Break free of the dystopian prison.
The industrial metal icons Fear Factory have been no strangers to chaos over the years, not solely as a prime subject of their lyrical pursuits, but sadly also in the band’s interpersonal and business end of things. While not quite having the largest ensemble of past members in their lineup, the longstanding feud with co-founder and drummer Raymond Herrera and longtime bassist turned guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers since their 2009 reformation has been heavily covered in the media, and ultimately culminated in a lawsuit between said ex-members and then present incarnation of the band that put things in limbo for most of the past 4 years. Ultimately this turn of events would lead to highly unique and charismatic front man Burton C. Bell exiting the band in 2020, though not before he was able to record the vocal tracks for the dystopian Sci-Fi masterwork that would be “Aggression Continuum,” this outfit’s 11th studio LP.
Continuing in the grand stylistic tradition since 1998’s “Obsolete,” which the band themselves have labeled cyber metal, this is an album that paints a grim post-apocalyptic future not all that different from the one depicted in the Terminator universe with high kinetic yet methodical and accessible songwriting. Drawing heavily from the percussive groove/thrash template that was prominent during the twilight of the Bay Area scene’s initial run in the early 90s and painted over with a dense and consonant keyboard backdrop, it’s a sound that is cold and hard enough to resemble the metal endoskeleton of a cyborg, yet also possessed of a human warmness that covers it with a fleshy exterior. In many respects it is a music that lives and dies by the precision based assault of the guitars and rhythm section, but the Jekyll and Hyde vocal persona that Bell brings to the table is what pulls the whole thing together, embodying the raw viciousness of Jens Kidman of Mushuggah and contrasting it with a clean cut approach to constructing a refrain section.
The album unfolds in a highly cinematic fashion, with a lone narration likely inspired by John Connor’s speech in the Terminator: Salvation film, setting the stage for what is to come over a dreary keyboard drone. The opening foray of rabid thrashing mayhem “Recode” carries an almost djenting quality to its massively down-tuned guitar and bass-heavy assault, yet the overlay of symphonic keyboards brings in a sense of loftiness that functions as a sort of lingering hope accompanying what is obviously a desolate landscape. Generally the structure that this song follows is a typical verse to chorus exercise in symmetrical composition, but the degree of contrast between the raw aggression of the former section and the anthem-like quality of the latter is so palpable that the structural simplicity melts away into a singular, finely tuned machine with a wide range of expression, and sets the tone for the rest of the album.
What follows this highly riveting introduction are a series of similarly structured yet highly distinctive anthems of rebellion and rage. The streamlined pounder “Disruptor” reflects the abject heaviness of the prior song, but is a bit more groove-dominated and bass-centered, making it the obvious choice for a promotional single, while the drawn out and cinematic hyper-thrasher of a title song “Aggression Continuum” presents a more frenetic and complex variation on the cyber formulation. It becomes almost an exercise in repetition to note the subtle variations that emerge as this album progresses, but the more melodic contours of “Purity” and the frenzied, riff-happy madness of “Manufactured Hope” definitely make their mark upon this opus. The coup de grace of a finale that is “End Of Line” is arguably the only offering the matches the theatrical brilliance of “Recode”, as well as matches the thrashing riff work at every juncture and closes the deal with a poignant, keyboard-steeped outro with another inspirational narration.
The word swansong gets thrown around a bit when a noteworthy band either hangs it up or loses one of its consequential members, but here the label fits far more than it does with most others, barring an unforeseen return of Bell into the fold of course. Between the sheer level of brilliance going on in the instrumentation and the stellar final vocal performance, this album stands as a towering monument of explosive metallic aggression that stands tall among the albums that preceded it, to the point where it arguably outclasses Fear Factory’s own seminal second full length album “Demanufacture.” It’s impossible to tell at this juncture how songwriting mastermind and guitarist Dino Cazares and the remnant lineup will hope to top this, regardless of who ends up being tapped to replace Bell. And should this prove to be the final chapter in the steel-bound anthology that is Fear Factory’s career, they definitely ended things at the top of their game.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Released On: June 18th, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Dino Cazares / Guitars, Bass
- Mike Heller / Drums
- Burton C. Bell / Vocals
“Aggression Continuum” track listing:
- Aggression Continuum
- Fuel Injected Suicide Machine
- Manufactured Hope
- Cognitive Dissonance
- End of Line
The thought to be defunct industrial metal powerhouse that arguably defined the 90s manages one final mechanized hurrah with their iconic front man, thrashing through the barriers of technological tyranny with crushing riffs and gripping hooks.