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Ascension Of The Watchers

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Wednesday, March 5, 2008 @ 11:03 PM

13th Planet/Megaforce

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With the future of Fear Factory up in the air (Are they on hiatus? Have they broken up?), Burton Christopher Bell is promoting his other project, Ascension of the Watchers. 2008 is shaping up to be a pretty big year for Mr. Bell: he's got this AOTW and he's going to be out with Ministry on its last tour ever as a guest-vocalist (he also appears on the forthcoming Ministry CD Cover Up performing "Under My Thumb").

It was only a few years ago when the world first heard the answer to the question: what would a Fear Factory without Dino be like? The answer was, not too surprisingly, that the band would soldier on and sound pretty much the same. Now it seems as if the question is: what would Fear Factory sound like without Burton? - or rather - what would Burton sound like without a Fear Factory behind him?

Ascension of the Watchers seems to be the answer to that question. Succinctly: pretty much Fear Factory without the drums and the Grrrrgghh.

First off, it's not heavy. This is incredibly atmospheric and recalls David Bowie in his Station To Station / Berlin-trilogy phase. That his song-writing partner is John Bechdel, (keyboardist for FF, Killing Joke and Ministry among others) shouldn't come as any surprise since Bechdel himself is a latter-day Gary Numan of sorts, and Numan worshipped Bowie. Add that this was recorded at Al Jourgensen's 13th Planet Studios (and features Al and the late Paul Raven), one can readily imagine all these guys going out to dinner in El Paso, getting wrecked on Dos Equis and talking about how cool Brian Eno was and arguing whether "TVC15" was more influential than "Sound And Vision" or "Heroes"... (just listen to the song "On The River").

Burton as Bowie isn't really a stretch; though he still sounds like Burton C. Bell, just not the guy who sang "Edgecrusher" or "Cyberwaste." This is the "Zero Signal," "Resurrection" Burton C. Bell and he sounds terrific. Old school Fear Factory fans looking for the shirtless screaming tattooed LA guy are going to be a bit surprised to find the chilled-out art school black clothes-wearing Brooklyn guy. But just as Bowie wears a lot of hats, so it seems does Mr. Bell. Just don't crucify him for not making this a Fear Factory Mach II record; it's actually a breath of fresh air that a vocalist side-project isn't made up of a bunch of songs that easily could be a part of his regular project (i.e., Bret Michaels, Phil Anselmo).

Numinosum starts off with "Ascendant," a moody number that seems as much influenced by Pink Floyd as it does by Bowie/Eno. There is little to say about the song, since it's mostly a shimmering essence of keyboards and nuanced plucking of strings and Burton doesn't even come in until over two minutes into the song (perhaps he was having a decaf espresso?). Yet it sets the tone for the album perfectly. Most of the songs continue in this vein with BCB either sounding a lot like the esoteric FF or moving into a new, more subdued direction.

"Evading" and "Residual Presence" (not a FF song, but a FF title if there ever was one) bring the tempos up quite a bit, with the latter recalling early Cure; though neither captures a familiar Burton C. Bell, but rather the late-model 1984 4AD fan. "Canon For My Beloved" sounds like FF/Demanufacture vocally; "Moonshine" sounds like a Cure song when Robert Smith is being sulky (but in love); "Mars Becoming" sounds like, again, a Fear Factory song from Demanufacture but without the aggression. "On The River" is pure Bowie/Eno (see above); this is followed by "Violet Morning," an acoustic number performed by Mr. Bell and named for his daughter (who knew the guy was such an old softie?); and "Like Falling Snow" is sung entirely in French and is simple and pretty but really swings when Burton finally starts doing his FF-Bono impression.

There is a cover of "Sounds of Silence" which, as slowly as it's performed, is quite beautiful and certainly fits into the FF mystique of "then the machines became self-aware!" "Quintessence," which follows, is over sixteen minutes long and boy, you start feeling it after the first five... it's very pretty music, and if you hate Mr. Bell and blame him for making Dino leave Fear Factory or something, you'll love this song because he doesn't sing on it. It's instrumental. And after about 10:20, it's just the repeated sound of a record skipping (someone's been listening to old Flipper). HOWEVER, if you buy into the Bowie analogy, it's perfect as it completes the cycle the record takes you on, from silence to silence and with every soaring mood between.

To sum up Numinosum: Bowie-esque; for fans of Fear Factory who also like Love Spirals Downwards and anyone who liked that song from the Marie Antoinette soundtrack by Windsor For The Derby, "The Melody Of A Fallen Tree." It's not metal; but one of cool things about Fear Factory was its diversity, which is evident herein. AOTW is an excellent record; the FF fans just have to know what they're getting into.


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