Finally: a Fear Factory record that can be regarded without the context of high drama hanging over its release. Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares are back and yes, they do have a new rhythm section: former Chimaira guitarist Matt DeVries on bass and Mike Heller as touring drummer (the album was recorded with a drum machine; more on that momentarily). However, there is no indication this time that either Byron Stroud or Gene Hoglan left under any kind of animosity – Stroud joined 3 Inches of Blood and the sheer number of bands Hoglan has been in a position to quit in the last year alone indicates dude just needs a break – and let's face it, if there was any dirty laundry to be aired Bell and Cazares would be the first ones to let you know about it.
That leaves the context the band would prefer us to focus on anyway, which is the lyrical concept of the album. Even there the qualifier "lyrical" concept is unfairly limiting, as Bell and Cazares have made efforts to incorporate the concept into the sound of the record to a greater degree than ever before. The twist here is that Bell is singing from the point of view of the machines this time – self-aware mechs if this is your first FF rodeo – and in recent interviews he's stated his intent to reintroduce an industrial influence into the music. Hmm, I thought that's what they were doing on 2010's Mechanize, but OK.
In truth the majority of the album (excluding the bonus tracks on the deluxe version) could just as easily be Mechanize Pt. 2 but for the faintly discernible use of a drum machine. "Faintly discernible" because by Bell's own admission the drums have been Pro Tooled to death on previous efforts anyway, so the drum machine here mostly just sounds like a fairly unadventurous walk through by Gene Hoglan or Raymond Herrera.
That's not to say there's little of value here: "Recharger" and "New Messiah" add catchy if commonplace anthems to an already potent back catalog, and ultimately 3/4 of The Industrialist is a direct continuation of Mechanize in both quality in form. As for recapturing that early industrial panache, you really have to own the deluxe edition with the bonus tracks to get anything that would feel at home on Soul of a New Machine or Fear is the Mindkiller. "Blush Response" is an industrial remix of "Difference Engine", and "Landfill" is a cover of an old Pitchshifter song, back when the latter band was essentially masquerading as a Godflesh cover band.
If your copy lacks those bonus tracks you're really going to be at a loss what to make of the final two tracks on the regular edition. "Religion is Flawed Because Man is Flawed" is a two minute epilogue that serves much the same purpose that the last few minutes of "Final Exit" on Mechanize did, basically a low key cool down period to get your equilibrium back in order after the previous hour's worth of synapse pummeling.
But then it's followed by the nine-minute "Human Augmentation", which is a rudimentary ambient track that sounds like something that would roll during the back nine of the end credits on a cheap sci fi movie. It adds nothing of value to the album – the intended effect having been already achieved by the much briefer "Religion is Flawed" – and as something most people are going to manually skip it's actually more of a pain in the ass if anything. Blatant filler, let's just leave it at that.
As a whole, The Industrialist is a fine album, perhaps slightly inferior to Mechanize, but for eight songs it easily stands up to anything the band have released since Obsolete. Frankly, the obvious conjecture here would lead one to believe that this is a rushed album that the band probably would have preferred more time to complete. Take away the bonus tracks and the filler and the eight proper songs which live up to the Fear Factory reputation clock in at a curt 37 minutes. By FF standards that's practically an EP, but the band obviously worked hard on those eight tracks and I don't for a minute blame them for not relegating them to the throwaway, placeholder status that EPs are commonly viewed as (especially when this particular band already has a history of releasing EPs exclusively as companions to other full lengths).
That last paragraph is obviously speculation on my part, but the intent was sympathetic; I really do think that business concerns were the only thing standing between Fear Factory and a worthy follow up to Mechanize, an album I thought returned the band to the creative peak of the Obsolete and Demanufacture era. Don't sleep on this over a few blemishes.
The Industrialist is out now on Candlelight.