Fear Factory will be touring these islands later this year playing 1995's Demanufacture in full, as is the fashion for the 20th anniversary of seminal releases. It's hard to believe that it has been two decades since rock clubs first reverberated to ‘Replica’ and ‘Self Bias Resistor’.
Dino Cazares returned to the fold two albums ago and his presence has had the effect of a new firmware upgrade for Fear Factory. When he first departed and Christian Olde Wolbers stepped up from bass to lead guitar and songwriter, the difference in dynamic quality of the riffing was noticeable. Cazares’ imaginative playing and greater dynamic range have restored the band to full functionality.
From the moment the kick drum initialises in ‘Autonomous Combat System’ it is clear that Fear Factory are operating at the kind of level that they established all those years ago. Cazares and singer Burton C. Bell’s songwriting is as intense as ever. The lyrics are little science fiction vignettes focusing on technological innovation, body horror, and man-machine hybridisation, while Cazares forges a soundtrack of precision, mechanical riffage that sounds like the moment that Skynet becomes self aware.
Genexus is a concept album of sorts, but then Fear Factory are a concept band; a mechanised journal of the battle between humans and advancing technology. As Bell explains: "It's based on essentially futuristic concepts. It's bringing the concept of man versus machine around again, but this time, the way I'm thinking about the machine is that it's fully cognitive and fully understands where its place is and what it needs to do. So the machine has very human qualities now." Their songs have always centred on our ambiguous relationship with technology; the simultaneous love, awe and fear of the integration of new tech and everyday humanity.
Both Cazares and Bell have added new dimensions to their performance in the intervening years and expanded their respective repertoires. Genexus has some of the duo’s heaviest recorded moments but also lighter aspects. Notable in this regard is closing tune, ‘Expiration Date’. After the bludgeoning 40 minutes that precedes it, it is an alternative pop aperitif that could have been written for Pink or Katy Perry. As Bell sweetly intones, “Under the surface we’re not machines / Under the surface we’re living dreams / Nobody lives forever”, it has a palette cleansing quality like Ziggy Stardust’s ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’.
The album is bookended with a spoken word extract, part prophecy and part warning. A time capsule returned from the future with an electronic backing track from Brian Eno, if Eno were an evil robot overlord. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a robot boot stamping on a human face - forever, with Fear Factory playing the soundtrack.
While never quite reaching the peaks of Demanufacture, Genexus is an ideal companion piece to the group's defining moment. Bell was the first metal vocalist to achieve international success mixing clean vocals and death-style grunts in the same song, an affectation that is de rigueur nowadays. The music, then written exclusively by Cazares, was also pioneering, integrating grindcore, blastbeats, and industrial elements into a more mainstream post-thrash template. Genexus is a worthy and welcome addition to the Fear Factory canon and will suitably whet the appetite for the forthcoming winter tour.