries of Burton C. Bell. His mixture of harsh growls (probably the deepest of his career here, as he later went on to use more of a harsh scream) and cleans are vintage Fear Factory, and he implemented that duel style from the very beginning. On paper, something like that wouldn’t work when dealing with such powerful music, but one listen to tracks such as “Big God/Raped Souls” will change your mind. You hear the cleans, but there is no opportunity to say, “well, that didn’t quite work.” Everywhere they’re used, it doesn’t sound forced or off at any stage, which can only be a bonus. Of course, being the outlier album it is, tracks such as “Crash Test” use growls exclusively, so there’s a good ratio of both styles.
The music itself, while quite punishing, is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, Dino could write some really good riffs. The opening to “Leechmaster” is a good example, as the chugging sections lead well into the vocals. This is but one example of a plethora of great riffs scattered throughout. However, when you only have good riffs “scattered” throughout an album that spans for 17 tracks, there’s bound to be a lot of filler and repetitiveness in there. While the so-called filler isn’t at all bad, it can make the impatient listener stop the album before its completion. Particularly the second half of the album, the songs can seemingly blend into one another, because you can feel like you’ve heard it all before in the first half dozen tracks. “Desecrate” in particular, for me, feels like another song. While this is true, like I said, it’s not bad, and for the curious listener, you can find some treasure in amongst the seaweed (1:20 on “W.O.E”). Raymond was already a master at his kit, as shown everywhere here. His playing is not as tight as it was later on (thanks to the lack of Pro-Tools and the 90’s production, more than likely), he completely dominates his drums here to create a pounding percussion monster. Nothing about his playing is truly memorable, but rest assured that none of his playing is redundant, either.
The industrial elements that are used at the forefront later on are more subtle in Soul Of A New Machine. “Natividad”, while not a proper song, contains the most industrial work, even if it is just objects being thrown around. The intro to “Crash Test” is something different, too. Other industrial sections are in the form of speech. I mean, I dare you not to repeat the line in “Crisis”: This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.
While I’ve made it known that not everything about Soul Of A New Machine is perfect, it’s the very same imperfections that make it the album it is. When you’re in a nostalgic mood, chucking this album on would be low on your pile, but make sure it’s not discarded entirely. This is raw Fear Factory. This is awesome.
Best tracks: Martyr, Crisis, Crash Test, Self Immolation
What we have in “Soul of a New Machine”, Fear Factory’s first-released full-length album (everybody knows the story of “Concrete”), is a recording that truly stood up against the test of time. The following album, “Demanufacture” is often talked about as being their best effort, where they struck it big and began to get serious mainstream success. More often than not, “Soul” is overlooked, which is why I felt it an appropriate time after all these years to give it another spin and review it.
“Soul of a New Machine” has to be one of the most original releases of its time. The fusion of death metal with industrial parts was something that had never been heard before. Even without the unique industrial sound, all the music found on “Soul” is very, very cutting edge for its time. Raymond Herrera is a master of the kit and keeps up an incredible pace, even with the ferocious intensity. There aren’t many blast beats on “Soul” but he still has quite a lot of work to do, and he does this with precision and remains phenomenally tight on the album.
The riffing however, is truly the high point on this album. There’s a little bit of everything scattered all throughout the songs, they’ve had a go at all sorts of things that were very cutting edge for their time. It’s not technical by any means, but boy it works. Rather than individual riffs that blow a persons mind, it’s more the tracks that stand out as a whole, when coming together, the atmosphere and intensity is realised. The bizarre time signatures in songs like “Lifeblind” are almost reminiscent of the early days of Deicide. Guitar harmonies can be heard scattered around as well, like in “Crash Test”, down to the fairly basic structures of the opening “Martyr”. Despite all this experimenting though, the album flows really well, and with subsequent listens, you’ll be finding new and fresh things around the album for a while to come.
Vocalwise, repetitive lyrics work well within the songs. Burton C. Bell’s vocals are certainly not intense in terms of the bands we hear today, but they are still full of atmosphere, and raw emotion. It’s easy to hear the change in pitch and sense his emotions when he’s singing the clean parts. With the heavier vocals, as well as all out growls, there are also time when Burton lessens the intensity to resemble an almost rock kind of style. There is much less subject matter about what made the band famous, the “Man vs. Machine” spectrum. On this release, the angry, hateful feelings of a young band starting out and finding out about harsh lessons and getting a raw deal in life and relationships are evident.
