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

Sonny Sonny / May 11, 2023 / 2

Fear Factory were one of the first new bands I got into when I returned to metal fandom in the late 90s, playing the hell out of Demanufacture and Obsolete, then a bit later, Digimortal, yet for some reason I never got round to the band's debut. Coming to it so late and with the benefit of a huge chunk of hindsight, it is plain to hear that Soul of A New Machine is the product of a band that is in transition from an established genre to a brave new world as they explore interesting new directions for their sound. With this in mind, I would have to agree with those who say that Soul of A New Machine is more important historically than it is enjoyable, with the lack of any truly memorable tracks being the main case for the prosecution. That isn't to say that this is a bad record, because it isn't, but it does have the feel of a transitional piece with the band casting around for a solid indentity. I do hear what Daniel is saying about the groove metal element because one comparison that sprang to mind for me, particularly during the early tracks, was Sepultura's Chaos A.D. which was released a year later, although I would agree that it is only a secondary tag at best. Of course one of the main features of the album and the one for which Fear Factory would become synonomous is the industrial sound of the chugging riffs and the hard-hitting and machine-like drumming of Raymond Herrera. This is a sound that would be incredibly influential, for better or worse, on a new generation of bands like Marilyn Manson, Slipknot and Rammstein. There are still some tracks that are more rooted in death metal or even grind, but these seem to be some sort of vestigial anachronisms left over from the earliest incarnation of the band, like some kind of musical appendix.

One aspect of Fear Factory's earlier output which cannot be overstated is the importance of Burton C. Bell's dual harsh / clean vocals. Bell is an accomplished death metal growler, but his clean vocals are so well-suited to the material with a soaring, disembodied feel that seems to contain the soul of the narrator when confronted by the solid, dehumanising reality of the more tactile industrial atmospheres and the effectiveness of this contrast between human and machine perspectives is what sets FF apart from other industrial metal proponents. There are a few samples scatttered throughout and I suppose if you are going to use movie samples then you can't really go wrong with Blade Runner and Full Metal Jacket can you?

Decent enough though this debut is, for me it will always be merely the stepping stone to the classic that is Demanufacture, but it is still interesting enough in it's own right as it does illustrate exceedingly well how a seminal band transitions from a trend follower to a trend setter. They would seriously up the ante songwriting-wise on subsequent releases and lack of memorability would no longer be an issue for them, as they sorted out where they wanted their sound to go and then were able to concentrate on songwriting as they were no longer exploring what works and what doesn't. Interesting rather than indispensible.

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