As much as you’d like to get excited about the first Fear Factory album in six years, the band themselves don’t make it easy for you. Ever since vocalist Burton C. Bell departed the band for the first time in 2002, Fear Factory have been as much a soap opera as they’ve been a great metal band. And, annoyingly, they actually have been a great metal band in that period as well, with 2010’s Mechanize and 2012’s The Industrialist both being superb examples of their own unique brand of grinding, synth-heavy, industrial/death metal mash-up. But line-up changes, false starts, average live shows and unfulfilled promises have made them a frustrating band to be a fan of in the last 15 years.
Predictably, Aggressive Continuum comes with its own set of utterly non-music-related problems, with Burton leaving the band at the end of last year and leaving FF with an album to promote featuring a vocalist who is no longer part of the fold. It makes just how good the majority of Aggressive Continuum is a deeply frustrating conundrum. As good as 1995’s classic Demanufacture or even its follow- up, Obsolete, from the band’s golden era? Probably not, but not by far. Opener Recode has all the hallmarks of the band – Dino Cazares’ samurai-sword riffs, Burton’s gruff, shredded throat giving way to his melodic croon on the turn of a dime, some Blade Runner-esque futuristic soundscapes – but is joined by a brass section at the song’s climax. Fear Factory gone ska this is not, and despite what surrounds it being fairly typical Fear Factory fare, on paper it’s an idea that really shouldn’t work. So it’s testament to the continual tweaking and experimenting a band of this vintage are willing to continue to do that it really is a very different sound to anything they’ve done before.
After that, it’s clear that Fear Factory know exactly what side their bread is buttered on, and they smash through another nine slabs of ferocious cyber-metal. The groove of Disruptor and the staccato riffing of Manufactured Hope in particular hit the bullseye, and there’s probably some kind of allegoric concept about how your iPhone is your master, your microwave controls you and your electric blanket will overthrow humanity and become your new overlord in here as well. Basically, it’s exactly what longtime fans would hope for. Even the opening riff to the final track, End Of Line, is almost identical to Zero Signal from their 1995 classic, Demanufacture. But when you are so good at doing this incredibly unique and specific thing, that’s not a problem at all. Thirty-two years into their career and Fear Factory remain superbly adept at crafting records that serve to enhance their legacy as a legendary band. It’s really what they get up to away from the studio that is their Achilles heel. If you can ignore that, then Aggressive Continuum is enough to keep you believing in them.