By Metal George Pacheco
Reborn from the cogs of the new machine, Los Angeles’ Fear Factory have returned with Mechanize—an album which just might be the best of their twenty year career. The quartet’s—founders Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares on vocals and guitars, respectively, alongside Strapping Young Lad bassist Byron Stroud and drummer extraordinaire Gene Hoglan—return to the fold is not without controversy, however, as the band’s ex-rhythm section of Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera have been famously (and legally) disputing the use of the “Fear Factory” name by Bell and Cazares.
It’s difficult to argue with Mechanize, however, so legitimate is the album’s sound and pedigree. While the Cazares-less Fear Factory efforts of Transgression and Archetype served as solid returns to aggro form for the band—the nu-metal silliness of 2001’s Digimortal thankfully a distant memory—it is Mechanize which truly ushers in the Fear Factory of old.
Yep, Burton C. Bell is reunited with Dino Cazares. And it feels so good. Hellbound spoke to the influential frontman about Mechanize and its place amidst Fear Factory’s creative 90s triumvirate of Obsolete, Demanufacture, and Soul of a New Machine.
Hellbound: Do you think this album possesses enough to serve as a starting point for new fans—if they’ve been hiding under a rock and haven’t heard of Fear Factory—as an encapsulation of your career, in a sense?
Burton C. Bell [vocals]: I think so. I think if there are new fans, this is an album true to our sound, and I’m not afraid to compare it. It definitely sounds like records of our past, without repeating itself, so if a new fan were to get this album? Yeah, I think it would be a good start—if they like this, they’re gonna LOVE Demanufacture or Obsolete.
On the other hand, it’s also the most involved Fear Factory album yet: everything seems to be on ten. What do you feel Mechanize offers that maybe previous albums didn’t?
Maturity. It has a focus. It’s not all over the place; it’s direct and to the point. It’s not too long. When it ends, you feel like it has taken you on a journey, and I think musically it’s just direct musically and lyrically.
Regarding being focused on lyrical themes, on a song such as “Industrial Discipline”—which I think is one of the best songs you’ve ever written—there’s this theme of man versus machine and losing the soul; this sort of alienation. Do you think this has been a connecting theme with your lyrics throughout the years, and if you were to describe your thought process, how would you do so?
This album does stick with the theme OF an actual “Fear Factory”—this concept of “man versus machine”. The machine isn’t necessarily a mechanical machine, however; it’s more of a metaphor for society or government. “Industrial Discipline” IS that: it’s a term I got from Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave, and “industrial discipline” is what society has been programmed to do by the industrial complex. It’s the system which the industrial complex set up for its workers: be at work for nine, clock in, do this job, take a ten minute break. We’re disciplined as a society into it, and that’s the concept I took for the song. It’s fighting that machine, and breaking free of that.
Speaking of influences, do you feel that the influence of bands like Ministry, Godflesh and Neurosis—as well as the death metal side of you on the Soul of a New Machine debut—is still filtered through what you do?
Absolutely. I don’t sound like who I was on Soul of a New Machine, because I’ve grown as a vocalist and developed into my own style, but the sounds of those bands is definitely still prevalent within Fear Factory’s music today.
I actually wanted to touch on that, because you were one of the first to do the “screaming/singing” thing which is now so prevalent in bands such as Soilwork, who sort of owe their careers to what you were doing in the 90s. How does it feel to be an influence, and what brought initially brought about the decision to mix up the singing styles?
As a lover of music, I’m influenced by the artists I enjoyed listening to and love, and the singers who I can point out that I tried to sound like—from Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, to Chris Cornell, Justin Broadrick from Godflesh, Carl McCoy from Fields of the Nephilim, or Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters of Mercy. As I started to become a vocalist myself, it just developed into my own sound, really. The combination of how it came into our music was when we were writing “Big God/Raped Souls” on Soul of a New Machine. There was this part where I almost laughingly started singing over it—this sort of Justin Broadrick moaning chant he would do on Godflesh’s early albums, only more melodic—and Dino stops! So I was like, “Sorry! I won’t do it!” to which he goes, “No, do it again! It was cool!” (laughs)
But yeah, there are a lot of bands who have taken that formula and used it to their benefit, which I’m fine with, totally. I feel almost as a teacher would, in some respects; like I’ve added something to a musical genre, to someone’s talents. I’ve inspired someone creatively, for them to create art in their own life, which I feel is a positive step forward in music and someone’s life, so I feel good about it, for sure.
