Review Summary: Fear Factory with a metalcore vocalist. Threat Signal without the good musical ideas.
Arkaea’s bio admits that at least half of this album was written with the intention of it becoming the latest Fear Factory
release - that much should definitely be stated from the very beginning. It should also be stated that in addition to Fear Factory drummer Raymond Herrera and guitarist Christian Wolbers, the other half of this band consists of Threat Signal
vocalist Jon Howard and bassist Pat Kavanagh. For those familiar with those two bands, you could stop reading right now because you should know exactly what to expect. In case the powers of deduction are failing you though, this sounds like a cross between Fear Factory’s last two albums with a metalcore vocalist. If the thought of that combination doesn't makes you cringe, it should. It turns out that Fear Factory’s music isn’t good enough to support an average vocalist and Jon Howard’s vocals aren’t good enough to support two-dimensional music.
There are plenty of people to blame for why this didn’t turn out nearly as well as it should have, but the bulk of the blame goes to guitarist Christian Wolbers. For whatever reason, Christian is still delivering the same recycled riffs that he has been using since he took on guitar duties in Fear Factory. The riffs being referred to are the machine-like, cyclic style that he inherited from Dino Cazares years ago and they’re starting become a little stale. In his defense, he does attempt to integrate the occasional conventional rock/metal influence into his repertoire but they’re generally not very strong and don’t really help. Of course, Jon Howard’s vocals don’t help the situation either. Jon’s vocals just aren’t strong enough to carry the music or add the power that this style of music requires. His main vocal style is a mid-range rasp that generally works well enough, but his choruses are another story. First, the choruses don't usually fit the songs they're used in which leads to some unintentionally jarring transitions. Also, almost every chorus sounds virtually identical, from the vocal melody to the delivery itself. The repetitive choruses combined with the recycled riffing leads to an album that starts to sounds old within a few songs.
Due to all of those issues, this album is fairly inconsequential but there are a few moments that prove the band shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. “Awakening” brings something different to the table by adding piercing screams and an increase in intensity that could have worked well if the band hadn’t included the singing chorus. There’s also “Decimator” that proves that the recycled riffs can still work if the vocals are good enough – as they are here with Jon doing his best Burton impression while accompanied by hardcore shouts. The most positive display of the band’s potential, though, is the song “Lucid Dreams”. It takes a huge influence from Around the Fur
, but with enough originality to not be considered a blatant copy. The main melody is delivered by a clean guitar sound that gives the song an eerie, expansive feeling that is enhanced by an excellent drum performance by Raymond. Jon’s vocals even take on a bit of a Chino influence in the verses and more surprising, the chorus doesn't ruin the song.
It’s hard not to cut the band a little bit of slack considering the fact that it’s obvious most of these songs were built to be sung by Burton Bell. Additionally, Jon apparently had very little time to work on his vocal parts, which would (hypothetically) explain why all of his choruses are so similar. Unfortunately, simply knowing the circumstances won’t make this any more enjoyable. The album suffers from a feeling of redundancy in both the riffs and the vocals that simply can’t be ignored. The redundancy isn’t enough to make the album unlistenable - in fact it can be quite enjoyable under the right circumstances (driving, the gym) - but there just aren’t enough good ideas and variation to make this worthwhile to anyone except the most hardcore Fear Factory/Threat Signal fans. If this album displays any ray of light it is that there are at least a few good riffs and half-realized ideas that display the potential for something special if only the band takes a few chances on their next release.