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Struggling for defintion - 53%

gasmask_colostomy, August 17th, 2016

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.