It’s been a strange few years for Fear Factory. The past decade has seen the band go from a solid (classic?) line-up teetering on the verge of commercial success, to the splitting of the creative nucleus of singer Burton C. Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares and then reforming with Bell joined by then-drummer Raymond Herrera, bassist-turned-guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers and bass player Byron Stroud. After two so-so albums the band split again, with Herrera and Olde Wolbers going their own way (after unsuccessfully trying to seize control of the Fear Factory name) and Bell reuniting with Cazares to carry on as Fear Factory, along with Stroud and former Testament/Death drummer Gene Hoglan.
The fruit of that collaboration – 2010’s “Mechanize” – was a raging beast of an album that confirmed that the Fear Factory name stayed with the right duo, and although the band have continually lived under the shadow of their 1995 breakthrough album – the monumental classic that is “Demanufacture” – “Mechanize” came very close in terms of feel and execution. “The Industrialist” sees the band facing change again as the album was recorded by the core duo of Bell and Cazares (with Cazares handling guitar and bass duties), Devolved drummer John Sankey providing drums for the demo sessions and programmed drums for the final product. With Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares writing all the material and the pair being pretty much the line-up in the studio what you are essentially getting here is probably the purest representation of the Fear Factory vision, with Bell’s conceptual ideas coming to the fore again as the album tells the story of a machine getting intelligent and doing… something… and man being wiped out… and stuff.
Whilst “The Industrialist” retains a lot of what makes Fear Factory the pile-driving, metallic force that their name implies, there are also other elements that don’t make it quite stack up against the best of their output. The opening double-whammy of the title track and “Recharger” quite rightly get you all charged (!) up the way that all Fear Factory albums do when they kick off, but the drawn-out “New Messiah” just seems to follow on in an uninspired dirge of riffs and double-bass drums that you’ll swear you’ve heard before. “God Eater” also doesn’t seem to fit, as the effective intro that echoes John Carpenter’s Halloween theme gives way to Bell barking over some rather odd trance sound effects that seems more in line with the band’s late-90’s techno noodlings, and it just sounds uninspired. And finishing the album with a short instrumental and a nine minute-plus cacophony of industrial clanking is just plain lazy, regardless of how clever you think your concept is.
However, the mid-album trio of “Virus of Faith”, “Difference Engine” and “Disassemble” are Fear Factory firing on all cylinders, with Dino Cazares’ supercharged guitar playing sounding as energised as vital as it did over a decade-and-a-half ago. Using programmed drums makes total sense, particularly when your material is as demanding as this bands’ and it’s quite surprising they’ve never done it before now, but long-time collaborator Rhys Fulber’s mechanical production style makes it seem as it has always been done this way.
Overall, “The Industrialist” is an average Fear Factory album that falls short of the standard set by its predecessor. Whether this is the result of Bell and Cazares being left to their own devices without any other band members to chirp in or not remains to be seen, as they have now been joined by former Chimaira/Six Feet Under player Matt DeVries on bass and Malignancy drummer Mike Heller. It certainly isn’t a bad album, and when it hits those high points all those traits that got you excited about the band in the first place are still there but it just doesn’t flow as consistently as it has done before.