Artist: Fear Factory
Album Title: Aggression Continuum
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 18 June 2021
The word ‘bittersweet’ was created for moments exactly like this and I’ll explain why, if you’ll indulge me. Fear Factory have been an almost ever-present in my musical life. From the moment I discovered music on the heavier side of the spectrum, the mechanised, industrial and dystopian sounds of this US band have accompanied me. ‘Demanufacture’ came out in 1995 and to a 15-year-old who was suddenly devouring music by the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, and Machine Head, this was a mind-blowing record. Hell, I even have a signed piece of front cover artwork hanging in my living room. From then on, I was a fan and I have every record in my collection. I’m not saying that they are all masterpieces because they are not. However, theirs is a style and a sound synonymous with my later teenage years and for that, they remain magical to me.
‘Aggression Continuum’, however, the eleventh full-length of their thirty-year career is likely to be the last to feature the duo of guitarist Dino Cazares and vocalist Burton C. Bell. Between them, they have written music, sung, and delivered riffs that have stuck with me over such a long period. To me, whilst other members have come and gone, Cazares and Bell are Fear Factory.
Unfortunately the past few years has seen plenty of ups and downs in the lives of Bell, Cazares, and others, with bankruptcy, trade mark disputes, and many other factors getting in the way of the band’s main focus – the music. It has all culminated in this sad reality where we may never again hear new material that features both of these artists, and we may never see the duo on stage together, belting out the likes of ‘Replica’, or ‘Edgecrusher’ to a rabid audience. It means that we have to make the very most of ‘Aggression Continuum’ and hope that it ends this chapter in a fitting way.
I really don’t think that it is a case of nostalgia talking, or the effect of rose-tinted glasses, when I declare that ‘Aggression Contunuum’ may just be my favourite Fear Factory record since ‘Digimortal’ or maybe even ‘Obsolete’. I have listened to it almost exclusively over the past three weeks and it is showing no signs of losing its sheen as far as I’m concerned. It may have been almost entirely written four or five years ago, but the material sounds fresh, invigorating, and hugely enjoyable.
To these ears, ‘Aggression Continuum’ seeks to blend the best elements of the Fear Factory sound into a cohesive whole, meaning that you get industrial-sounding machine-like riffs, abrasive gruff vocals and a tightly honed rhythm battery alongside mellower elements of melodic, catchy choruses, and Bell’s clean delivery. There’s also a very pronounced cinematic, orchestrated quality to the music, adding a depth and a real sense of occasion and drama. Listening to this record, it feels honestly like the guys have lost little of their anger or edge – there is still material here that could rival the fury heard on ‘Demanufacture’. That being said, it feels like a vague softness and smoothness has crept in, perhaps because the songwriting has become so polished over the decades. Or maybe it’s because I have aged and desensitised myself over the years to aggressive music. Either way, ‘Aggression Continuum’ is an album with so much to like about it.
“If you are listening to this, you are the resistance” states the narrator at the beginning of the record against a familiar dystopian backdrop, before ‘Recode’ kicks into top gear. Bursts of drum fire courtesy of Mike Heller blend in with fat, down-tuned riffs and lashings of cinematic orchestration to create a satisfyingly arresting opening salvo. Burton’s instantly recognisable bark cuts through the space between riffs whilst electronic embellishments magnify the futuristic feel. And it’s all topped off by one hell of a chorus that has created one of many earworms in my head of late.
‘Disruptor’ is equally as good, starting with a scream from Burton followed by a lurching riff that amplifies the brutality and anger contained within the song. The chorus that emerges is another monster, a counterpoint to the bruising bass of Tony Campos, persistent and insistent drumming, and chunky riffs from Cazares.
However, whilst on the subject of monster choruses, there’s little to deter me from the thought that ‘Purify’ is ‘Aggression Continuum’s ‘Replica’. It’s far and away the most immediate of all the songs on this record but it is done with style and elegance, meaning that the overt catchiness and pop-metal undertones can be quickly forgiven and completely overlooked. This is the kind of song that would sound immense at a summer festival, with a sea of fans singing at the top of their lungs as the crazily catchy chorus fills the air.
But as is the classic Fear Factory way, you also get much more besides. The title track is a strong statement of intent, fully deserving of its title. The cinematic orchestration is ramped up, as is the trademark machine-gun riffing in tandem with the drumming, perfectly in sync to deliver something very abrasive and potent, seeing the musicians in full-on attack mode for much of the track, stopping only for a slow burning chorus and to then deliver a surprisingly poignant closing sequence.
‘Fuel Injected Suicide Machine’ is a little silly in places, especially when a voice quotes the title of the song about himself with Hollywood bravado. But that aside, the drumming of Heller is tight as anything, offering a punishing spine to another aggressive composition that then lightens up in the lengthy chorus and later via some nice string arrangements.
Elsewhere, ‘Collapse’ is well-named as it almost collapses under the weight of the groovy, down tuned riffing, whilst ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ delights me with one of my favourite choruses on the album as well as dropping one of the most arresting, brutal riffs in the latter stages when Cazares really lets his guitar take centre stage.
The final track is another belting song, and in many ways, the perfect end to an era. ‘How can this be reality?’ asks Bell, a sentiment I find myself echoing as I listen for the umpteenth time. The slightly longer track features what I can only describe as a Linkin Park-esque interlude, as well as an extended dystopian, cinematic outro to bookend the album intro. There’s also a lovely reference to the past in the final stages with the words ‘Fear Is The Midkiller’ from the narrator, almost as if to hammer home this end of an era.
If this is the quality of material that Fear Factory can produce after three decades, I do not want the journey to end. And indeed, this may not be the end for the band. But for those who grew up with the Bell and Cazares combo, it certainly feels a lot like it. But if it is, ‘Aggression Continuum’ is an incredible way to bow out. Wall to wall talent, wall to wall commitment, and wall to wall quality music. Simple as that.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: