Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Review: Fear Factory, "Transgression"

With 2004's Archetype Fear Factory surprised fans with a return to the vicious cyber metal of their first two albums, Soul of a New Machine and Demanufacture. A year and a half later, they’re back to the mediocre music of their middle albums.

For a frustrated 20-year-old kid angry at the fact that his favorite bands seemed to be going soft, Fear Factory’s Soul of a New Machine was a swift kick in the pants. It had the intensity of the old-school thrash I craved mixed with clanking industrial noises, just a touch of death metal and these cool melodic passages that seemed to be out of place, yet at the same time perfectly suited for the sound. The follow-up, Demanufacture, was just as good. But then, they started doing techno remixes of their albums. That was the first clue this band was over. The next was the uninspired third album Obsolete. After that Fear Factory quickly fell of my radar. I was vaguely aware that they were still out there and having some internal strife, but every time I heard something by them, I found it fairly boring.

Then came Archetype, and the return of the familiar sound I remembered from those two early albums. It was perhaps a bit more melodic, but I had high hopes for a return to glory. Until now.

Transgression features the trademark mechanical-sounding drum lines and guitar riffing that Fear Factory’s known for, and the heavier parts of songs like “540,000 Degrees Fahrenheit” and the title track are as tight as anything the band has ever done. But here, those trademark sounds are perhaps a bit too mechanical. At times they sound almost as if someone took all of Fear Factory’s previous albums, plugged them into a computer and told it to spit out something that sounded similar. The riffs are solid, but there’s no real passion, anger or any emotion at all. None of the songs are particularly memorable. The alternating melodic and gruff vocals from Burton Bell are still there, but he doesn’t use them as effectively. The entire album seems devoid of the melodic hooks that have marked the band’s best work.

The lightweight turn toward the middle of the album doesn’t help. The lethargic “Echo of My Scream” is enough to put the listener to sleep for a few songs, and the upbeat, Southern California pop-punk sound of “I Will Follow” wakes you with a jolt and an urge to puke. Really, the only song on the album that sticks with me is “Millennium,” which has a nice old-school thrash feel on the verse. Even it’s not really something that I’d listen to for long, though.

I had a lot of hope for this album, but I come away from it disappointed once again. The band and label have been comparing the album to Obsolete, and I’d have to agree with that comparison. I felt the same way about that album. It sounds like Fear Factory, only boring and uninspired. The real Transgression here is against the fans that bought into the comeback.

Get "Transgression."

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Review: Alice Cooper, "Dirty Diamonds"

Popping in the latest album from Alice Cooper is a lot like entering a time warp. The first thing I noticed when I picked this record up is that the cover looked a lot like one of his 1970s albums. When I put it in the CD player, it sounded a lot like one of those albums as well.

Alice Cooper has shown a chameleon-like ability to keep his music in line with the current trends, while managing to put just enough Alice Cooper into the music to not sound like a trend-chaser. (Well, there was the awful Hey Stoopid, but I’ll forgive him that – even though it took me about 10 years to do it.) So in the 1980s, he flirted with the hair band sound, gaining his most commercial success with Trash. Then in the late 1990s, he absorbed the nu-metal sound, producing the heaviest, and in my mind one of the best, albums of his career with Brutal Planet. Then, he came full circle with his last album, The Eyes of Alice Cooper. Much of that album echoed his original sound, which also just happens to be the sound of the current garage rock trend. (You know, all those “The” bands.)

Dirty Diamonds takes the concept of "Eyes" one step further and immerses the listener completely in the 1970s sounds, bringing Cooper back to the gritty Detroit rock that brought him to the dance. “Woman of Mass Distraction” and “Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)” would be right at home on any of his 1970s albums. A strong Stones influence comes through on “Perfect” and there’s a feel-good, bubblegum feel to “You Make Me Wanna.” But this is still an Alice Cooper record, and things turn a bit nastier on the title track, which sounds like a cross between the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.”

Cooper’s legendary black humor is still in full effect on this album, on songs like “Own Worst Enemy.” Perhaps the best example, though, is on “The Saga of Jesse Jane,” a twisted take on a Johnny Cash-style storytelling ballad that offers the chuckles for the record. There’s also a surprise here and there, like the funky “Run Down the Devil,” the bluesy number “Six Hours” and even a duet with rapper Xzibit, “Stand.” (Though I do have to say I could have lived quite happily without ever hearing an Alice Cooper duet with any rapper, but that’s just my personal musical tastes.) Through it all, Alice is still at his best when he’s rocking out, as on the driving (no pun intended) “Steal That Car” or the rollicking “Sunset Babies.”

There are also a couple of trademark slower, dark tunes a la “Welcome to My Nightmare.” “Pretty Ballerina” really doesn’t do much for me, but “Zombie Dance” works quite well, evoking a voodoo feel.

In the end, Dirty Diamonds certainly won’t rival Cooper’s great 1970s albums like Billion Dollar Babies and Welcome to My Nightmare, but it proves that he can still rock. This is a fun record for both the long-time Alice Cooper fan and fans of the current garage rock scene.

Get "Dirty Diamonds."