Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum Review

Like many young, metal-minded folks in the early 90s, I loved what Fear Factory was cooking on early albums like Soul of the New Machine and Demanfacture. They bridged the gap between death, industrial and Goth metal in ways that felt new and exciting. As much as I loved those early albums, I felt my attention waning by the time 1998s Obsolete hit the streets. It seemed the Fear Factory style had an expiration date and there was only so much of their signature “cyber metal” sound that I needed in my life. I slept on subsequent releases and didn’t pay attention to their output again until I was tasked with reviewing their 2012 opus The Industrialist. While I was amused that so much of what the band was doing remained the same 15 years after I checked, I couldn’t escape the feeling all I was hearing was recycled ideas from what was always a very limited template. Things improved on 2015s Genexus and I was reminded that their sound could pay dividends when executed well. For whatever reason, I didn’t expect to see another Fear Factory album after Genexus. I was okay with that too, as the band went out on a decent note. Yet here we are with album number eleven Aggression Continuum seeing its release overshadowed by vocalist Burton C. Bell’s announcement that he’s leaving the band. Factory wages, man…

I’ll admit going into Aggression Continuum with low expectations, and that just might be the smart play. Opener “Recode” is the very model of the classic FF song – angry, edgy, aggressive and chunky, offset with just enough catchy vocal hooks to stick in your head. It’s a tried-and-overtried formula but the band wrings every ounce of potential from it for a ripping tune that moved immediately to my lifting playlist. Dino Cazares’ trademark staccato, herky-jerky riffing is as it was, and Burton C. Bell still manages to sound enraged one moment, and like he’s trying out for an 80s techno-goth act the next. The fast-twitch aggression still works though and the clean chorus really pops. As good as “Recode” is, “Disruptor” is not. It’s odd the band chose it as the album’s lead single, since it’s easily the worst song here. It’s trying so hard to be hard it ends up sounding a bit unserious and juvenile. The clean vocal segments feel like something Voivod would leave on the studio floor – awkward and out of synch. The band reasserts themselves for enjoyably manic songs like the title track, where surprise, surprise, a certain Voyager vibe appears in the clean singing segments. This vibe reoccurs often on the remainder of the album, most noticeably on “Purity” and “Monolith,” giving a tired formula a slightly new lease on life.

Songs like “Fuel Injected Suicide Machine” and “Manufactured Hope” are pissed off and chaotic enough to leave a positive impression, and for the most part, the band does a surprisingly good job at holding the listener’s attention as the album rolls along. That said, at 48 minutes its cutting it close to being too much of a very niche, acquired taste, and some songs are overlong and in need of trimming (Closer “End of Line” runs 7 minutes but should stop at 5). While I hesitate to say the band is trying new things, I was mildly surprised by certain elements and sounds like the aforementioned Voyager vibe, and the sporadic post-punk feel on certain tracks. Never you fret though, as this is mostly standard issue Fear Factory with all knobs and dials set to Body Hammer.

Burton sounds especially youthful and spry throughout the album, his quasi-death roars effective and his singing suitably plaintive and isolated. Without him at the helm, Fear Factory just won’t be the same. And what can be said about Dino Cazares’s riffing that hasn’t been said already. He’s the Jon Schaffer of the cyber metal world and his burly, staccato riffs are as immovable and unrelenting as ever. His playing approximates being run through an industrial punch press for 48 minutes, and it definitely wears thin but makes an impact. There’s more of a metalcore flavor in some of his riffage than usual, and there’s even a vague Dark Tranquillity flare in the odd phrase. The fact the band took their core sound, which felt old circa 1998 and managed a respectably enjoyable platter in 2021 is a pleasant surprise. If this, instead of Genexus, is the album the classic pairing of Dino/Burton ends on, they did themselves proud.

Aggression Continuum is a slightly stronger album than Genexus, which would have cost me big money if I were a betting man. If you’re a fan of the band/sound, there’s plenty here to enjoy, with new-ish ideas brightening up the inevitably recycled ones. They may not be for everybody, but Fear Factory remain the undisputed champions at creating twitchy soundtracks for your next 14-hour first person shooter gaming binge. That way lies techno-insanity.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 270 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: fearfactory.com | facebook.com/fearfactory
Releases Worldwide: June 18th, 2021

« »