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.