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Proto-NuMoo: How Roadrunner Records shat the bed - 0%

bitterman, July 7th, 2014

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.