One part that I especially enjoy is the production. It’s a very heavy album for its time, and all the instruments shine through clearly. The drums hit through very powerfully and stand out, and though the bass is a bit weak, that can be forgiven due to the recordings age. The guitar is clear enough and riffs can be made out easily without any struggle like some earlier death metal recordings by other bands.
Something else that can be said regarding this album, is the phenomenal value for money. At 55 minutes of pure, good death metal, it’s double the length of your average modern death metal album (and in a lot of cases, double the quality too).
There aren’t many low parts to the album, but for those that are there, the only low light is that there seem to be a couple of filler tracks that just don’t hold my attention. The band seemed to have dropped the intensity and creativity on a few of the tracks and this deducts from the score. But, those are rare and the quality is present on most of the songs.
So here is a death metal album that I actually enjoy and is still good to listen to after 16 years of advancements in the death metal genre. A must have for fans of the genre, or of Fear Factory.
“The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long.” - Eldon Tyrell
In case you were wondering, the aforementioned quote is from Blade Runner, arguably the most acclaimed science fiction film of all time. Set in the post-apocalyptic Los Angeles of 2019, the film depicts the decadence of western society into an inhumane, industrial waste land full of darkness, acid rain and decay. Now, you’re also probably wondering what the hell this has to do with Fear Factory’s debut album Soul of a New Machine, so let me try and explain. Like the city of Los Angeles in Blade Runner, Soul of a New Machine is a harsh, technology dominated realm; a death metal machine infused with various industrial and electronic elements. Such a unique fusion of raw, inhospitable death metal with industrial and electronic subtlety was completely unprecedented at the time, and still to this very day, few have been able to match the machine.
With its cold, calculated gears all meshing together for just under an hour, Soul of a New Machine has a lot to offer. From the grating, Godflesh influenced riffing and melodies on “Leechmaster,” to the abrasive, up-tempo chaos of “Flesh Hold,” this album is loaded with many, memorable tracks. However, “Flesh Hold” is more than just an aggressive slab of Napalm Death inspired insanity. It was actually through this track, that I began to draw the similarities between Blade Runner and Soul of a New Machine. Amidst the hammering, double bass and ferocious tremolo picking, is a sample taken from one of the greatest scenes in the film where Roy Batty, a genetically manufactured human being, a machine, demands for more life, “I want more life, fucker.” This is just one of the many samples infused into the machine which really enhance the harsh, mechanical atmosphere of the album. The early 90’s production job also heightens the mechanized, synchronized feel and while the members themselves believe the poor production value didn’t help the sound of the drums, I feel everything fuses together brilliantly. Raymond’s barrages of double bass, hammering grooves and blast beats have been given a real industrialized tone to them as a result of the production as well as the use of drum triggers. Overall, his drumming isn’t that complicated or the most technical and he usually just sticks to playing fairly standard beats and rhythms as well as lots of single stroke double-bass work and fills.
The duel strains of ruthlessly executed old school death metal and industrial merge together perfectly in “Scumgrief,” my personal favourite track. The song opens with a crushing chord progression injected with short, intense bursts of double kick and tremolo picking. Natural and pinch harmonics are later added to the mix giving the song a refreshing melodic touch, which are layered together with Dino’s scathing guitar work. “Scumgrief” also displays excellent dynamic variation both instrumentally and vocally, with Burton alternating between aggressive, raspy grunts and growls and softer, clean vocal passages. His clean vocals, despite becoming a little repetitive at times are executed really, really well; I can’t stress that enough. Tracks like “Martyr,” “Scapegoat,” “Lifeblind,” and “Big God/Raped Souls” achieve a well-balanced mix between Bell’s twin vocal abilities and add an energizing burst of melody to their harsh, industrialized soundscape. “Crash Test” has also been given an intense melodic flare with long, harmonized tremolo picking sections followed by a crushing, half-time groove. This is one of the few, more memorable riffs found throughout the album as I find it is the songs as a whole that stand out rather than individual sections.
