Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum Review

2021’s Aggression Continuum is the tenth full-length canonical studio album (discounting compilations, remix albums, demos, and their almost-debut Concrete – which doesn’t count) by the veteran Metal band Fear Factory. It has a long and storied history, which you can go into at length online should you wish, but the gist of it was that the band recorded an album called Monolith a few years ago, featuring less polished versions of these tunes, but that record got delayed due to legal issues and wasn’t released. Most of the various old band members hate each other, and all of them seem to hate guitarist and current band leader Dino Cazares, who crowdfunded for the cash to improve Monolith and turn it into this current album via a series of small upgrades. He used the cash to hire Mike Heller on drums (who’d done a great job on their previous album Genexus) to replace Monolith’s drum-machine tracks with actual drums, and to add in additional keyboards, electronics and atmosphere to flesh the whole thing out and give it the finishing touches. In the meantime however, iconic singer Burton C. Bell left the band in a less-than-amicable split, but rather than start afresh with a new singer, Dino decided to keep just his old vocal recordings from 2017 and release the album anyway, as a weird hybrid of old and new.

A messy genesis to be sure, but you better believe I crowdfunded this record and was looking forward to it, because despite the recent mess they have become, Fear Factory were actually one of my favourite bands growing up and when they are on top form they can be one of the best bands in the entire genre. After the uncivilized sniping by the press; I really wanted one more record from them, and I wanted it to be great. Even though it is sad to see how the mighty have fallen, and hard to believe they would ever continue without Burton, it is still good to have this one last record.

Even going in wating to like it, I am a bit skeptical of the album, and feel there is something a bit cynical on some of the tracks. Perhaps the biggest fault on Aggression Continuum is that there isn’t enough importance placed on the drums or especially not enough focus on the bass, whereas the band had one of the best rhythm sections in the history of Metal in the 90s, which was an equally big selling point to their sci-fi lyrics, clean/growl vocal dynamic and crunchy staccato guitar style that made them famous. Sure that was the hook, but there was always more to it than that. Maybe there is bit too much repeating old glories (one of the songs is a pretty shameless fan service reference to their ‘90s hit “Replica”) and maybe there is a bit to reliance on formula. The album lacks the diversity and nuance that made their earlier work pop, focusing instead on the aforementioned surface level similarity between those early records. Whereas their first four albums were a constant evolution and no two albums sounded that much alike, ever since Raymond and Christian left the band, Fear Factory have kind of just fall into a formula of what they think they should sound like, rather than pushing what they can sound like or even what they did actually sound like. Before, there was a signature guitar and lyrical style in a diverse catalogue. Now its all just riffs and robots, but lacking in all the other parts that complemented the surface level similarity of recurrent crunchy metallic terminator vibes, and stopped a recognisable style from being a gimmick, instead turning it into the basis for some utterly classic albums.     

That all being said however, this album isn’t the worst thing the band have released. It may be a bit by-the-numbers. It may be a bit cynical. However; It is more realized and less rushed than 2005’s hit and miss Transgression, and it is better produced and less boring/forgettable than 2012’s The Industrialist (having a human drummer instead of a drum machine certainly helps it compare favourably to that record).

Sure the spark that made their best albums really shine is missing, but there are a few really quite good tracks, such as the exciting opener “Recode,” the energetic title track “Aggression Continuum,” the bouncy single “Disruptor” and also the deep track “Monolith” which has a nice little guitar solo (a rarity in Fear Factory songs). Its also short enough not to overstay its welcome, which is always a plus. I don’t think in years to come this album will be anyone’s absolute Fear Factory album, but it is an OK end to the Burton C Bell era of the band, and it is not an embarrassment.

Overall, not their best release, but not without its merits. Buy if you are already a fan, don’t start here.