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In The Beginning.... - 85%

Stained Glass Assassin, March 18th, 2019

Fear Factory have been pumping out their brand of “cyber metal” for nearly 25 years, combining groovy heavy metal and industrial elements to create a futuristic atmosphere throughout their discography. However, before the band developed their trademark sound, they began in a much different light. Beginning their career under the name Ulceration in 1989, the band was set to release an album titled “Concrete”, but ultimately decided to scrap the album and undergo changes within the band. (more info on this can be read on the “Concrete” album that was released in 2005). Anyhow, out of the ashes of Ulceration, rose Fear Factory. After a couple of demos, the band would release their debut in 1992 “Soul of a New Machine” and the rest was history.

Often dropped into the industrial category, it is true the Fear Factory dabble with a lot of technological, futuristic and sci-fi sounding material (which really began to show on their sophomore album, “Demanufacture”). But, before they would earn that label of “cyber metal”, the band played a very old school style of death metal, capturing the sound of the US death metal scene at the time with dark and guttural vocals, crushing guitars and pounding drums. The atmosphere on “Soul of a New Machine” dwells in the harsh realities of today’s (as of 1992) world, while giving us a glimpse into the even darker and more disturbing realities of the future. However, unlike many of the copy and paste death metal acts around that time, Fear Factory were able to establish their own identity by incorporating the use of industrial elements to add a slight edge to their vision of death metal and thus, gained interest from various circles within the metal community.

The sound on “Soul of a New Machine” resonates with the likes of post-grind Napalm Death or Godflesh and even a little Entombed at times. There are many groovy, chugging sections as well as, short and disruptive blasts of guitars and drums. When you listen to this 17 song behemoth, you get the feeling of being trapped inside a dark, abandoned factory. (Ironically, the band did rehearse in a factory, which apparently leas to the choice of name, perhaps that was the inspiration for their sound as well?). The sound is dark and lonely and inspires a certain fear and anger while listening. The industrial/techno twinges that the band splices into the music offers a cybernetic edge to their sound, but the sound here is most definitely death metal.

I’ve always loved the sound of Burton C Bell’s vocals. His cleans, for me, have always been simply stunning. Age and program assistance aside, he ranks as one of my favorite singers all time. Staying on the subject of clean vocals, one of the factors that made “Soul of a New Machine” unique was the use of Bell’s clean tones and how they added a distinctive layer to the albums industrial approach. Clean vocals had been used in death metal before, but Fear Factory decided to make them a feature of the album, not just to simply to add variation to their sound, but to add depth to their overall theme. Yes, Bell has a nice clean voice, but there are times when his vocals give off the presence of being almost robotic (I hate to say industrial), or machine like, which both compliment and contrast with the harsh, vocals on the other side of his vocal spectrum. As for those harsh vocals, Bell would develop the right combination of anger and fury that would anchor his sound for the majority of his career after this album, but on “Soul of a New Machine” they are a mixed bag. At times, he carries a very low, monstrous tone that sounds almost like a loud whisper (“Martyr”), while at others, he lets loose with a mix of horrific growls and guttural barks. I’m reminded of Mark Greenway’s vocals from Napalm Death’s, but Bell has his own distinct sound that adds an eerie echo to his vocals.

Dino Cazares’ guitars have always been one of the highlights of the band, as he has the ability to create the futuristic tone that roots Fear Factory sound. On “Soul of a New Machine” the riffs here are thick, down-tuned and crunchy, which creates a distorted atmosphere. The leads haves plenty of groovy chugs to their makeup, but the industrial tweaks and hollow production makes many of the riffs sound almost like a machine in nature. The overall approach to the guitars on this album is not so much about creating catchy leads or shredding solos. Their purpose is to develop an industrial impact while helping depict the harsh truths within the vocals. There are some nice rhythms to be heard in the way of tempo changes and time shift, which coincide with Bells’ vocals nicely and create a nice harmonizing effect.

Raymond Herrera’s drum work is an awesome display of power and ferocity, a trait that would follow him throughout his tenure with the band. I’ve always said that his style is resembles that of a machine playing the drums and on “Soul of a New Machine” that mechanical style is on full display. The drums help create a powerful rhythm throughout the album, using a mixture of pounding beats, crashing cymbals and bass kicks, but they are not merely a mash up of loud percussion and noise. They, much as the crunchy guitars and Bell’s vocals, offer yet another layer of the industrial sound, creating an almost machine like atmosphere that helps place you in that abandoned factory the sound the album is rooted in. The force of the drums always makes an impact on the songs, which would simply be lost without their touch.

The bass, which is credited to Andrew Shives that, other than a live performance, did not perform bass duties on the album. It was, in fact, Dino that played bass, or at least recorded the bass tacks in studio. Anyhow, the bass itself is even more thick and sludgy than man of the guitar chords, which at times gives the sound a very despondent sound, while also harmonizing quite nicely with the guitar leads.

Now, putting my Fear Factory favoritism aside, I will say that this is far from a perfect album. There are moments when listening to the album straight through that the sound becomes, monotonous or for a lack of a better word, samey. The production has its flaws as well, as there are times when certain instruments tend to sound as if they are in the distance compared to the rest, but they are never ignored, nor completely washed out entirely. As I mentioned, Bell's vocals are not as well rounded as they would sound on later albums, they were no less effective for the brand of death metal on display here. “Soul of a New Machine” would mark the start of a very long and successful career for, Fear Factory and I would say this album is an important release for just for the death or industrial movement, but for the heavy metal movement in general. As a Fear Factory fanatic, I would rate this a 90+, but viewing it impartially, I will put aside my fanboyism and knock it a few points due to a few blemishes present.

Highlights: "Martyr", "Crisis", "Crash Test", "Self Immolation"

Into the Abyss of Oblivion