In a world where honesty is less than supreme, I’ve decided to add a little truth. For all you death-metal mongers, this is first Fear Factory record I have ever heard. There, it’s said. The foursome’s name was familiar, of course, as was their impact on rock. Coarse guitar drives melding with techno drones and yes, melody, make up a death template few bands of this genre were accustomed to; that is until the ‘90s. Roadrunner’s A& R honcho Monte Conner comments in a liner note, “Whether Fear Factory invented this technique or not, they were certainly the first band to truly popularize it. . . .” But why do fans find the music to be so special, so alive? And should we really give shit? Then it hit me. A true metal head can talk all day about which Morbid Angel album spews more misery, Domination or Blessed Are the Sick. He/She can talk endlessly about Black Sabbath changing the face of rock with its stark, key of E originality. But never, at least to this critic, did these groups ever think about transcending the forever-gloom aesthetic. Concrete treads through the hatred of conservative, corporate structure while also playing the optimist.
And to find this yellow brick road, one must blaze through an onslaught of hate-bred atmosphere and industrial mutiny. Just take a listen to “Dragged Down by the Weight of Existence”. Corporate twits don’t stand a chance against its unruly angst, where fierce riffs pound through and through amongst lawnmower guitar. It’s all a sympathetic nod towards the little man, the poor slob who comes home from a day at the factory with nothing to show but greasy fingernails and asbestos poisoning. Then there’s “Concrete” where in similar fashion, a barrage of slow growls, mangy electrics and speed drums take hold; though this particular track champions two to three daunting chords, much like in Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. The chords ride parallel to the dark cry of vocalist Burton Bell, who screams for the men and women of concrete, the blue-collar lifestyle that sometimes leaves torn jeans and ripped souls. As many of our ‘60s rock luminaries - Janis Joplin, Dylan, Patti Smith - along with various punk breeds, Fear Factory put their guts on the line. The band questions our modern life, and the future at that.
So where IS this light if everything on the record seems so bleak? If you listen closely to songs such as “Arise Above the Oppression”, the chant of “rise above” represents a demonstrative fist, pleading that oppression has no place in society. “Rise above the one that hates you,” shouts Bell. While this can be taken as a revolt against your boss, it can also be against your mother, father, brother, best friend, politician if you feel the need.
What ultimately stands alone, however, is the difference between the song’s instruments and lyrics. The instrumentals—carrying a continuous trounce of bombastic strum and snare drum—represent the fury carried by under appreciated, working-class minds. The optimistic words, on the other hand, are a safety net from constant despair, given the overall mood is downtrodden. But tracks such as “Ulceration”, where the temperament is similarly sinister, stands out through its addition of a sampler—a ranting man. “You son of a bitch,” yelps the man. It’s handing the listener a prop, if you will, or a way of inducing this vision of an over acidic episode. Here the individual’s stomach, as well as heart, can take no more. This is not filler, but more a way of exposing the dubious notion of stress-free America. In that regard the song wakes you up, not tear you down.
Having recorded well-sold efforts such as Soul of a New Machine and Demanufacture, Concrete maintains its stature as the all out slugfest. It’s a momentous beginning in that it marks the progression of what’s now known as nu-metal, linking some of the most overly hard sounds and tender tunes this side of Metallica’s Ride the Lightening. But what stand out even amongst the interesting instrumentals are the tormented vocals. Bands such as Korn, Slipknot, Static-X and others take hold of the technical innovation, but also take part in the agitation exuded with words. This, collectively, creates Fear Factory into an “influence” and for any fanatic of tombstone rock, Concrete is a must hear.
// Notes from the Road
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