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If androids and cyborgs made music - 84%

MikeyC, February 4th, 2015

Hailing from Canada, this short-lived band released one demo and this solo, overlooked gem of an industrial/groove album Bio-Level 4. Thinking about the time this was released (1996), it came out one year after Fear Factory’s much-loved sophomore Demanufacture, and, whether it’s a coincidence or Virus had been trying to channel that sort of sound deliberately, Bio-Level 4 didn’t seem to create even a fraction of that popularity. Perhaps the timing was off, or maybe the label was too small (I won’t pretend to know about that, honestly), or some other outside factor, but it’s of my opinion that this is just as good as Demanufacture is.

While there are some similarities between this and Demanufacture, the Fear Factory one certainly retained some death metal influences carried over from their first album, where here it’s basically just straight industrial/groove metal. Not that this is even a bad thing, because the music on here is interesting and full of hooks, and has a far more obvious industrial feel than any of Fear Factory’s albums.

Vocals switch from harsh to clean, which gives this the biggest link to Fear Factory, in my opinion. J. C. Roy switches seamlessly between both styles, and both are delivered with passion and verve. Cleans can be a divisive element sometimes, but here they are done well. Most of the time the music doesn’t resort to total melody during the cleans, keeping the tracks aggressive and flowing, but on songs like “New Breed Machine” that rule is bent, with soaring cleans and some slight melody in the guitars during the chorus. The ratio of cleans to harsh doesn’t always follow the same pattern, either; where “Syndrome” and “Second Skin” have mostly harsh vocals, “Tainted” and “Bleeding” spend the majority in cleans, and neither proportion are bad. In “Necrotech” they even experiment with monotone, semi-robotic vocals, which works wonderfully.

As for the instruments, special mention must be given to the bass guitar, which is given a lot of time on its own to shine through, and the guitars remain silent, adding to the groovy flavour of Bio-Level 4. It happens in many songs here, and the bass bellows out some lovely low tones, showing that they’re not just following the guitars at all times. Guitars themselves punch out riffs that are generally simplistic and stop/start, but this is not to the album’s detriment – again, only adding more groove and catchiness to the experience. Drumming is also generally simple, keeping to basic rhythms with no double kick or blasts. “Unit” opens with some lovely snare and hi-hat work, and these simple ideas work wonders. None of the instruments are extravagant in their technicality or specifics, but they all work fluently together to drive the songs forward.

The industrial elements, as mentioned earlier, are a strong influence here. Every song is lathered in them, and they all work. “Second Skin” has a section in the middle where there is nothing but industrial sounds and drums for a while, conveying the strength of the choices. The album even “ends” with a remix of “Syndrome,” which was probably unneeded considering the power of the original, but it’s a nice way to end the real tracks here.

The hidden track here is basically just nine tracks of around 20 seconds looping the same sample seen at the beginning of “Unit,” which seems like an odd choice here, but it just reinforces how industrialised the album is. I tend to stop the album after the remix track, anyway, so it’s no harm done. All this is wrapped in a package with simple yet highly effective cover art of a microchip, and the full experience of Bio-Level 4 is complete. For those how really enjoy Fear Factory, this is some essential listening. It’s unfortunate that Virus stopped after this, because there could’ve been potential for many more winners, but this is a great album that all fans of industrial music should check out.