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Still pretty fucking awesome - 92%

Noktorn, January 31st, 2008

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.