Another stand out is “W.O.E.” another brutal, grindcore influenced track characterized by the opening section of eerie, discordant guitar leads, raw, extreme tempo grinding and another sample. The song is structured solidly and features various shifts in tempo and time signature as well as excellent guitar work. Dino shows great variation between haunting leads, brutal palm-muted chugging and vicious tremolo picking onslaughts and is one of his strongest performances on the album. These traits are found throughout most songs as well as brutal, heavily distorted bass lines also provided by Dino, which give songs like “Crisis” and “Suffer Age” a massive crunch to them.
Despite becoming a bit repetitious at times and being a bit long-winded in length, Soul of a New Machine is overall, a truly excellent album. This is Fear Factory at their most raw and ruthless; this is the machine when all its gears and pistons synchronized together perfectly; this is when, they were “burning twice as bright.”
The most notable things about Fear Factory's first album are that it is a full-fledged death metal album, that it has industrial and electronic influences far ahead of its time, and that it's clearly heavily influenced by early grindcore and doom bands. It's very dated, but I'd say still worth listening to. But it is dated. That dating is earmarked by a lot of things; most obviously the early '90s production (though it has a colder, more mechanical feel than most), the somewhat clumsy song structures, particularly when attempting to add more experimental elements, and the somewhat strange shoehorning of samples into the album's whole. There's a lot of content here to uncover: seventeen tracks, nearly an hour total; but it is, again, something worth uncovering, even though it does have its weaker moments.
Even at this stage of their career, Fear Factory was a heavily melodic band. Many of the tracks here feature (very good) clean vocals, and there are numerous breaks full of melodic riffs and electronic effects. 'Soul Of A New Machine', at times, sounds more like an industrial album than a death metal album; there's a huge amount of layering and careful crafting in these songs. Where other death metal bands were content to essentially hit record and put songs together, Fear Factory saw a song as an opportunity to express something very multi-layered, and they wasted no moment in adding as many effects and ideas as possible to each. The result is a little mixed; about a quarter of the tracks are forgettable, where the rest half wander between good to classic. But hey, it was a real experiment in a time in death metal where the genre was just really starting to find itself, so you can forgive some flaws when a band is as ambitious as this. The fact that even half the material is still so good is a damn nice ratio to maintain after sixteen years.
It's a good thing that they managed to get things put together so well, because this album is really much more than the sum of its parts. This is not a release with many memorable riffs or vocal passages (apart from the clean refrains). It's an album that depends on structure and interaction between elements to carry it when the elements on their own are pretty average. It's for this reason that the most conventional death metal tracks tend to be some of the weakest; the last few tracks in particular seem to be where the band ran out of industrial ideas and just went for the death metal jugular, and they kind of fail. Other, more melodic tracks are rousing successes though. 'Leechmaster' is probably one of the best combinations of brutality and Godflesh-inspired melody, executed through riffing instead of clean vocals, surprisingly enough. Speaking of those cleans, the band knew what they were doing; they just start to become a bit overused when 'Scumgrief' incorporates them yet again, when they throw a curveball with industrial noise track 'Natividad' and majestically crushing CLASSIC 'Big God/Raped Souls' and its martial drumming and heavenly clean vocal accompaniment.
'Arise Above Oppression' shows just how influenced the band was by Napalm Death; Burton C. Bell seems to be doing his best Barney Greenway impression, and the overall feel is that of an industrialized Napalm Death track. There's a bunch of other really good tracks on the album; 'Self Immolation' has awesome drumming and effects, 'W.O.E.' is a great, brutal track, and 'Flesh Hold' is pretty instantly recognizable due to its outro sample. The album really does manage to keep coming up with something new just when you think they're all out of ideas. The playing from every member is pretty awesome, with a special emphasis on Raymond Herrera, who's pretty goddamn amazing throughout. He'd only been playing drums for two years when he recorded this album, and he's an absolute monster with those tight industrial rhythms as well as blasts and double bass.
'Soul Of A New Machine' is still a really great album. It's a bit unwieldy with its length; the last three tracks could have been cut off with no trouble; but all in all, it's remarkable how well its stood up. You can NEVER confuse this with something coming out recently; there's too many awkward, unsure moments, evidencing itself as a release from when everything here was a very unique and progressive thing. While the latter may no longer be true, the former may be; I've never heard another industrial metal band with an album that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to the 'real Earth' landscapes of 'The Matrix'. Beautifully atmospheric, powerful, and brutal; it has everything that is necessary to have true staying power in heavy metal scene. I still love it, even after years of plays.
