Industrial metallers Fear Factory have been dealing in futuristic sonic destruction on and off for two decades now, but their career spiked again in 2009 with the return of masterful guitarist Dino Cazares to the fold. The subsequent album Mechanize marked a new burst of creative energy for the team led by founder/frontman Burton C. Bell, inviting positive comparisons to their much-hailed 1995 release Demanufacture. For the inevitable follow-up, the band set their sights even higher, choosing to write a concept record (their first since 1998's Obsolete) that plays out like an industrial rock opera set in a horrific future – augmenting the band's signature deep, dark & furious mechanized metal rhythms with spooky ambient soundscapes. The Industrialist is definitely best experienced as a whole, without interruption (though there are some ultra-powerful singles lurking within), so I went for the total-immersion experience thing. Apparently I survived, and now you can check out my observations on the flipside, along with a medley of tracks from the album.
The first thing that struck me about this release is its cinematic qualities – and I'm not just talking about how many of the tracks could work within a futuristic horror film (these cats did the closing song for the original SAW, if you recall). It's more about the story arc that works its way through the album like a biomechanical virus. According to a description from Bell, The Industrialist is a concept record in which the title villain is "the incarnation of all industries" who becomes self-aware and eventually uses the sum of human knowledge and memory to bring about humanity's destruction. Sound familiar? Sure, but while that's obviously the same basic backstory as the Terminator series, The dystopian world of The Industrialist also calls to mind Vincenzo Natali's debut feature Cube – wherein a group of seemingly unrelated technological projects spontaneously assemble a colossal death machine that literally grinds up those who fail to solve its riddle. With those two grim and violent movie scenarios in mind, I plunged into the cyber-metal nightmare terrain that is this band's bloody playground.
Upon hearing the epic opening/title track, I discovered the main difference between this album and Mechanize lies with the rhythm section: where the previous record featured the superhuman drum mastery of Gene Hoglan (a metal legend unto himself), the majority of the beat on Industrialized is carried by programmed drums (mostly by Devolved drummer/vocalist John Sankey). Purists will likely wail and gnash their teeth over this sacrilege, and hey, I'm a serious fan of Hoglan myself, but in this case I'm going to argue that the electronic drumming – which introduces a variety of alien metallic tones – plays very well into the album's concept. Also, bear in mind that this is industrial metal after all, already infused with a wide assortment of keyboards and synth effects and co-written and produced by Rhys Fulber, a true legend in the genre. I think the whole lyrical concept actually benefits from the cold, relentless electro beats, and former Chimaira bassist Matt DeVries (who joined the band just prior to this project) helps anchor the mechanized rhythms with thick, meaty riffs, so there's still a human heart beating inside that musical exoskeleton. (Damn, I'm really rocking the cyborg metaphors here.)
Many of the tracks that follow continue the band's trademark style; if you're a fan of Demanufacture, you'll defintely dig cuts like "Recharger" and "New Messiah," which adhere to their pattern of no-nonsense drop-tuned riffs and layered melodic choruses, with Bell alternating between coarse and clean vocals – both of which styles are deep and resonant. "Difference Engine" explodes out of the gate with some of Cazares' most menacing 7-string riffage, and "God Eater"(my personal fave here) takes on a cosmic, Lovecraftian quality thanks to a chilling weave of keyboards and riffs – as well as Bell's superb vocal delivery, which balances a moody, brooding melodic thread with sudden attacks of bloodthirsty aggression. "Virus of Faith" contains another strong vocal effort, and with its melodic hook is a good candidate for a forthcoming single. "Depraved Mind Murder" has the minimalist drive of early Ministry (including sampled power-drills!) and "Dissemble," the final lyrical piece, is not as melodically strong, but still makes your heart race with a tight and gritty blast of mechanized noise and stacked monster riffs. After the brief but powerful interlude "Religion is Flawed Because Man is Flawed," which punctuates sampled choirs and piano with single colossal guitar chords, the album concludes with the massive dark-ambient experimental piece "Human Augmentation," which is reminiscent of Skinny Puppy's live improvisations. At a whopping nine minutes, this one might strain your patience if you're just cherry-picking tracks, but as an ominous conclusion to the album's relentless intensity, it serves to remind you that the band's name does begin with "Fear," after all.
If you're a long-time Fear Factory fanatic, you'll be excited to know there's still a lot of territory left to explore within the boundaries of the band's beefy, lightning-paced brand of industrial metal that they pretty much perfected on Demanufacture, but The Industrialist actually stretches those boundaries a bit more – not enough to put off the faithful, but differing from their past material in impressive ways. Rest assured, the band's identity is still strong as ever, and if you have any doubts, check out this medley of tracks...