1992. Thrash metal was pretty much dying out and falling back to the underground from it’s former prominence, death metal was on top, and notoriety within the rising Norwegian black metal scene was about to peak in the following year.
Fear Factory arrived on the scene in 1989 as Ulceration (changing to Fear Factory in 1990) and recorded their debut album, Concrete, in 1991. However they were dissatisfied with the production under then unknown nu metal producer extraordinaire Ross Robinson, and re-recorded (with reworks to some of the Concrete songs as well as some new material) with Colin Richardson resulting in 1992’s official debut [amazon text=Soul of a New Machine&chan=default&asin=B0002ZYDYM].
Most Fear Factory fans will point to Demanufacture or even Obsolete as their crowning glories. However Soul of a New Machine, in my opinion, is an underrated classic hence this Oldie But Goldie review.
It remains to this day as one of their roughest, darkest yet more versatile recordings with it’s ground-breaking fusion of death metal with industrial sounds (and grindcore-ish moments) and groovy riffing in places, with crystal clear clean vocals. This approach was then refined with Demanufacture (removing the overly death metal and grindy bits, the low growls, and cleaning up the production) and influenced countless bands since thus changing the world of heavy metal forever.
The album is currently readily available in a standard jewel case and a digipak re-release, featuring the Fear is the Mindkiller remix EP – also worth checking out to see how Fear Factory’s early music could easily become the soundtrack to an awesome apocalyptic rave.
The artwork itself is somewhat striking to me. It’s bold colours of the overall purple (I colour I always seem to associate with Fear Factory, most likely due to this album and Demanufacture) with the central blood red very much stand out. The artwork to me is also very reflective of the title, which I love, with the background being some sort of heavy industrial machine flashing a foetus within it’s red warning light. This suggests to me that the artwork is very much a warning of things that were to come, in terms of Fear Factory’s music and message itself, reflecting the changes in the society of the future they were (and still are) warning us about. Fitting with the band’s overall greater concept, the machine could be that of the Terminator-like killer cyborgs clearly influencing the band,that could be in development in some hidden military bunker somewhere soon to become war weapons of mass destruction that will render the human race obsolete. Or the machine could be a bit more realistic (at least to the AI/robotics/future technologies-skeptic or common ignorant working population) in that it’s the governmental machine, constantly watching over us via CCTV or tracking our every move on the internet (bear in mind, the internet was developing from it’s infancy in1992) etc etc etc. The embryo being born at the heart of the machine being the birth of it’s turn to a darker side – shades of more war, death, corruption, “security” in a 1984-esque nanny state etc.
Fear Factory have consistently had simple but striking artwork, some of which could be seen as iconic of the genre (see Demanufacture and Obsolete in particular), which very much embodies each album title and conveys their message. Soul of a New Machine is definitely a personal favourite album artwork of mine.
5. Crash Test
6. Flesh Hold
10. Big God/Raped Souls
11. Arise Above Oppression
13. Suffer Age
16. Escape Confusion
As highlighted above, Soul of a New Machine has a variety of styles to the music and would be quite difficult to give a general overview of the music as a whole. However what you are guaranteed is speed, grooves, growls, rumbling bass, pounding drums, atmosphere, and those ground-breaking clean vocals. Overall, it’s simple and effective, but innovative while remaining importantly heavy.
Opening song “Martyr” remains classic FF to this day, with it’s pounding drums (especially the kick) and catchy riffing which could easily become something dancey (it did on the Fear is the Mindkiller EP, and it’s awesome!). It also introduces us to the clean/growl vocals combination with the immortal “Suffer Bastard” refrain. “Leechmaster” not only keeps up with the catchy and heavy riffs features some of the most insane drumming I’ve ever heard from the speed of the combined kick and hi-hat work in the verses, and the snare and tom rolls in the “Hate, Love” refrain.
The new few tracks, “Scapegoat”, “Crisis”, “Crash Test” and “Flesh Hold” introduce us to another key aspects of Fear Factory’s music – sampling (thus properly introducing us to their industrial elements) – where they expertly make us of strange loud crashing noises and effected sounds/vocals as a startling intro (“Crash Test”) and quotes from a variety of media as intros and placed throughout the songs (“Scapegoat”, “Crisis” and “Flesh Hold”). In addition to this, the band remains relentlessly heavy and catchy while churning out some more straight up high-speed death metal, as well as introducing some groovier elements and showcasing their classic clean/growled vocals combination.
“Lifeblind” further shows the band’s use of sampling with it’s simple but effective industrial intro of what sounds like a sequenced clash of something hitting a piece of corrugated iron and bouncing along it’s ridges. The song has a variety of tempo changes, catchy riffing and the clean/growled vocals which would make it a masterpiece. However I feel that rhythmically it is a little messy in places with more frenzied instrumentation which I think would be best to simplify, refine and tighten up a little – otherwise this would probably be the best song on the album.
“Scumgrief” is a personal favourite of mine despite it’s overall simplicity, much more so than a lot of the other songs on the album. The clean vocals are a highlight along with rumbling bass (and the strange harmonic it plays at the end of each repetition of the verse riff) and the crushing guitar. The guitar also features another FF signature in the the main riff and chorus riff where they take a simple power chord and simply lower or raise either the root or 5th to create a mild but melodic clash – in this case it’s dropping the root note by a semitone which is a technique I must admit, as a guitar player myself, I have nicked from them and like to make use of.
“Natividad” marks the halfway point of the album. A short composition of industrial noise that splits the album in half from the longer songs to the shorter, and noticeably more grindcore influenced songs. The industrial sounds are harsh and loud and are comprised of samples which sound like hammers smashing various metal objects, big metal bin lids falling from a height and rolling along the ground and who knows what else – it certainly sounds like standing in the middle of an industrial estate between a steel mill and a building site.
