AFM Records / Soulfood
In the early ‘90s, many years before Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall started combining strangled growls with catchy vocal melodies, and Static-X and Rammstein began blended pounding staccato riffs and jackhammer beats with electronic samples, Los Angeles future-thinkers Fear Factory were reinventing both death metal and industrial rock with an arsenal of sonic styles. After releasing four critically acclaimed albums and two industrial remix EPs, selling over a million albums in the process.
Following a grueling tour with Machine Head in 2002, the creative core of Fear Factory imploded due to personal differences and sheer over-exertion. Guitarist and songwriter Dino Cazares went on to play with Brujeria and Asesino and vocalist Burton C. Bell took a few months off before eventually reforming the band and releasing two more records over the next few years. Without Cazares in the mix, however, Fear Factory was missing a key element of its sound and wound up feeling like a shadow of their former selves.
“It just didn’t feel complete,” says Bell. “I realized that Dino and I were a real integral part of Fear Factory and we needed each other to make it work, and without the both of us it lost that intensity.”
As time passed, the chance of a reunion between Bell and Cazares seemed less and less likely. Then in April 2008, a full six years after they had last spoken, Bell, then touring with Ministry, ran into Cazares at the band’s Los Angeles show and reopened the lines of communication. “I just said ‘hey, how you doing?’ and it started from there,” Bell says. Not long thereafter Bell and Cazares were jamming again. With bassist Byron Stroud and drummer Gene Hoglan (Dethklok, Strapping Young Lad), Fear Factory was back and ready for action.
The result of their union, Mechanize, is a full-fisted blast of passion and innovation that sounds like the missing link between’s 1995’s caustic, groundbreaking Demanufacture and 1998’s more texturally nuanced Obsolete. Songs like “Industrial Discipline” and “Powershifter” are crushing and colossal, melding rhythms as fast and precise as Uzi blasts with vocals that pinwheel from raw and scathing to hauntingly melodic. While “Fear Campaign,” which features harrowing spoken word passages, quickly segues into a showcase of punishing beats, rapid-fire riffs and ghostly keyboards. And for the first time in years, the band’s industrial roots glimmer through its street-lethal metal, thanks in part to the co-production efforts and keyboard programming of Rhys Fulber, who worked on Fear Factory’s industrial remix albums Fear is the Mindkiller and manufacture.
“I didn’t want any of the soundscapes to sound natural. I wanted them to be really mechanical because I wanted that aspect of Fear Factory to really shine again,” Bell says. “I feel it kind of got dulled over and that’s the aspect that I really enjoyed a lot about Fear Factory because I brought that to the table. I was a huge fan of industrial music and still am. And you don’t hear much of that these days anymore.”
While Mechanize is instantly reminiscent of Fear Factory’s most potent moments of discovery, it’s hardly a stroll down the old assembly line. Be it the orchestral keyboard swells of "Christploitation,” the keyboard-infused dirge of “Final Exit,” the taped screams and radio transmissions of “Controlled Demolition” or the last gasp-under-shattered-glass samples of “Metallic Division,” the combination of technological advancements and experience of Fear Factory have evolved like a computer virus, constantly reconfiguring itself to maximize its destructive
Mechanize was inspired in part by Bell’s recent reading of Alvin Toffler’s 1984 treatise Third Wave. “That book was really inspirational to me as I was working on Mechanize,” Bell says. “It starts off describing the first wave, which was agricultural, and the second wave, which was the industrial revolution. And it’s describing the death of the industrial revolution and the coming into the third wave. Even though the book was written twenty-five years ago, it’s so pertinent
The origins of Fear Factory date back to 1990 in Los Angeles, an era rife with political turmoil, racial tension and economic hardship. At the time, Bell and Cazares were living in an eight bedroom community house and were playing in different bands. Bell was wreaking havoc with the industrial noise outfit Hateface and Cazares was in the grindcore group Excruciating Terror. After hearing Bell
singing a U2 song in the shower one day and realizing he had a voice as well as a ferocious growl, Cazares asked him if he was interested in jamming. The two formed Ulceration, which evolved into Fear Factory.
The band landed a record deal based on a self-financed recording they made with producer Ross Robinson (Slayer), Concrete, and immediately entered the studio to record their first proper full-length, Soul of a New Machine. Released in 1992 it transformed death metal almost overnight with its blend of throat-abrading screams and melodic vocals, and sci-fi lyrics about a machine that was invented to control and contain mankind.
“A lot of people didn’t get it and really ridiculed us,” Cazares says. “Because of the different vocals some people were like, ‘whoah, this is cool, this is different.’ And other people were like, ‘he’s singing melodically? That shouldn’t be on a fuckin’ death metal record.’ It took a while for more people to catch on to that style of singing, and now it’s everywhere.”
In the six years that have passed since the original Fear Factory splintered, lots of transformation has taken place. Bell has formed the gothic rock band Ascension of the Watchers, which released the album Numinosum on Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen’s 13th Planet Records, and recently formed City of Fire with Stroud. Cazares has put out two Divine Heresy discs and toured extensively. Stroud and Hoglan have recorded and toured with Strapping Young Lad, Zimmer’s Hole and Dethklok. For Bell, the myriad projects have only provided creative ideas and inspiration for Fear Factory.
“In this day and age you gotta keep busy because you can’t just rely on one band,” he says. “That’s something we’ve all learned from time and years of experience. You need to keep busy and keep working. Not only is it good to support yourself, it also keeps you going creatively.”
While both Bell and Cazares agree that it’s sometimes hard to juggle all the projects they’re working on, they’ve both got Fear Factory on the front-burner and they’re as excited about the band again as they were in the early ‘90s. Moreover, they’re approaching it with a new level of maturity and professionalism.
“We’ve all changed a bit as people over the years,” Bell says. “We’ve developed patience and we’ve had some humbling experiences. And when those things happen you realize that the types of battles we had in the past are just a waste of time. And time is precious.”
2. Industrial Discipline
3. Fear Campaign
7. Controlled Demolition
8. Designing The Enemy
9. Metallic Division
10. Final Exit
Burton C. Bell (vocals)
Dino Cazares (guitar)
Byron Stroud (bass)
Gene Hoglan (drums)