The Machine's New Soul
Fear Factory return with their best album in 15 years
It's weird how the wheel of cultural relevance spins. In the early to mid-'90s, Fear Factory's blend of militaristic/industrial rhythm and thrash-metal rawness—not to mention their highly conceptual lyrical vision of a nightmarish war between men and machines—was the sound of the future.
Albums like 1992's Soul of a New Machine and 1995's Demanufacture welded mechanistic riffing and live drumming (which sounded programmed) to death-metal growls and anthemic choruses—both courtesy of singer Burton Bell, whose range allowed Fear Factory to combine the sounds of Ministry, Napalm Death, and Judas Priest into one band. The group toured with Sepultura, Cannibal Corpse, and Biohazard, revealing the broad-based appeal of its sound.
As the 1990s wore on, Fear Factory opened Megadeth and Iron Maiden tours and secured a slot at Ozzfest. Their blend of harsh and clean vocals, plus their lack of guitar solos, showed up as stylistic tropes on numerous nü-metal albums. Bands like Disturbed, Static-X, and Coal Chamber all made their debt to Fear Factory explicit, citing them in interviews and liner notes. But within the band, all wasn't well. Following the release of the fourth Fear Factory album, 2001's Digimortal, Bell quit, agreeing to return only after founding guitarist Dino Cazares was forced out.
With Cazares gone, bassist Christian Olde Wolbers moved to guitar, and Strapping Young Lad bass player Byron Stroud was hired. This lineup released two albums, 2004's Archetype and 2005's Transgression, which weren't exactly beloved by longtime fans, particularly the latter (for starters, it included an odd cover of U2's "I Will Follow"). The band's time seemed to have passed, as screamo and other, newer sounds replaced industrial metal. Fear Factory dissolved in 2006, after Bell joined Ministry for that group's farewell album, The Last Sucker, and Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera formed Arkaea. And that was that—until last year.
"I still laugh about this every day," says Cazares. "Obviously, I was out of the band for a few years because me and Burton didn't get along. And the power shifted when I left the band. Raymond was basically running Fear Factory. And he hired Christian's wife, who had no managerial experience, to be the manager. And Raymond was having an affair with Christian's wife."
"Burton's like, 'OK, this is stupid. We need to fire her, and we need to get a real manager.' He goes, 'I don't care if you guys are fucking her, but she can't manage this band.'"
The way Cazares tells it, Bell wanted to get the group's classic lineup back together, but the rhythm section, bonded as they were by their mutual love for the bassist's wife and their mutual hatred of their former guitarist, wouldn't budge. "They didn't want me back in the band, and they didn't wanna fire her," he says. Bell eventually had to take sides, and he did. "Burton said, 'If you guys don't wanna be a part of it, fuck you. I'm gonna move on with Dino.' So that's when the whole legal battle started between me and Burton and the two other guys. And we have a record out, so that tells you how that worked out."
Based on the evidence of the brand-new Mechanize, it worked out very well. Stroud returned on bass and, at his suggestion, Gene Hoglan joined on drums. (Stroud and Hoglan worked together in Tenet, Zimmers Hole, and Devin Townsend's industrial power-thrash outfit Strapping Young Lad.) And the record, easily the band's strongest in 15 years, has been rapturously received by metal fans.
While the two duos—Bell/Cazares and Stroud/Hoglan—joining forces could have dragged Fear Factory in a new, more death-metal direction, that hasn't happened. Cazares credits Hoglan's adaptability—he's played with more than a dozen bands, including Death, Testament, Dark Angel, and cartoon metallers Dethklok.
But there have been a few minor changes to Fear Factory's sonic template on this latest upgrade. The most notable is the band's first-ever guitar solo in "Fear Campaign."
"We were trying to make a statement that we didn't want to be the typical metal band with guitar solos everywhere," says Cazares.
The key to Fear Factory's success in 2010 is making all the pieces fit. Cazares and Bell fit together creatively once again, and Stroud and Hoglan are the musical equivalent of universal blood donors—they can be slotted in anywhere. With a combination of elements this strong, the future of Fear Factory looks a lot more optimistic than it does in the band's bleak, dystopian sci-fi lyrics.