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Fear Factory Concrete

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, August 16, 2002 @ 5:58 PM


(Roadrunner)

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The CIA and FBI could learn a thing or two about secrecy from the Fear Factory camp. The now-defunct quartet, and producer Ross Robinson, somehow managed to keep the band's first studio recording under wraps for a decade without it leaking out as a bootleg tape or making its way onto the Internet and the CD burners of Napster-savvy metalheads.

Recorded in 1991 with Robinson (who a few years later would craft the now all-to-familiar "nu metal" sound with Korn) behind the boards doing some of his first production work, Concrete never was released because of the usual music business bullshit. When the band later signed up with Roadrunner, the brain-trust there wisely had Fear Factory re-record half of the material for inclusion on the band's "official" debut, 1992's Soul Of A New Machine with the more seasoned Colin (Napalm Death, Carcass) Richardson producing. Concrete shows just how primal and unrefined Fear Factory was in its earliest days -- and offers evidence as to just how quickly the band was able to begin a sonic evolution that reached its peak with 1998's cyber-metal classic Obsolete. Soul Of A New Machine was a quantum leap forward the band as songwriters and performers, and its crisper, punchier, more sophisticated sound completely transformed Fear Factory and provided a solid foundation to build on -- which, of course they did. Although there are some of early indications of more adventurous industrial aspirations on Concrete in the occasional samples and effects and the voiceover that introduced "Big God/Raped Souls," Fear Factory was still very much a death metal/grindcore band at the time. And Robinson, himself still a neophyte making the transition to the other side of the boards after having played guitar with L.A. speed metallers Détente, was in no position to "shape" a band's sound like he could now.

As a result, Concrete is a rough, primitive effort that seems more like a demo than a genuine album. The aforementioned "Big God/Raped Souls," "Self Immolation" and "Suffer Age" feel very much like works in progress with their loose structure and minimalist production value. They have a recorded-live-in-the-rehearsal-room sound and urgency, with nothing to polish the rawness or flesh out the intricacies. Their true potential would be realized later on Soul, or, in the case of "Pisschrist" which ended up on Demanufacture, to be retooled into an entirely different song. Tracks such as "Deception" or "Ulceration," heard for the first time here, dig down to Fear Factory's very roots. Fast and furious, and with singer Burton Bell in full cookie monster mode, these brutal little ditties are straight out of the Napalm Death school of maximum grind. Anyone who saw Fear Factory during the Soul Of A New Machine tour got a good taste of this side of the band because it did take some time for the fellas to translate their studio chops onstage.

As roughshod and gnarly as Concrete is, it's still a fascinating snapshot of where Fear Factory -- and Ross Robinson, for that matter -- came from. And it's not a bad record by any means. Even at its most primitive, Fear Factory had more going for it than most of the death metal dunderheads that were around at the time.

Now that the secret's out, Concrete makes for a worthwhile bookend to any Fear Factory fan's collection -- the obligatory live album or "Best of" set is sure to come later. And it proves just how much a band can grow if it's not afraid to experiment and push the envelope. It's just too bad that that envelope is now closed on Fear Factory.

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