Aggression Continuum marks a milestone in Fear Factory’s history – the last one to feature the vocals of mainstay and co-founder Burton C Bell, leaving Dino Cazares as the only other long-stander in the group. Dino, of course, didn’t appear on Transgression or Archetype, though otherwise has been on every album and is now the (excuse me) linchpin of the act. After much legal action and to-and-fro, Bell left the band some months ago to concentrate on Ascension of the Watchers. A shame, and his trademark vocals will be difficult to find a replacement for, but times move on. It’s not like other major acts with recognisable singers haven’t continued on successfully when they parted ways (Maiden, Priest, Sepultura and many more).
But that’s the future, and the fact that I’ve already got an eye on it (and any upcoming tours) says a lot about how much I like Fear Factory. So, what about the now and this pushpin in the band’s historical timeline?
As is typically Fear Factory it’s “much of the same… but with a little edge of new”. Fear Factory were the first band I can ever remember hearing who featured a single vocalist covering both harsh and melodic vocals. This dual attack is still present across each track, along with the standard choppy, mechanical guitar riffs, the solid rhythms and the biotech backing tracks and synths. In short, all parts of the sound we know and recognise as Fear Factory are very much present and correct.
Over the years, FF have morphed their sound including the addition of those melodic vocals, from their harder first album to the decidedly catchy likes of “Self Bias Resistor” and so on. With Aggression Continuum I’m sensing a tightening and slightly cleaner sound than on more recent releases. Genexus was six years ago, and we have a more or less new lineup so it’s no surprise that some things have tweaked slightly.
We have some nice introductory spoken word elements on several tracks which set the scene nicely, but the major standout are the synth and backing track stabs. Take opener “Recode” as an example. The narration sets things up, we get a nice live-show intro rumble and this grows into a keyboard-based swell. As the track proper kicks in, the percussion includes a nice “hammer on metal” sound not dissimilar to a baseball bat hitting a beer keg (thanks, Slipknot). Whether this is part of the backing track or the actual drumming I’m not sure! However, it sounds great and is in perfect keeping with Fear Factory’s industrial tone. The song is the perfect introduction to the album as a whole, featuring every single FF trope. It couldn’t be any other band.
“Disruptor” (check it on YouTube) skips the narration, settling instead for Burton screaming “DIS-RUP-TOR” into the mic and rolling into a bass-led song with some of the heaviest riffs on the album. It’s the title track that really shreds, though, again bringing all those well-known sounds and techniques together.
“Purity” is one of the lighter tracks on the album, though it still ends up crushing your bones at points. Dino’s riff at the start is the kind of thing the band are known for, and the vocals are predominantly on the melodic side of things. If you’ve not heard “Fuel Injected Suicide Machine” then scroll down and check the video. It’s one of the most “industrial” tracks on the album, and do note those synths both in the introduction and layered throughout.
“Collapse” flips “Purity” on its head, being predominantly a downtuned monster but still throwing in a brief harmonious moment. “Manufactured Hope” is as close to “epic” as this band get, at just over 5 minutes. It’s a sprawling number that really tests the staying power of the neck muscles. The drums in particular just roll through this one. There is no letup as “Cognitive Dissonance” is as much a steamroller with spiked wheels, whereas “Monolith” has a very split personality.
The album ends on the perhaps aptly-titled “End of Line”. Following a common pattern, this final number is a long one, including a lengthy bit of atmospheric spoken word, and really sends Burton off with a bang. It’s as recognisably Fear Factory as the opening number and wraps the whole package up well.
Aggression Continuum simply can’t disappoint any Fear Factory fans. It’s been long enough since the last one that most are champing at the bit for new material, and they (we!) know what they like. This album delivers it all, with enough of a fresh polish that it doesn’t sound like “just another FF album”. Moreso it proves that this industrial juggernaut still has life and I’m already very much looking forward to seeing how they follow it up. I only hope it’s not another six years!
Aggression Continuum is out on June 18th