“Big God/Raped Souls” is another FF classic. Beginning with a distorted announcement of some of the frightening statistics of rape and murder in the US and an aggressive declaration of love for this country, the band are definitely making a strong statement – maybe that there’s no such thing as The American Dream? Or that supposedly in this western haven, there is ignorance to some of the worst crimes in the nation. Well, besides the heinous criminals that are the possible corrupt politicians, forces, corporations, bankers etc at the top controlling the country – those who are living affluently at the expense of those lower down in society while refusing to acknowledge their plight. Maybe this is what the title suggests – the Big God being those at the top, and the Raped Souls being those at the bottom. Musically the song begins with interesting delayed tom hits (coupled with a simple guitar riff, undelayed – at least in an echoing kind of way) which create an awesome rhythmic clash before launching into another groovy heavy riff coupled with the octave chord guitar/clean vocal combination and back again. The song then shows the band getting back up to speed with a thrashier riff before getting the groove back again. The song ends with the sign of grindier things to come with straight up punky guitars, angry growls and relentless blastbeats.
The next few songs on the album (“Arise Above Oppression”, “Suffer Age”, “W.O.E” and “Desecrate”) showcase Fear Factory’s grindcore tendencies mixing some of their groovier , thrashier riffing with pounding blastbeats and full-on punkish guitars. The vocals also sink to some of their lowest growls and angriest shouts, though still contrasting with those all-important clean vocals (also adding to some ominous-sounding intros with the guitars, synths and samples). In between “Arise Above Oppression” and “Suffer Age” lies “Self-Immolation”. A very simplistic track beginning with a rumbling bass-line and house music type 4-on-the-floor kick hits before the guitars double the bass and contrasting delayed growls shouts reign over the top (with the “Self-Immolation/ Crying out” refrain). The song itself for me is strange in that I prefer the industrial dance remix on the Fear is the Mindkiller EP (both the “Vein Tap” and “Liquid Sky” mixes). This is mainly due to the more innovative use of synths and samples as well as the increased energy of track – I very much feel that the original drags the album’s pace down and even starts the get boring until “Suffer Age” saves the day.
“Escape Confusion” begins with a bizarre tremolo-effected clean guitar intro creating a strange haunting atmosphere then double by octave guitars, before the heavy chords crash in. The song then picks up the pace with a mix of more straight up death metal with grindy moments and the last time we hear the clean vocals. Album closer “Manipulation” is again a straight up death metal song laced with more grindcore-type breaks, if not the grindiest song on the album.
I’ve mentioned aspects of the production in the song descriptions so for the production review it will be just a general overview.
Soul of a New Machine is in my opinion the band’s worst production in that it isn’t as clear and a bit mushier than all of their following releases. Not that this is a bad thing, or that the production itself is very bad. The muddier sound I think adds to the atmosphere in creating the darker, moodier effect that I think the album has overall combined with the artwork and more death metal-type songs.
Overall, all of the aspects of the mix can be heard and are placed well within the stereo field. In terms of EQ, a slight reduction in the low frequencies of the guitars I think will have made for a tighter, crisper sound (though not too much of a reduction to allow for a little of the muddiness to remain) and would then allow for the bass to stand out a little more. The drums are again, all clear but don’t sound as powerful as they did in later albums, though I think this may be down to how they were recorded as opposed to how they were mixed. Going back to the bass, this is where my biggest beef with the production lies. It’s heavily distorted and as such allows for a very distinct rumble, however this distortion is too much and makes the bass sound seriously mushy thus losing a lot of it’s power. This will explain why the guitars are pretty bassy and mask the bass guitar quite heavily when it’s not playing solo.
Finally in terms of effects, they are used heavily on this album (as with all FF albums). The main ones are the reverb and delay which overall add a lot of ambience to mix and contribute to the darker sound of the album. This can be heard most clearly on the higher octave guitar riffs and the vocals allowing for the rich sound they create, as well as on the drums when there are no guitars playing (in particular the intro to “Big God/Raped Souls”). There is also degree of chorus on the guitars and clean vocals which in tandem with the time-domain effects add an overall rich fullness to the sound.
In terms of mastering, some of the mushy EQ could maybe have been fixed here to clean up the sound a little bit, though my main issue is the final levels. Overall I think the album could have been a little louder as it sounds rather quiet in comparison to Fear Factory’s following outputs.
Fear Factory’s Soul of a New Machine is a snapshot of what the band could have been if they kept up with a more extreme death metal sound with a lot of ambience before moving onto more commercial pastures. To me it is a rather unique sounding album that I’ve never heard anything else like. However it’s pitfalls lie in it’s length (some of the 17 tracks, particularly after “Natividad” I don’t feel were necessary and could be considered as filler) where I think some of the fat could be trimmed off the album. In addition to this the production is a bit messy and if it was a little tighter and clearer sounding, like Demanufacture, but still keeping some of it’s darkness then it would have been a perfect album.
Still in my opinion, Soul of a New Machine is an album definitely worth buying and listening to to hear some of Fear Factory’s heaviest and most interesting work.
Highlights: “Martyr”, “Leechmaster”, “Scapegoat”, “Crash Test”, “Scumgrief”, “Big God/Raped Souls”, “Suffer Age” and “Escape Confusion”
Overall Score: 8/10
Words by Sean Merrigan ©MoshvilleTimes 2013
Picture from Encyclopedia Metallum (www.metal-archives.com)