Do you think that having these non-metal influences, and not being so single-minded in taste, has led to more originality within songwriting?
Absolutely. If I had just listened to metal, the vocals would not sound like this. The fact that my tastes comes from a different side of extreme music—from industrial, to goth and punk rock—brings this dark feeling and vibe into it. These are the sounds that I like, and which I bring to the table, so Fear Factory as a result has this different feeling vocally; it’s not full on METAL all the time, which is a result of my musical taste.
How much of an influence did having new blood in the band—with Gene and Byron—lend itself to the songwriting?
It was really good. Dino was jazzed to just be playing guitar and working with Gene Hoglan—I mean, who wouldn’t!? Gene’s a machine, and the fact that he could do anything just let the ideas flow, and we could totally work off each other. Having him was definitely an inspiration for Dino; the drums have a flavor for Fear Factory which was never there before, which I feel is a great bonus for the album.
They seem to have the pedigree to fit right in, given the Strapping Young Lad thing, which is very similar to what you guys do.
Yeah Gene understood it. He came from that kind of school already: Strapping Young Lad was influenced by Fear Factory, and Devin [Townsend] will tell you that. As Strapping Young Lad grew, it became its own thing, but it’s the same school. Gene knew where Dino was coming from automatically, so it definitely added to it.
Do you care to comment on the controversy brewing on both sides, with regards to the “old” Fear Factory versus the “new” Fear Factory?
Well, we’re close to resolution. Yes, Dino and I are legally using the name “Fear Factory”. We have not been stopped, and we are touring with the album coming out in February. I feel we’re close to resolution, and the fans don’t need to worry about it: we’re out, about and on the attack.
How did you settle any sort of beef or animosity you’ve had with Dino in the past, and start working with him again?
It’s just time. Dino and I didn’t speak for seven years, and it was just time. We were friends before we were in a band together; we were roommates, and we created Fear Factory together, pretty much growing up together within it. That led to a breakdown in communication, but time brought it back together, to the point where you just miss your friend. We started talking again when I was touring Ministry from April 2008 to late November 2008, just reconnecting, hashing things out and getting past things. Once I felt we were comfortable and talking all the time, I just offered out for him to be a part of this again, and I’m glad he did it.
So how soon afterwards did the actual songwriting begin?
It all happened afterwards. We didn’t have any ideas at all before we headed to the studio, other than ideas of what we felt the album should sound like, and the direction it should take. Other than that, we didn’t have any songs written until March and April of this year. Once we sat down, though, the ball started rolling, and the energy and creative consciousness was great. We wrote and recorded this album in record time—faster than any other album. It just shows the spark which is going on in this band right now.
Whether fans like it or not, Dino’s guitar style is sort of intertwined with your vocals as part of what Fear Factory is: you can’t imitate it.
Right. It’s the chemistry of Dino and I working together which really created the sound of Fear Factory in the past. The fact that this sound is back again, I think you can really tell, “yes, that is Fear Factory right there.”
With him doing his own musical thing in the interim, did he bring to the table any different ideas guitar-wise into the Fear Factory scheme? I definitely heard it on a song like “Christploitation”; it’s way more involved than anything he’s done.
Absolutely. We’ve all been doing this for twenty years, and his skills have definitely developed. He’s able to explore different sounds and aspects of his playing, and utilized everything here on the table. Working with Gene, this is the result. Everything we’re been working for has been brought here to this album.
We decided to cover ourselves, actually, so we re-recorded three old songs. We re-recorded “Martryr” and “Crash Test” from Soul of a New Machine, and we re-recorded a song from Concrete that was on one of our original demos called “Sangre de Ninos”.
So, what are you going to be doing touring-wise for this record?
At the end of this month, we’re doing two weeks in Australia—we’re headlining a stage on the Big Day Out—and after that we head to Europe for a few weeks after the release of the album on February 9th. After that, we plan on touring North America in March and April.
Mechanize will be released this February by Candlelight USA.
Story courtesy of the Cape Cod Rock Music Examiner