Fear factory - Genexus | Nuclear Blast Records - 6/10
Not to be confused with the recent cyborg-related Hollywood blockbuster movie featuring former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, industrial metal act Fear Factory are due to release Genexus - their ninth studio album - later this week.
In actuality, the band’s latest studio album is reported to share closer inspirational ties with Ridley Scott’s dark and disturbed vision of the future, Bladerunner (1982). The cyber-inspired release may be seen as something of a conceptual album, but the fact remains that Fear Factory have presented me with an album that leaves me sitting firmly on the fence with a puzzled look on my face.
Why? Let’s take a look. I’ll start off by saying that personally, I’m a huge fan of industrial metal. In truth, I find that any band successfully marrying two unlikely musical bedfellows presents the rare opportunity for some truly unique, colourful and imaginative musical moments - and I’m all for branching out and breaking the mould. To give a little context, I’m one of the few people I know who genuinely believes that the culmination of nu-metal giants Korn and dubstep poster-boy Skrillex for the release of Path Of Totality (2011) was a good idea.
I know, shoot me….but it was different, and for me different is good; It breaks away from confinement and dares to try something new. From time to time this adventurous nature delves into uncharted territory, ticking all the right boxes and giving birth to a new genre of music. A Prime example of this occurred during the 1980’s, with the culmination of two styles presenting just the right elements exposed to just the right conditions to spark the inception of the then-new industrial metal genre. Enter Burton C. Bell and the original line-up of Fear Factory.
Skipping over the gory details, Bell stands as the sole founding member to remain in the band for its entire duration, and yet Fear Factory as a “collective” have some 20-odd years of experience behind them and are certainly no strangers to the ever-hungry music lovers of the alternative music scene. Fans have waited a while for the release of their ninth studio album, which was originally announced in 2013 and pegged for release in 2014. Though it’s a little late on arrival, Genexus makes a promising start with it’s opening track, “Autonomous Combat System”.
The bleak and gritty introduction throws up an epic backdrop as the cyber-infused onslaught begins; faced-paced rhythmic blasts of distorted guitar and percussive animosity kick things into overdrive without hesitation, and the tracks that follow present a sound which fans will be familiar with and welcome back with relative ease. Atop a layer of guitar and synth progressions, Bell brings his trademark vocal grind to the foreground as drummer Mike Heller delivers a notably furious and impressive percussive performance, and Genexus takes off by painting an intense atmosphere brought to life by ex-Sabbat guitarist turned producer, Andy Sneap.
The album certainly opens with admirable intentions, carving a bleak and decorative sculpture heavily focused on imprinting a specific and vivid image in the listener’s mind, and it’s certainly effective at crafting a particularly detailed vision of a dark and grisly setting in the listener’s mind. in truth, it’s only in reaching the mid-point - with the pulsing synth introduction and rhythmically riff-heavy “Protomech” - that I suddenly notice the gigantic fucking elephant that’s been stood in my lounge for quite some time now.
Let’s pause for a moment and rewind to 2004’s Archetype, arguably one of Fear Factory’s strongest releases - at least from my perspective. Seemingly favouring the metal “half” of the industrial metal genre, Archetype laid out a vicious, blisteringly loud and undeniably edgy carpet drenched in atmosphere and attitude. Each track brought something new to the table, moving freely around a theme, introducing fresh musical phrases and ideas throughout. I revisited the course of Archetype’s duration for the purposes of this review, and it’s safe to say that I was gripped throughout the album’s 13 tracks. A personal favourite of mine, I find the album’s title track to be a phenomenal example of what Fear Factory are capable of - coarse and aggravated verse movement that arcs into a soaring, satisfying and anthemic chorus.
Does Fear Factory’s latest studio album share the same hypnotic grasp and musicianship that made Archetype such a staple album for me? It might for some, and die-hard fans will no doubt agree that with songs like title track “Genexus” and “Regenerate”, the band’s songwriting formula hasn’t altered all that much, still favouring a guttural verse that bursts into a cleanly-sung, anthemic chorus. I’m sad to say, however, that the musical content offered here simply doesn’t maintain velocity for me. As far as I can tell, each track presents only a minor deviation from the last, and what’s worse is that I find little to satisfying my musical itch for something that stands out as truly impressive and creatively unique.
So what’s changed? Well, the songwriting of Genexus seems locked so tightly into creating this overwhelming “cyber-vibe” (lyrically, rhythmically and melodically) that it fails to recognise the need for expansion and development of the furiously territorial theme, remaining so laser-focused one one idea that the album ultimately seems to suffer at the hands of a monochromatic musical palette, falling flat at the turning point of the second half of its 10 track-duration and simply losing its power. The gripping and infectious nature of Archetype doesn’t appear to feature in Fear Factory’s latest release, and it’s certainly noticeable as my attention begins to drift away from the action as it continues weaving itself into my ears.
I haven’t completely lost faith, however. Given that I’ve had my hands on the album for less than a week, I’m really hoping that the appeal of Genexus is one that matures over time - a “grower” rather than a “shower”, if you will. This being the case, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time an album has failed to jump off the page until the fourth or fifth play-through, and for the sake of Fear Factory, I hope that it does. See, this has been a terribly painful review to write; I’m certainly a fan of Fear Factory, and nobody can argue with the success of a 20-year career. Writing this review, I’ve been wincing at my computer screen on a number of occasions, fully aware that my perception of Genexus is likely to fall into a very small percentile that promotes what will undoubtedly be catagorised as an “unpopular opinion”.
I still haven’t really answered the question of “what’s changed?”, and in truth I feel it might be more of a rhetorical and open-ended question that’s subject to interpretation. To be fair, with modern-day music purchases taking on a more “pick’n’mix” feel thanks to the 99p-per-song options of download platforms, bands of today can worry less about creating a whole album experience and simply dish out a collection of songs ripe for the taking. Though I’m certainly guilty of selectively downloading just one or two tracks of an album as opposed to the whole thing, it seems this manner of thinking is slowly morphing the definition of what an “album” should aspire to be.
To be sure, each of the ten tracks featured within Genexus would be well-placed within a playlist fleshed out with a selection of similar music; an observation I’ve certainly made more than once during my time as a Music Journalist. Much like the instances that came before it, however, little of the tracks within Genexus stand out for me as truly inspirational, and the album as a whole doesn’t seem to house the presence of a contoured, twisting “journey” throughout the album that resembles a beginning, middle and end. Instead, a single theme and idea seems to have been laid out evenly over the duration - one which doesn’t seem to aspire to add depth or progression to what’s presented on the surface. Take what you will from this observation, and I would like to stress that I would in no way describe Genexus as a “bad” release, but If one thing’s for certain it’s that this is an album that has the potential to get music fans talking, even if the reasons behind the conversation aren’t wholly positive, and as the saying goes; “any publicity is good publicity”.
1. Autonomous Combat System (5:28)
2. Anodized (4:47)
4. Soul Hacker (3:12)
5. Protomech (4:56)
6. Genexus (4:48)
7. Church Of Execution (3:21)
8. Regenerate (4:02)
9. Battle For Utopia (4:14)
10. Expiration Date (8:49)
Review by: Luke 'Loki' Milne