FEAR FACTORY – Aggression Continuum

FEAR FACTORY – Aggression Continuum

The Los Angeles-based industrial metal construct Fear Factory (FF) is one of those bands dear to my heart who provided sountrack to my adolescent and early adult struggle with "Self-Bias Resistor" my personal life anthem when I heard the extremely seminal "Demanufacture" (1995) which reminded me of Ministry, Sepultura and Type O’Negative and which inspired me to reach back in their discography for the excellent debut "Soul Of A New Machine" (1992) whereby I was ready for what has become my favorite FF disc, "Obsolete" (1998). With three albums on their belt they were bound to slip up and "Digimortal" (2001) drove a little too close to the nü metal bandwagon they had already somewhat started following on "Obsolete" (after Sepultura’s 1996 "Roots"), though, technically, arguably they had invented the trend before Korn mimicked their "Scapegoat" (1992) on "Blind" (1994). Not surprisingly, FF broke up for 2 years temporarily losing the founding guitarist Dino Cezares in the process. Upon reunion, "Archetype" (2004) was just as good as "Soul Of A New Machine", "Demanufacture" and "Obsolete" even though main songwriter guitarist Cezares wasn’t present at recording it, the bitter-sweet taste after the incredibly spotty nü metallish "Digimortal" (2001) fully gone, but the experimental 2005 "Transgression" was, again, incredibly spotty. Cezares’ first come back album "Mechanize" (2010) was good but not as good as any of its aforementioned predecessors, except for "Transgression". On the other hand, "The Industrialist" (2012) was an overlooked gem and "Genexus" (2015) was a full return to the 90s form. Where does it leave this year’s "Aggression Continuum", sadly, the final album with founding vocalist Burton Christopher Bell? Judging by the first two singles, "Disruptor" and "Fuel Injected Suicide Machine", I had very high hopes but boy was I not prepared for how much the soul of this machine has improved!

For a band who had begun (1989) and functioned for one year under a different moniker, Ulceration, having then been more of a death/grindcore assembly akin to Napalm Death, the transformation into one of the most influential, next to Godflesh or Ministry, industrial metal extremists have been astonishing which you can tell by listening to their unofficial, and uncredited as such, debut album "Concrete" which was forcefully released under contractual obligations to the father of nü metal, producer Ross Robinson in 2002. Even comparing it to FF’s official debut "Soul…" which features 9 of "Concrete" songs re-recorded better, louder, smarter, with more heart and, er, soul, it almost doesn’t even sound like the same band! How fortunate were founding guitarist Dino Cezares and drummer Raymond Herrera to have found the vocalist extraordinaire Burton Christopher Bell singing U2’s "New Year’s Day" in the bathroom, following a change from Ulceration to Fear The Factory (named after a factory near the band’s rehearsal place, which was guarded by people carrying machine guns) shortened to the final Fear Factory! As I have already said in social media the man IS Fear Factory and he is the main reason why I listen to this band, Cezares being the second reason. Bell was one of the first vocalists to combine vicious death metal growls with near operatic cleans in the ultimate demon/angel, dark/light ratio which served as a blueprint for the music along the and appropriate to the vocal stylings. I think the likes of Soilwork, Darkane, Killswitch Engage or Scar Symmetry, to name but a few, owe Burton and Fear Factory their very existence.

Although Burton C. Bell had already sadly left Fear Factory in 2020, his vocals are present on this album as they were recorded in 2017, so "Aggression Continuum" is technically the last album to feature him and boy can you hear it! He hasn’t sounded this pissed off since at least "Demanufacture". You may have heard the manic "I refuse to pledge allegiance" growl in the first single "Disruptor" or that incredible "I hate everything" roar in the 2nd single "Fuel Injected Suicide Machine" but wait until you hear the absolutely doberman-like bark "end of line! end of line!" in the closer! All of the above are perfect examples why, without Bell, this album would just be very good, all have incredibly catchy and melodic choruses to match the angression. Almost all tracks are perfect but I particularly love the "Demanufacture"-like ferocious "Cognitive Dissonance" which actually has a lot of that "Obsolete" to it as well, and the gargantuan title track with the sexiest chorus groove since Sepultura’s "Roots, Bloody Roots" (that excellent effect of thunderous drums and guitars in sync nodding to "Obsolete") and replete with some of the best melody hooks since Fear Factory’s own "Securitron (Police State 2000) and, on that note, the aforementioned "Fuel Injected Suicide Machine". As for "Demanufacture" the more groovy "Purity" definitely brings "Replica" to mind (both no. 4 on the respective discs) in the way the melodic and the rhythmic perfectly match in a near balladic harmony. Frankly, how Cezares is able to make his guitar sound exactly as it did in 1995 or 1998 is a feat on its own! There’s even a surprising twist on the disc on the slightly nü metallish "Monolith" as if they tried to do "Digimortal" the right way and succeeded, or perhaps it is more in the vein of "Descent"? In any case, it is definitely one of the most unique songs they have ever done and just one more reason this album is one of those where the creators could have gotten away with less but gave us more bang for our buck, instead.

From the fantastic cover subliminally commemorating their X-th official release, through melody, aggression, vicious thrash/death and even nü metal and djent riffing, near-perfect songwriting with some of the best symphonic arrangments since "Zero Signal" and "Terminator" saga samples galore with easily their best production ever courtesy to the unofficial Fear Factory’s programming member, Front Line Assembly’s Rhys Fulber and Andy Sneap’s flawless mix, this is Fear Factory at their best and it’s just such a shame Burton C. Bell is no longer part of it.

I did say NEAR-perfect songwrting as one song seems to be a little underwhelming, the heavily Meshuggahic "Collapse" collapsing a little for two possible reasons: 1. seemingly so after the fantastic "Fuel…" or 2. it’s purposely understated to fit the concept similarly to "Obsolete", while another, "Manufactured Hope", could have, perhaps, had more twists and turns but none of it merits more than a half point deduction from a perfect score.

"Aggression Continuum" grew in my ears like a kind of sonic tree to a huge baobab (to borrow from David Scott Mustaine’s own description of Megadeth songs) to match the former favorite "Obsolete" but then exceeded it and is currently my favorite album from them and my early contender for this year’s number one. If you EVER even liked this band for anything and don’t check this out no longer speak to me. That is all.