The words “side project” have particular resonance in the world of heavy music, and not necessarily always a positive one. For every creative maverick that releases a quiet gem of a record, there are the invariable buckets of knocked off, self-indulgent ego trips that add nothing to an artist’s reputation- rather, the complete opposite.
Its therefore not just a blessed relief but an absolute delight to let you know that the latest release from Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell: City of Fire is not just a genuine success in its own right but has enough chutzpah and invention that whilst never eclipsing the best of his work with the veritable Factory boys, it most definitely gives them for their proverbial money.
City of Fire are a straightforward no nonsense metal band. A very good one. Opening track Carve your Name sets the tone and pace for the album brilliantly. A pounding and incessant drum beat; a pair of ferocious riffs that would not be out of place on a Devildriver album and you have a brutal statement of intent. Your attention is grabbed and it doesn’t let up.
Gravity, a more mid tempo number with an incessant and memorable refrain of Bring me down again keeps the album chugging along nicely. Rising, reminiscent of mid-period Deftones but with less of the obvious archness and clever-clever lyricism is an atmospheric highlight on the record.
A Memory had me initially flicking through my Opeth back catalogue wondering whether or not there had been any wholesale shoplifting of Michael Akerfeldt’s riffing but on repeated listening the track gives up delights of its own; there’s an unbridled passion and joy in simply playing music here and it’s infectious.
Coitus Interruptus reveals a perhaps hitherto hidden, self-deprecating side to the band; there’s a sense that heavy metal doesn’t always have to be so serious and self-important. Here the band are clearly laughing at the preposterousness of it all- at the end of the day, this is just a record- a cracking one, but a record just the same. This sense of humour lends a warmth, humanity and charm that permeate the rest of the record.
Emerald – a brief acoustic based interlude gives one the opportunity to pause for breath, to reflect on the excellence of what you’ve just heard before pulling you headlong into the crushing Hollow Land which wouldn’t be out of place on Rammstein’s last opus. Yes, that good.
The closing track, Rain hints at a deeper musicality and a thoughtful ambition. It’s a power ballad but don’t let that either worry or put you off. It’s stunning, perfectly at home here and will undoubtedly be a live favourite.
Fear Factory has an enviable back catalogue and reputation. It’s to City of Fire’s credit that they neither seek to bury it, nor rest on its laurels. It stands properly in its own right and is worth serious investigation. It’s a straight forward rock record, yes but on repeated investigation has a shade, tone and, yes, delicacy as well as the face pounding brutality that you will expect and delight in. This is a happy record, one that passes in a flash. It’s dynamic, memorable and worth a place in your life.
written by Mat Davies