Album Review: Fear Factory - "Mechanize"

You know what my favorite Fear Factory album is? Demanufacture. Do you know why? Because that album is explosive but rhythmic, deadly and passionate while still crafted and artful.

For all their metal bravado and reputation, Fear Factory's strongest asset has always been their secret ability to balance ferocity and fragility. They used to be able to precariously dance on the precipice of "too much," all the while performing a both destructive and inventive form of heavy metal.

When Dino Cazares rejoined Burton and the factory workers, I figured that the halcyon days were back. Ever since the hefty guitarist's departure, Fear Factory has lacked a certain stylized quotient, and had instead given over to unending sheets of noise. I was encouraged. The one particular area in which Fear Factory had slipped was their ability to write catchy, hook-laden guitar riffs.

Now, after listening, I don't know what to think. Dino's return did little to abate the ceaseless pounding that Fear Factory has become synonymous with. "Mechanize" is a uniform, visceral, guttural experience more akin to imploding a building than creating a pulse-pounding response.

The principle mistake that Fear Factory makes is in assuming that a successful modern metal album must have the double kick as its backbone. The error here, and what they've made me realize, is that a drum, no matter how loud or impressive (and Gene Hoglan is both, trust me,) cannot, by itself, be memorable or infectious. A drum of any sort cannot carry a tune, and absent the tympani, a drum really only has one basic tone.

Think of all the most successful songs in metal history. "Raining Blood," "Enter Sandman," "Walk," "Ace of Spades," "Thunderkiss '65" and a thousand others are all memorable because of their guitar work, not their drum line. The only possible exception is "Run to the Hills," and maybe Fear Factory's own "Replica," which would be a nothing song without the drum lead-in. Either way, the truth remains; if metal were purely a drummer's game, Metallica would still be a garage band struggling to get gigs as a local opening act.

Even Fear Factory's own hits, from "Edgecrusher" to "Shock" to "H/K Hunter Killer" or "Body Hammer" are all a product of slick and rhythmic guitar work. So it confuses me all the more that the band has reunited with their most accomplished guitar player, and yet forgotten the success of the past.

Before Eric Avery and Perry Farrell recruited Dave Navarro and formed Jane's Addiction, their act was Avery playing bass while Farrell recited poetry. The affect of "Mechanize" is shockingly similar as the most prevalent parts, and indeed the theme of the album, is Bell's incessant screaming over nothing but Hoglan's blast beats. Dino may well have crafted intricate riffs to go along, but who could tell? They're drowning in an unending void of percussive assault. "Powershifter" is the only song that rises from the din while listening, but as I write this, I can't recall any particular parts of it. As for the rest of it, there are some shining moments and edgy throwback riffs in songs like "Fear Campaign," "Oxidizer," and "Controlled Demolition," but you have to get through the quarter-inch steel plate of armored drums first.

I can't even really give this album a grade, as it doesn't feel like I really heard a complete effort. It's difficult to even tell one song from another, and I lack the patience to sift through the noise. The album washed over me like a tidal wave, and yet I emerged bone dry. It's a shame considering that I was willing to make myself like this album even if it wasn't very good. I can't do that, even. Disappointing.

I think I'll just stick to "Demanufacture."

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