If there’s anything that can be said about industrial-metal veterans Fear Factory, it’s that they have a singular and distinctive sound. When you hear Fear Factory, you know it’s Fear Factory. The martial drumming, the staccato guitar riffing that’s as precise and tight as a surgical blade, vocals that alternate between gruff bellow and clean-sung cybernetic croon, polyrhythmic drill press drumming, how everything locks into everything else rhythmically, complementary keyboard swells, the complete absence of guitar solos, lyrics that bring to musical life the Terminator series and various Douglas Coupland novels…you know the drill.
And that’s a good thing because it illustrates a band that has carved out an identity in a world where piggy-backing someone else is often more celebrated than thinking for, or being, yourself. The bad thing is that after a number of albums following along their own tack (i.e. doing the same thing), the potential for repetition and wheel spinning increases with each release and those people who would pat so-and-so on the back for yet another spot-on retread of a retread will scoff at someone else for delivering more of the same. Let’s not forget how easy it is for bands to become complacent with themselves and their sound, like Fear Factory did with The Industrialist and Mechanize. In that sense, while when you hear Fear Factory, you know it’s Fear Factory, when you hear subpar Fear Factory, you know it’s subpar Fear Factory. It stands out that much more because the feeling that they can’t get their own house in order permeates all the chinks in the armor and makes for a less than illuminating listening experience (and please, can we erase that era of time when Dino Cazeras wasn’t even in his own band?)
It shouldn’t be a shocking revelation when we tell you that album number nine is rife and ripping with all the elements that have come to define the band's sound since they first made the move away from their deathier beginnings on Demanufacture. What might be more on the shocking side of things for the many who’ve written them off as formulaic has-been geezers fronted by a dude who, a couple years ago, was having trouble hitting notes with his signing voice in a live setting, is how well put together the material comprising Genexus is and the overall excellence of the album.
Lead off track “Autonomous Combat System” mixes all of the expected above into a killer song, the chorus of which you’ll be humming for weeks to come while the rest of it feels like a hydraulic metal crusher powered by a explosive battery pack driving taut palm-muted riffs deep into your ear canals. The structure of the song maintains the dynamic dichotomy: pounding verse riffs trade with hyper-melodic choruses and a sublime stacked chord/minor third/minor fifth (or whatever) as bridge riff denouement. Vintage stuff. The same routine goes for other stand out tracks like “Anodized,” (which really ramps up the inclusion of keyboard playing and 'post-Skynet' sound effects) “Dialectic” (another classic chorus in the making, and you can hear how having Mike Heller play in place of a drum machine works to their advantage) and “Protomech” (one of the more brutal showings of the last few years/albums) which have definite strains and reference points with classic works like Demanufacture and Obsolete.
At this point you’re either full engaged and engrossed in how the band has steered its own formula in a positive direction or bored shitless because you’ve heard 'em do this before. The title track and “Church of Execution” both fuck with convention. The former with a broader swath and exposition of Rhys Fulber’s programming talent and the scaling back of Burton Bell’s clean vocals, and the latter with Cazeras leashing himself as he allows the bass (which is a bit of misnomer as played bass on the album) to carry the verses with single-note sequences injected into the chorus. There are a couple parts in “Soul Hacker” that have way too much of that nü-metal bounce and djenty guitar feel of their mid-period for my personal liking, but that’s a subjective preference that some don’t have nearly as much of an issue with – hell, they played the Gathering of the Juggalos fest a year or so ago, so obviously someone’s digging that shit somewhere. At the same time, “Soul Hacker” does have enough of Fulber’s dystopian layers swimming around in the background of the chorus and bridge to make up for the big-pants bullshit.
What Fear Factory album would be complete without the closing couple of tracks going completely off the rails of expectation? Genexus’ oddballs are “Regenerate” and “Battle for Utopia” which push the ‘Cyberdyne’ keys and SFX higher in the mix and sees them weaving in and around some almost poppy-sounding thrash riffing and robotic picking gallops. This paves the way for outro track “Expiration Date” which takes listeners into a futuristic world where half-man, half-machine android mutant dudes ("dude-tants"?) do their best to replicate Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy and Slowdive via artificial intelligence and data bases prepared by the human race who don’t seem to mind that every day the Rise of the Machines prophecy appears to be coming closer to reality. Well, at least we know what the T-1000s, T-Xs and HK Infiltrators will be listening to while on an oil-and-lube break from polishing off humankind – and it won’t be “You Could Be Mine.”