Now let's talk about death metal when it used to rule. Case study here: Fear Factory.
This album pretty much defines early 90's style death metal. This reminds us of the young days of death metal when it was still a growing art. Everything about this album is old school death metal... just a very un-technical and unorthodox style of it.
Many consider Fear Factory as being one of the first death metal bands to incorporate clean vocals into their music as well as random samples and stock footage usage. I can't debate that necessarily, but from what I've heard from other bands, Fear Factory seems to be one of the earlier bands to experiment with death metal. This is what made this band stand out within the death metal community back in the days....
Well, minus the terrible production (those guitars sound so goddamn hollow!), this still stands the test of time as a well composed album. I like to look at it as industrial death metal for it's use of samples and diabolical growls. Some tracks on this CD are essential for listening like the classic "Scapegoat." It really defines how death metal was back in the 90's. Other tracks, like “Crisis” incorporate movie samples and have a huge use of clean vocals that give off this somber industrial feel. If you really want to hear Burton C. Bells sickest growls, turn to "Escape Confusion..." those first few growls through the beginning of the song must be some of the most heathen growls he's ever belched. If you would like to hear blast beats, then take a listen to "Suffer Age", which is the most intense track on the CD because of it's shift from blast to thrashy beats.
Though there are great tracks on the CD, there are some tracks which don't seem to play in full, at least, on my stereo. Those are not worth mentioning but if you do decide to take a listen to this CD, you'll realize what those tracks are (such as "Crash Test" and "Life Blind.")
Overall, this is essential for any death metal fan, it’s not the most technical death metal album, but it's definitely worth the money to buy and own. If you're interesting in getting into Fear Factory, then this isn't the best album to first get into. This is not what Fear Factory has been famous for; their next album is best to start with and shows what they will soon evolve into...
Ear Candy: Martyr, Leechmaster, Scapegoat, Crisis, Scumgrief, Big God/Raped Souls, Suffer Age...
Now this isn't Fear Factory's first release (their first one was Concrete but was released in 2002) but it still shows how truly potential they are. This is Fear Factory before Demanufacture. That's right, they are just some other Death Metal band out there. But I have nothing against them in this album.
Here, we have 17 recorded tracks for this album. All of these songs are quite incessantly brutal but there are some melodies in some of the tracks. Standouts of SOANM are the opener Martyr, Scapegoat, Crisis, Scumgrief, and Self Immolation. Martyr opens up with a quite brutal riff that jumps into soft, but guttural grunting and then it starts getting aggressive. Scapegoat goes on relentlessly on how a person is wrongfully accused and took the blame for a cause gone wrong. The basslines here are powerful, the guitars get distorted, the drumming blasts up mercilessly, and the vocals are unforgiving. These songs all have the intensity and ruthless aggression that will send you falling into a bottomless pit.
SOANM does have its weak points. The production is very weak and I tried to put my CD player to the maximum volume. But it still felt soft to my ear and I wasn't happy. The production also made the drums sound like tin cans. That made me even more unhappy.
This is my review of the original version of SOANM. Finally there is a remastered version of this album with better and improved production. But then again, it is pointless already to get the remastered version. Oh, well...
This album brings back great memories when death metal ruled the world, before it was slowly choked by the ever–deepening wash of nu–metal sewage. Yes, Fear Factory have gone further and further down that rotten sewer themselves, but back in 1992 when this was released, they not only had credibility, they were credited with inventing a fresh new sound.
Mixing the industrial tinges of Ministry and Godflesh, the ripping guitar sounds of Exhorder and Entombed, the intense percussive fury of Obituary, and a vocalist who could sing like Bruce Dickinson and death grunt like Chuck Schuldiner, Fear Factory had the metal world at their feet. The building menace of "Martyr", the brutality of "Crash Test/Scumgrief/Self Immolation" (actually, just insert any track from the album you want there), and the intelligently chosen and utilised samples still make this album an essential listen today.
The track "Leechmaster" is perfect for getting over bad relationships. There's nothing more satisfying than screaming "I loved you once, now go away. I loved you once, please stay away" at the top of your lungs when someone has hurt you.
A good mix of hardcore (verging on grindcore) aggression, metallic fury, electronic subtlety, and thought provoking lyrics. After listening to this, newer fans of the band may perhaps see why old school fans want a return to the good old days. Very rarely has death metal been done like this since.