Fear Factory are one of those bands whose music you remember listening to for the first time. Back in the early to mid-’90s, the albums Soul Of A New Machine and, particularly, Demanufacture stretched the thrash metal genre beyond its comfortable environs.
Here was a group who stirred sampled blast beats in with the human drumming until you couldn’t distinguish the two, who weren’t afraid of using keyboards to fill out their already ample sound and whose singer, one Burton C Bell, could switch from a death metal grunt to a soaring singing voice (and did, more to the point) at the mosh of a head. They released remix albums that twisted the techno and metal elements further. It felt futuristic. They called it “cyber-metal”.
Ten years on and the impact Fear Factory have had is plain to see. Far from being pooh-poohed, the remix album is now a positive money-spinner for metal bands (ask Linkin Park); camouflaged samples are becoming more and more commonplace (Chimaira); while everyone from hardcore bands to the likes of Slipknot have run with the vomit-to-sing-it vocal style.
Meanwhile Fear Factory seemingly lost the momentum following the semi-fame that resulted from an apt cover of Gary Numan‘s Cars by releasing what was universally seen as a less than world-shattering album (2001’s Digimortal) and officially splitting up for a while soon after.
Archetype then is a career-defining record for Fear Factory. A new line-up in a new era trying to forge ahead along a path that they themselves created. The good news is that, in the main, they’ve managed it, and anyone who thought that Digimortal sacrificed heaviosity, not to mention quality, for the sake of experimentation can return to the fold.
Ironically, Archetype, instead of providing a new model, plunders from those mid-’90s blueprints. The machine gun guitars and militaristic drumming are well and truly back in your face from the moment Slave Labor announces itself far from sheepishly.
There are more straightforward thrash moments like Cyberwaste, but the formula of bludgeoning verses with death metal vocals switching to keyboard-swirling choruses of soaring, mournful vocals is adhered to for a good portion of the tracks.
That’s not the whole story, mind. Bite The Hand That Bleeds, cunningly placed in the middle of the album like a bookmark, is less metal and more semi-industrial, gothic melancholia. It’s epic stuff with a sound that is V.A.S.T. in nature.
Occasionally, they get ahead of themselves. Ascension is a bizarre departure – seven minutes of minor keyboard sounds and distant robotic voices – that had my eyelids descending. It leads into a cover of Nirvana‘s bonafide classic School that, whilst being a tad more metallified than the original, doesn’t exactly add anything to the legacy of Kurt Cobain.
Nevertheless, there’s much to commend here. The production is pristine, the songs above average (though nothing of the quality of Self-Bias Resistor, for example) and the mix of aural assault and epic minor melody intriguing to the senses. It looks like these cyber-dogs are wagging their tails again.