Thursday, August 6, 2015

Album Review: Fear Factory - "Genexus"

After twenty-six years of life in various incarnations, Fear Factory might be the least likely survivor of the Los Angeles music scene.  Since the bands’ formation in 1989, generations of musicians have come and gone, from the lingering decay of Motley Crue to the candle burned at both ends that was Rage Against the Machine.  Through the death throes of hair metal, the excesses of 90s rock and the quagmire of hard- and grindcore, Fear Factory seems to be winning, or at least surviving, the battle of Los Angeles, utilizing a style that has rarely found a scene in one particular destination.  The industrial legends reappear in 2015 with their new album, “Genexus.”

Let’s get the smallest and most insignificant detail out of the way first.  “Genexus” feels like there’s more electronic instrumentation in the mix overall (though not in the percussion, more on that in a minute,) which lends the album an even greater industrial texture than the last couple of efforts.  The keyboards are particularly critical to “Regenerate” and the album’s surprisingly emotional closer “Expiration Date,” the latter of which is really the one to focus on.  It’s probably imagined, but one can listen to the last song and wonder if Fear Factory perhaps feels slightly more liberated in their use of electronic influences with the rise of EDM in popular music as a whole.  As stated, probably more imagined than real, but it does pique the curiosity.

As with most Fear Factory albums, the real star here is the drums and Mike Heller does not disappoint in his first studio appearance with the band.  It feels like there’s been more written about the band returning to live drums than there were letters to Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street,” but that doesn’t mean the hype is unwarranted.  Particularly in light of the public flak taken for turning to machinery for the recording of “The Industrialist,” the decision to return to a live drummer was the correct, if perhaps obvious one.  Heller’s thundering lead-ins to the title track or “Protomech” signify all that Fear Factory has ever represented, recalling the best days of Raymond Herrera while still injecting a fresh face into the proceedings.  Heller’s snares in particular are tight and snap in the same manner as some of the jazz greats, with each percussive moment a distinctive piece of a roll, rather than one long river of sludge.

For all that though, the magic of any great Fear Factory album has always been in the riffs, though they’re not solely contained in the guitar work.  Fear Factory might still be the only band in existence where the drum lines are the hummable parts you remember most, thinking back specifically to singles like “Replica” or “Slave Labor.”  The secret to this concoction that so many bands miss when putting together albums built around percussive dominance is that not only should the double kick rhythms incorporate open space, but the guitars must line up in accordance, with the same number of beats.  It’s the hallmark of Fear Factory for over a quarter-century that when the drums stop, so does everything else, and then they will start in tandem again, with such impeccable timing that the listener can hardly recall one without the other.  This is what makes the opening of “Church of Execution” work so well once the main riff breaks – the harmony and melody can be carried by the keyboards, while Dino Cazares’ riff and Heller’s track mirror one another seamlessly.  That’s really the case for every song that’s discussed in this review, and it’s what separates Fear Factory from so many of their smash-bang-speed-rules-all-else brethren in this genre and several tangential sub-genres.

Lastly, the addition of Tony Campos on bass was an informed and intelligent decision.  Campos has long been a capable player and his career with Static-X lends him to this kind of staccato, beat-driven industrial metal.  He sounds right at home keeping pace through the electric hammering of “Anodized,” slamming out a fuzzy rumble in the middle of the mix that stands in compliment to the percussion and contrast to the thin electric line that floats above.  Bass has rarely dominated the mix in a Fear Factory song (the erratic heartbeat of “Default Judgement” a delicious exception,) but the presence of Campos asserts a confidence into the backbone of “Genexus” that helps keep the album on-rails and tight.

We haven’t talked much about Burton C. Bell, Fear Factory’s frontman who was listed waaay back in “Demanufacture” as the band’s “Dry Lung Vocal Martyr.”  Bell remains the songwriting engine and ideaman for the band, this time comprising an album that focuses on its face on the concept of The Singularity, but really asks questions about the nature of human individuality and the definition of self.  It’s slightly heady subject matter, but well within the always-technically minded wheelhouse of Fear Factory and handled with much better introspection and care than most similar artists can manage to give it.  As for Bell’s actual vocal performance, well, there’s not a ton to say.  Bell’s vocals have always been one aspect of the band that people love or hate and “Genexus” does nothing to change minds in either direction.

As if it needed to be said at this point, “Genexus” is no joke, and is pretty clearly Fear Factory’s best record since at least “Archetype.”  While the album cover barely hints at the band’s now commonplace back-to-back double F logo, “Genexus” might be the most ‘Fear Factory’ of any FF album this century.  Not to be missed for longtime fans and also a great starting point for new fans who then want to work backwards.

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