Fear Factory's ambitious new album is full of surprises.
Despite their being a fairly well-known band (appearing on Gigantour in the USA with Megadeth, for instance), 'Transgression' is actually my first encounter with Fear Factory's famous brand of death/industrial metal. As the title suggests, this is an album which strives to go beyond the norm, to experiment...all well and good, but is it actually a pleasant listen?
It's a difficult question to answer, not least because of the variety of musical styles which the album encompasses. From death metal to soft rock, the back to death metal for the closing track (via covers of U2 and Killing Joke songs), 'Transgression' features a bit of everything. This, of course, is a doubled-edged sword - while the variety means that there's something on here that most people will enjoy, a fair number will probably also find half the album about as enjoyable as the entire band standing around them and repetedly kicking them in the face. This is definitely a CD that requires you to be fairly open-minded musically.
For the first four tracks or so, the album has a distinctly death/thrash metal sound to it - but one which deviates from the traditional confines of the genres (one could even say it "transgresses" their boundaries, but that'd be a cynical attempt to make a poor joke based around the album title, wouldn't it?), bringing in clean (but effects-laden) vocals, quieter melodic sections, and even some nu-metal style rapping. Generally, these make for a fairly enjoyable listening experience, except perhaps the latter, although that's more a matter of personal opinion.
Then, with 'Echo of My Scream', the album shoots off in a completly unexpected direction - towards softly sung love songs, a U2 cover, and a couple of collaberations with the bassist from Faith No More. Yes, really. It's a completly unanticipated turn of events, but after the mental re-adjustment necessary to cope with the rapid switch from songs full of viscious guitar riffs and lyrics in which the word "hate" features predominantly, to happy, easy-listening rock music and what sounds suspiciously like a Foo Fighters song ('Supernova'), it's not an unpleasant one. Doubtlessly this more radio-friendly sound will lead to (possibly legitimate) accusations of "selling out", but the fact remains that there are some good songs on offer here.
So why the low score? Despite the technical skill demonstrated by the band, despite the occasional stand-out moments, this isn't a perfect album. In fact, it's far from it. For a start, 'Transgression' is far too short. If every song on here was an exercise in musical brilliance, then that wouldn't be a problem, but when you consider that of the nine new studio tracks here (the disc is bulked out by some live tracks and a couple of covers), only about three are really above average, you can't help but feel cheated. Additionally, the vocals, while at times outstanding, are on occasion too effects-heavy, so that the subtleties of Burton C. Bell's singing are lost, And of course, the controversial mix of styles won't appeal to everyone, But if you've got ten quid to spare and want an unusual, if imperfect album, or are a fan of the band and want to see what they've been up to for the past year or so, then maybe give this a go.