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Where it all started - 81%

MikeyC, February 28th, 2009

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