Review Summary: Mechanize is a necessary rejuvenation, a re-alignment of the band's substance, that succeeds as a solid offering for Fear Factory fans everywhere.
I've reviewed this album before, but it was on my blog, which I won't link anyone to. Back then, I was quite stoked by the release and, inevitably, the proceeding ownership of this album. I had high expectations and, suffice to say, many of them were met. Would it be a fresh new face for the Fear Factory legacy? Yes it would, with the return of Dino Cazares as the axeman, and Gene Hoglan as the machinegun drummer; who had a hand in many pioneering Heavy Metal bands (including such titans as Death, the television personalities in Dethklok, Devin Townsend & Strapping Young Lad, as well as Zimmers Hole, etc.). And the biggest question is, would this live up to the sound that many of Fear Factory's biggest fans, including myself, know and love? For the most part, yes. However, my judgment was somewhat clouded by all of this. Read on to understand more of my point.
The opening track is definitely a safe haven for any positive inclinations towards the album. It opens up in the usual Fear Factory fashion; industrial/ambient buildup, then a brickwall-force smash to the face with machine-like synchroneity between all of the instruments. Burton C. Bell, the most consistent member of the band in its tumultuous history so far, kicks your ass with much more passion this time around. The feeling of rejuvenation is noticeable, and welcome. Gene drives the ever important beats with huge force, which is expected and necessary.
Fear Campaign opens in a similar way, with an electronically treated spoken-word line uttered, before Burton lets loose one of the most invigorating roars he's pulled off in a long time. This song is one of the best on the album, and is one of the most unique in terms of Dino's guitar work. His experimentation and branching out with other musical projects will be on full display here. I don't want to ruin the surprise for anybody, but he executes something with his guitar that will be alien to any Fear Factory listener, at least when it comes to the sound we all have come to expect. For this reason, the song feels decidedly like a thrash metal tune (not a negative if you ask me). As a guy who holds a bias for drums in music, I noticed that Gene's work behind the kit on this track are some of the best on the album.
Then the album's first hit single pretty much carries the flag brought on by its predecessors. However, a slight discomfort started to dawn on me at this point: was Fear Factory becoming...Divine Heresy (Mark II)? The sound was eerily too close to that of Divine Heresy at this point, but fortunately, it had that Fear Factory edge. It's a solid tune, heavy as they come on the album (with a catchy chorus to boot), but one shouldn't hold their breath after this one.
The next three tracks are not spectacular to me. Even after listening to the entire album roughly six times so far, they don't do much for me. Perhaps it is the drop in pacing; perhaps it's the fact that repetition becomes a daunting presence. The reason I haven't mentioned the lyrics yet is because they are not interesting (which is disappointing, but there's always room for improvement in the future) and this is one of the elements of the album that makes it feel repetitive. The general subject is of rebellion against a form of authority. Haven't we all heard this millions of times before in other bands or artists? Yet, lyrics should never be the focal point of any music, just an element at most.
Luckily, Designing The Enemy makes things interesting again. It's a slow, somewhat gloomy track, with some of Burton's best vocals on the album yet. With electronics touching up the slow but powerful riffs and the pounding drums, it actually sent shivers up my spine. Burton growls a bit when the tempo of the track kicks up, then it coalesces back into the same style the song opened with. Consider this tune the album's saving grace. The next song is simply a filler track, instrumental in nature. Perhaps because of the minimalistic approach of the song, it will earn some recognition by listeners. It seems to be meant as a way to ease us into the next, and best song on Mechanize.
The end track is usually the means of closing an album as well as possible, and Final Exit is no exception. In fact, it's one of the best they have done in years, right up there with Resurrection of their magnificent album Obsolete. There's a lot of electronic influence in this tune, making for a terrific atmosphere. Dino produces a soothing guitar sound to grab your attention, and then Gene briefly wails at the drums. When that is all said and done, the best part of the song has just begun. Burton's melodic vocals are the best they've been in the long time, especially during the line, "Goodbye..." It sends chills up AND down my spine every time. After roughly four minutes, the song slows down into an industrial ambiance, coming to a peaceful close minutes later.
This is no Obsolete, let alone Demanufacture, but it is good enough to stand behind the both of them. For the most part, Fear Factory has maintained, and even brought back, some of the intrigue in the machine-like synchroneity that had defined the band in a previous time. It's a needed rejuvenation from the last couple of albums they have produced in the last ten years, especially the poorly produced Transgression. They also broke some ground on the album, what with the more pronounced electronic elements, and the new sounds Dino has come up with after all these years away from the band. Gene is a welcome drummer as well, as he's powerful and incredibly skilled, but as is apparent here, he is purely a Thrash Metal drummer. He just doesn't produce the same feel as Raymond Herrera did, likely due to his not being a pioneering member of the band (thus growing with the evolution of the band's sound over its twenty-year history).
I would like to suggest, that as a big fan of this band, to not buy into the hype that surrounded this album before its release; it's quite good when the album is good, but it gets weighed down by repetition (especially in the lyrics) and being too close to the style of Divine Heresy. Fear Factory has changed a lot over the years, and it's not too late for this to happen again, to rip our faces off.
Oh, and the remake of Crash Test from Soul Of A New Machine is excellent, to say the least. The only major difference here is that Burton doesn't utter death grunts like he did in the band's inception, as well as the opening effects of the original that made it such a powerful listen back in its day. This track, as well as the remastered demo tracks that follow it (includes Big God, Self Immolation, and Soul Wound), are only available on the deluxe edition. For four extra tracks, one of them a refreshing new take on a previous song of their own, you might as well get this version of the album instead.