When it comes to turning an extremely limited sound into a career spanning decades, Fear Factory stands alone (with AC/DC). And as we approach the 20th anniversary of their “cyber metal” style and reflect on how heavily the band utilized themes of technological advancement, artificial intelligence and mutation, the irony of how little their approach has “evolved” should be obvious to the most Neanderthal of metal fans. 1992’s Soul of the New Machine was innovative and exciting, and one can hardly blame them for sticking to the template that got them noticed. But man, they really stuck to it, even when such slavish adherence to formula didn’t result in successful albums. Which brings us to Genexus, their tenth compendium of staccato riffs, machine-like drumming and computerized sound effects, all backed by quasi-death shouts and clean chants (the combination thereof I blame for the rise of metalcore). Well, fanboys can rejoice, because Genexus is as close to Demanufacture Deux as it gets, and that’s what most of you were hoping for, whether you admit it or not.
Things open with “Autonomous Combat System” which is classic Fear Factory, capable of fitting seamlessly on Demanufacture. It’s a good tune with absolutely zero surprises, but when has anyone looked to this band for surprises? Better still is “Anodized” with its brutally simple approach and above average chorus. It’s predictable, but it’ll warm the techno-cockles of Factory drones everywhere. After a few tunes, it’s apparent the band tightened their songwriting significantly from the hit or miss milieu of 2012’s The Industrialist, and while they can be accused (again, always) of plagiarizing themselves to a ludicrous degree, at least they’re stealing from their best days (instead of cloning the later clones, which never works [and likely leads to time travel paradoxes, however that works… – AMG]). And that’s what the bulk of Genexus offers, an angry trip down memory lane to the Demanufacture days, with most of the songs approximating that album’s basic appeal. The closest to the bulls eye is the title track, which makes it feel like 1995 all over again. Of course, that means it sounds a lot like “Zero Signal,” but hey, all their songs do if we’re being honest.
On the rare occasions when they stray from the blueprint, things get more interesting. “Regenerate” eases back on the heaviness just a bit to adopt a slightly more commercial edge and while it’s hardly poppy, it’s certainly more ear-friendly and works because of it. The most offbeat moments come with closing piece “Expiration Date.” It’s the longest song at nearly nine minutes and rocks an ’80s electronica-goth vibe somewhere between Gary Numan and Human League with slight traces of Faith No More. It’s such a welcome change after an album full of industrial sausage making that it feels remarkably refreshing, like finally getting to your sunny vacation destination after being poked and prodded by Terminator brand TSA robots for 40 minutes.
There are the inevitable glitches in the machinery, with “Church of Execution” and “Battle for Utopia” ending up generic and flat, and “Protomech” being saved from the same fate by a decent chorus. And then there’s the universal issue with Fear Factory albums: the songs are so redundant and interchangeable, a little goes a long way. Here in 2015, it’s clear the limited groceries the band cooks with haven’t aged well in the Fridge of Time. Even though most of the songs are respectable by themselves, the overwhelming monotony of the style makes an album’s worth of it a tough listen.
Core complaints aside, Bell’s vocals are good. He’s a limited vocalist, but his clean choruses are effective more often than not and his grunting is serviceable. Dino Cazares’ trademark “riffing” makes him the ultimate example of a one trick pony and he may even qualify as a half-trick pony these days. All his staccato leads feel like they could be moved between songs and make nary a difference, and it was a Homeric struggle to avoid dropping a big, fat “samey” into this review. That also goes for the stop-start, double bass heavy drumming by Mike Heller. He’s no Gene Hoglan, and the rhythmic contusions become mind-numbing after a while
I’ll never feel the same pull to Fear Factory as I did when their early albums were new and different, but Genexus proves there’s still some tread on the tires after 20 years. This is one of their best efforts in forever and should appease their fans, even if that tread is a retread. Like they always say, you can’t go home again, but you can use a 3-D printer to replicate it in amazing detail.