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Sunday, 16 August 2015

Reviews: Fear Factory, Soulfly, Gentle Knife

Fear Factory: Genexus (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

Fear Factory, a band that stand in the halls of heavy metal history as innovators of the fusion of industrial, extreme and thrash genres. A band that was also ripped apart in the 2000s by internal division, legal battles over the name and the legacy. A band that always delivered live and crushed skulls with alarming regularity, such was the driving intensity of their music. 2009’s Mechanize and the impressive Industrialist in 2012 suggested that Fear Factory was still a vital and relevant machine, unwilling to sit on their laurels and play the classics but able to craft and culture their unique form of brutality for their dedicated fan base. With their latest release, Genexus, Fear Factory continue to demonstrate that they have the hunger and the desire to create new music.

Opener Autonomous Combat System reassures the listener that the industrial power and grind present in spades on Industrialist has survived intact. Although the band no longer have the powerhouse that is Gene Hoglan behind the kit, new man Mike Heller does an excellent job on all of the tracks he features on, pounding the skins throughout in the style that you would expect from a Fear Factory release. The combination of Heller and ex-Soulfly bass badass Tony Campo ensures that the engine room is firing on all cylinders and this allows the brutality of Dino Cazarres’ guitar riffs room and freedom. Andonized combines the powerful riffs with Gary Newman style synthesisers adding layers to the sound. Meanwhile Burton C Bell’s vocals range from the typical snarling spewing aggression one minute to the calmer, cleaner harmonies (can he cut it live though?). Whilst Genexus generally follows a tried and trusted formula, the album does contain the odd surprise. Dielectric merges the old school Fear Factory sound with a fresher, modern industrial slant, swirling synths meshing together with the evil ground out fret work of Cazarres. The last time I saw Fear Factory Bell’s vocals really struggled to hit the heights, out of tune and generally disappointing. Now I have no doubt that a bit of technical wizardry has assisted his performance on Genexus but his delivery throughout is excellent here, nowhere better illustrated than on the nu-metal feel of Soul Hacker, which has Bell in classic form, screaming his lungs out at times. The track is also the only one to feature Deen Castronovo on the drums.

What also enhances the album is a great production courtesy of Rhys Fulber and the engineering genius of Andy Sneap. The sound is crisp, allowing the full force of Fear Factory to wash over you like a tsunami. Album closer Expiry Date is reminiscent of Therapy For Pain, the closing track on the classic Demanufacture album. Two bonus tracks on the deluxe edition add value with Mandatory Sacrifice’s electronica remix providing shades of The Prodigy before it hits warp speed. Enhanced Reality is another less traditional Fear Factory battering ram, with Bell’s softer vocals smoothing over another electronic beat, almost Anathema-like in parts. Fear Factory may not be the innovators they once were but in Genexus they have proved a timely reminder that in the industrial metal genre, they stand proudly at the top. 7/10

Soulfly: Archangel (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

This week the medical profession in the UK published research that music in the operating theatre, as well as pre and post –operatively can aid your recovery. A timely discussion point then, as Archangel arrives, mere weeks after Max and La Familia destroyed the Globe in Cardiff. Just as happened at the gig, Archangel proves that there is no escape from the brutality of the Soulfly main man. Archangel is album number 10 from Soulfly and demonstrates that as Max reaches middle age he is in no mood to age gracefully. Archangel is also the shortest Soulfly release at a mere 36.5 minutes in length but as the saying goes, sometimes quality is better than quantity. Ably assisted by the ever faithful Marc Rizzo on guitar and the absolutely hammering family rhythm section of Igor and Zyon, Archangel is an all-out onslaught of thrash metal with the usual hard-core punk infusion. Opener We Sold Our Souls To Metal sounds better here than it did in the live arena, anvil heavy drumming and thrashing guitar and Max’s trademark guttural vocals. The album is loosely themed around religion and Old Testament themes but cleverly avoids the Christian label that afflicts so many bands. The title track is a surprisingly intricately paced track with a superb Mastodon style break down in the middle.

A number of guest vocalists enhance the album; Todd Jones from Nails adds real anger and hatred to Sodomites, a powerful stomping number with a massive churning guitar sound; credit to producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Children of Bodom, Monster Magnet) who has really captured the Soulfly live sound. King Parrot frontman Matthew Young provides a completely different vocal performance on Live Life Hard, screeching hard-core edged. However, for all the guest appearances, if you could bottle the essence of Soulfly, you would not have to go further than Titans, a venomous thrasher with enormous hooks and Max screaming at the top of his voice before slowing to a grinding riff which allows Rizzo to shred viciously. Final guest arrives on Mother Of Dragons; Richie Cavalera, Max’s step-son and metal frontman with Incite joins in the two and half minute frenzy. Brutal is too calm a word for this assault. The bonus disc gets you three extra tracks including the ten second Napalm Death cover of You Suffer. So, a shorter, more focused Soulfly album, full of rage, aggression and short sharp thrash that we've grown to love from Max Cavalera. So back to the medical debate. Soulfly whilst having a full frontal lobotomy? Absolutely. 8/10

Gentle Knife: Gentle Knife (Bajkal) [Review By Matt]

Norwegians Gentle Knife have managed to defy time and indeed geography here on their debut album. Although the album was released this year it sounds like it was recorded in England in around 1971. When you think of this band you must think of the pastoral, progressive music of bands like Yes, Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and early Genesis before throwing in a little of Jeff Waynes' War Of The Worlds and you wouldn't be far off. The album features long sprawling songs, intricate instrumentation and whimsical songwriting which as well as being hallmarks of the bands mentioned previously, are also a very major part of Gentle Knife's resume. This 10 piece band have lovingly crafted this 10 track album that features a jazzy rhythm section who readily change the time signatures allowing the two guitarists to show their deft but intensely technical playing see Tear Away The Chords That Bind for masterclass in understated but intensive guitar playing.

The keys/organs are one of the main draws of the record, keeping everything together with waves of melodies as the synths wash over the songs. In just an extra bit of musical experimentation trumpets, saxophones and flutes all add to more pastoral tracks like Eventide which is where they really shine, along with the Epilogue: Locu Amoenus and the closing Coda:Impetus, as well as on the 'heavier' tracks like Our Quiet Footsteps where the keys and guitars do the work but the wind instruments flesh out the songs giving them a third dimension. As well as the impressive music element vocally the album is perfect with a crooning deep male vocal (and acoustic guitar) working in conjunction perfectly with the more haunting female vocals that sound an awful lot like Kate Bush at her most wistful. As with many of the original progressive rock bands (e.g King Crimson Procol Harum) the band also have a silent member who contributes the words music and some sound samples to the album which is the basis on which the musicians compose their magic. Take a trip back to prog's glory days with Gentle Knife who will take you trip far beyond the realms of normality so you can get Close To The Edge and then into Court Of The Crimson King just like the old days!!! 8/10  

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