After founding guitarist Dino Casarez’s 2009 return to the band, Fear Factory first exploded back on the scene with their heaviest work to date in 2010’s Mechanize, thanks to hired gun Gene Hoglan (Death, Strapping Young Lad, Dethklok, and about a million other bands) behind the drumkit, and followed that up with a misguided experiment in electronic drums, 2012’s The Industrialist. 2015 finds FF back in the spotlight with Genexus, thankfully joined again by a live drummer, Brooklyn death metal vet Mike Heller, and a new permanent basist in a fellow nu-metal hero, Static X/Asesino/Soulfly icon Tony Campos. The solid new lineup finds Fear Factory re-invigorated, sounding more like “Fear Factory” than they have since the career defining 1998 instant classic “Obsolete”.
First things first, those drums. No one was doubting the band’s songwriting abilities on The Industrialist but the drum machine kind of killed the whole thing, for me at least. It’s one thing to have the strictly regimented staccato drumming be a major component of the Fear Factory sound, that’s always been the case, but not having a human behind the kit definitely took the “soul” out of the machine, so to speak, and it’s a relief to have that back. Mike Heller admirably replicates the style of founding drummer Ray Herrera, not adding quite as much dynamism as Hoglan but having heard Heller’s other work, I can only assume that’s intentional, and here is where the entire groundwork is laid for a more classic “FF” sound, harkening back to their 90’s heyday of “Demanufacture” and the previously mentioned “Obsolete”.
Fear Factory 2015. Casarez, Campos, Heller, Bell.
Lyrical content is purely a back to basics affair as well, stalwart vocalist Burton C. Bell eschewing the more socio-political and religious bent some of the lyrics took on the past few releases for the full on Cyberdyne treatment, with some Blade Runner thrown in for good measure, and as a huge fan of both of those franchises I can’t really complain. Can it be a coincidence that in 2015 we get a new Fear Factory record called Genexus and a new Terminator movie called Genisys? Probably not. His vocal attack is as vicious as ever in the verses, though his clean sung choruses can lack some of the “soaring” quality they had in the past, but the monotone employed is probably intentional given the robotic subject matter of most of the lyrics. Casarez’s playing is up to its usual level of breakneck buzzsaw excellence, with some of the melodeath-esque harmony exhibited on Mechanize and Industrialist thrown in for good measure on deep cuts like Church of Execution and Regenerate. I believe Dino handled bass duties on the record as well, Tony Campos joining the band late in the recording process, so we’ll have to wait until we catch FF live to see how Campos meshes with the band.
At this point, Fear Factory is an institution on par with Metallica, Slayer or the previously mentioned Soulfly. You kind of know what you’re getting into, and if you like Fear Factory you’ll really like this. This is Burton and Dino at the height of their powers. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this record since I picked it up on Friday and I’ll be front and center in the pit when FF plays Underground Arts on Saturday Night. Just like Arnold says in the new Terminator flick, and it’s also appropriate for the similarly unstoppable killing machine that is Fear Factory: They may be old, but they aren’t obsolete.