Review by Daniel for Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine (1992) Review by Daniel for Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine (1992)

Daniel Daniel / May 02, 2023 / 1

By 1992 I found myself firmly entrenched in an underground metal landscape that was continually pushing the threshold of what extreme metal could be. The death metal scene had taken off in a major way & would shortly reach its peak while the second wave of black metal was about to take the world by storm with less abrasive styles like thrash retreating back into the underground to take cover. This had a lot to do with global grunge boom as heavy music fans & musicians were heading out into more aggressive territories to look for alternatives to the continual stream of melancholy & flannelette shirts they were being presented by the media. In many ways it was the perfect time for a band like Los Angeles four-piece Fear Factory to make a statement that would see the opposite factions being unified on some level with their debut album “Soul of a New Machine” possessing a crossover potential that few realized the death metal scene could achieve at the time.

My initial experiences with Fear Factory were through the late-night Sydney metal radio programs that I’d religiously tune into. “Scapegoat” & “Martyr” had very quickly become essential weekly inclusions & had grabbed my attention due to their fresh new sound that didn’t exactly fit into my usual taste profile but left me somewhat intrigued to find out what else they had to offer. I didn't hesitate in picking up the “Soul of a New Machine” CD from the local record store & quickly went about acclimatizing myself with it with an enthusiasm that only a 16 year-old can muster. What I found was that there were more strings to Fear Factory’s bow than I’d first realized. The more popular & accessible tracks I was already familiar with were offset by a much more extreme sound that bore its roots in the underground tape trading scene & this drew me in further than I'd initially anticpiated. I think it’s fair to say that “Soul of a New Machine” was never going to feature in any of my best-of lists but I definitely found myself enjoying it purely as a point of variety.

As I mentioned, the early Fear Factory sound contains several major components. To start with you have the industrial metal base which combines the dissonant, almost factory-like sounds of Godflesh with the brand new mechanical, machine-gun style staccato riffs that Fear Factory would make their calling card across their entire career. It’s hard to imagine where bands like Strapping Young Lad or Meshuggah would be without this element to tell you the truth. The second component is the strong use of groove-based riffs which was likely borrowed from bands like Pantera & Prong but sounds closest to fellow Californians Machine Head who undoubtedly drew influence from Fear Factory. And finally we have the inclusion of genuine extreme metal components with the tremolo-picked death metal riffs of Bolt Thrower & the blasting deathgrind chaos of Napalm Death being the most obvious influences. When you combine these elements with a vocal performance that takes a number of interesting directions you get a very original & highly engaging sound that possibly drew me in a touch more than “Soul of a New Machine” deserved in all honesty.

Front man Burton C. Bell’s performance is multi-faceted. Unlike later Fear Factory releases, his standard delivery is a gruff death metal grunt but he regularly swaps between a more accessible version & a deeper & more guttural interpretation that sounds very similar to Napalm Death icon Mark "Barney" Greenway. The really interesting part comes when Burton opts for a clean singing style during many of the more captivating choruses though. He manages to create a dreamy & transcendent atmosphere that made Fear Factory quite unique at the time & would see them further expanding on the concept with future releases. Despite my obvious tendency towards the more deathly side of Fear Factory’s sound, I actually find many of these clean-sung parts to be the highlights of some of the tracks & it’s not hard to see why that component of the band’s sound would go on to become so influential on the global metal scene as it opened the band up to a more mainstream audience than had ever been afforded to a death metal(-ish) band before. Guitarist Dino Cazares & drummer Raymond Herrara work in complete unison with their predominantly rhythmic attack being just as influential as Burton’s vocal contribution. I’m not sure we’d heard a metal band using guitar purely for rhythmic, percussive purposes to this extent before (not even Pantera) & when combined with Herrara’s super-precise kick-drum work it makes for a compelling musical statement that will likely see your body succumbing to the infectious grooves on offer.

But, even though Fear Factory had undoubtedly touched on a new & interesting sound that would have a significant impact on the global metal scene, I will always regard their debut as a bit player in my early 90’s story. You see, despite recognizing all of the new & interesting ways that the band had changed metal forever (just take a look at the nu metal boom & tell me that had nothing to do with Fear Factory), I can’t help but find myself left a little short-changed when reaching the end of what is a very ambitious seventeen song tracklisting. Literally none of the tracks reach classic status for me personally & I think that has a lot to do with my not being the biggest fans of groove metal to be honest as most tracks contain some pretty simple, chuggy riffs that will never breach my upper scoring echelon. There are no weak numbers included as the album is generally fairly consistent but the tracklisting does tend to fade at the end with a string of less significant grind-influenced tracks closing the album out. I can’t help but feel that some of this stuff could have been culled in the interest of quality & it might have seen my rating being bumped up a touch as I really wasn’t all that far away from going a little higher.

Still, it’s hard to be too critical of a record like “Soul of a New Machine” given its importance & impact. It was perhaps more of a scene-setter for Fear Factory’s coming piece-da-resistance in 1995 sophomore album “Demanufacture” which would see the band achieving a far more complete creative vision but it’s a worthwhile record to explore nonetheless. In truth, I strongly suspected that my score would end up where it has as the album has never been one that I've found myself wanting to return to as regularly as many others from a particularly strong year in metal. In fact, I doubt it’d even make my top 20 from 1992 in all honesty but that’s more of a reflection of just how much I was in my musical element than it is a representation of the merits of this ground-breaking release.

Comments (0)