7th August 2015 – Nuclear Blast Records
01. Autonomous Combat System
04. Soul Hacker
07. Church of Execution
09. Battle for Utopia
10. Expiration Date
Back in 1995, Fear Factory turned a great many heads with their breakthrough album Demanufacture. Colliding industrial sensibilities with death metal intensity, it provided a sleek and dystopian futuristic vision of the blurring of the lines between man and machine. This vision was almost perfectly encapsulated in Demanufacture‘s iconic album art, with its ribcage-to-barcode transition. Twenty years, seven albums and a number of line-up changes later, Genexus sees Fear Factory treading very similar ground.
Alarmingly similar ground, in fact. Right from the opening spoken word sample, during the introduction to first track “Autonomous Combat System” – which warns us in portentous tones that “the next step in evolution is machine” – Fear Factory’s once forward-looking vision is now tainted by an overwhelming sense of deja vu.
Even accounting for the internal strife that first saw guitarist Dino Cazeras leave the band, only to return after a two album absence and unceremoniously push bassist Christian Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera out into the cold, Fear Factory’s now considerable back catalogue can seemingly be characterised by a near-total absence of evolution. Chopping each of those seven albums down to their constituent tracks and throwing them all in the air, you would have considerable difficulties marrying them back together again, aside from the occasional stand-out single.
So anyone previously acquainted with Fear Factory should know exactly what Genexus delivers: staccato riffs bolted to jackhammer rhythms; barked verses leading to goth-tinged sung choruses; and a heavy reliance on science fiction for themes and imagery.
This last point is most blatantly and tellingly underscored by final track “Expiration Date” which, for some unfathomable reason, includes a kind of quasi-quote of collected lines from Blade Runner, including the famous “time to die” speech from the finale – but rather than a sample of Rutger Hauer’s inspired and largely improvised words, we get the equivalent of someone reciting it in the pub; forgetting chunks of it and misquoting in the process.
Maybe the licensing costs of a direct sample were prohibitive, but the net result is a neatly illustrative microcosm of the state of Fear Factory in 2015. Genexus is not completely unlistenable, but it is critically undermined by a constant nagging feeling that you’ve heard it all done before, and heard it done better as well. The riffs, chord progressions and vocal patterns all feel like warmed up leftovers from previous sessions, or recycled efforts with minimal embellishment.
It is a genuine shame that a band once widely regarded as pioneers have become trapped on some kind of musical mobius strip, forever retreading the same ground and doing so with diminishing returns the further we get from 1995. Perhaps it might be time for Burton and Dino to break out from their comfort zone, ditch long-term producer Rhys Fulber and see where that takes them. Until they do that, if Demanufacture and its follow-up Obsolete already reside in your collection, there’s really very little to be gained from Genexus unless you really want more of the same. Pity.