Fear Factory

Transgressing Expectations

By Simon Milburn

04 December 2005

Since 1992, Fear Factory has been making waves in the metal world with each of their releases - their brutal 1992 debut Soul Of A New Machine, their quintessential 1995 release Demanufacture, the highly acclaimed album Obsolete from 1998, and what was to be their last studio effort prior to their 2002 breakup in Digimortal from 2001. In amongst those releases were several remix albums, countless singles and EPs, and a line-up that would remain stable for almost their entire career. Fear Factory, up to this point, was vocalist Burton C. Bell, guitarist Dino Cazares, bassist Christian Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera.

In a statement from the band in early 2002, Bell quit the band and with out the vocalist fronting the group, the rest of the band decided Fear Factory could not continue. After Olde Wolbers and Herrera began working on material later that year, they approached Bell to test the waters for his interest in getting the band back together (queue the Blues Brothers scene here). In 2004, Fear Factory made their triumphant return to the metal scene with the true to form Archetype and the wheels were once again in motion with Olde Wolbers taking on guitar duties to replace Cazares and Strapping Young Lad bassist Byron Stroud stepping in to complete the line-up.

Eighteen months later and Fear Factory are on the promotional tour trail again on the back of their latest effort, Transgression whilst they are also out on tour as well. “That's right. We are and we happen to be in my home town of Houston Texas. I'm actually at my parent's house right now,” begins vocalist Burton C. Bell. Whilst On tour with Strapping Young Lad, Soilwork and Darkane, Bell took some time out to catch up with Simon Milburn about their current tour, Gigantour, and their most courageous work to date.

Fear Factory

“The tour's going very well. Great turn outs every day. Darkane is opening, then Strapping Young Lad, then Soilwork, then us. The fans are coming out and being very responsive and it seems like everyone is having a great time on this tour.”

One of the challenges touring with any new album is the task of fitting the new material with the old in the set list. But even with the diversity across Fear Factory's catalogue, this isn't a problem for the L.A. based group.

“We got six records to play! We're playing a 90 minute set which is like 19 songs. So we're playing songs from every record. Y'know, (the new songs fit) just fine really. The only difference is that people are still trying to absorb the new songs - they enjoy them and there's people singing along - and y'know, it still sounds like Fear Factory and it still is Fear Factory obviously. But y'know, there's been a lot of discussion, as they might say, on this album. But that's alright. Every Fear Factory album has discussion about it. But the songs are sitting just fine in the set and it feels good. We're playing three songs off the new album and pretty much three songs from every album.”

Fear FactoryPrior to the release of Transgression, Fear Factory were asked to be a part of the inaugural jaunt of a new U.S. summer touring package dubbed Gigantour which was being put together by Megadeth main man Dave Mustaine. Headlined by Megadeth, it would also feature Dream Theater, Nevermore, and the Dillinger Escape Plan amongst others.

“Dave Mustaine was putting the tour together and it just so happens that his agent is also our agent. He goes 'Hey, what's Fear Factory doing?' It just happened that we had just finished up our record and we were looking for a tour and he was looking for a band and it just kinda worked out. I was definitely surprised. We had toured with Megadeth back in 1995 back when Demanufacture first came out and that was a good tour for us. I was like, 'Ok. Let's see what happens again.'”

The difficulty of such a diverse line-up always poses a challenge for bands to really grab their audience's attention. But Bell sounds reasonably confident in stating that the fans were receptive of Fear Factory on that tour.

“Um...yeah. We definitely had some Fear Factory fans coming out but y'know, we definitely had to impress a lot of older Megadeth fans and Dream Theater fans. But I think y'know, I remember after one show in Milwaukee (WI., U.S.A.), some Dream Theater fans were passing by and go 'Hey! You're the singer of Fear Factory!' and I go 'Yeah.' He goes, 'I never saw your band before but I'm gonna go check you guys' record out. I get it.' It was like, alight... see it works! If we can get like one or two people every show like that, that's how it spreads!”

That feeling of having to impress people and really trying to capture the crowd in a situation like that is something that Bell is aware of.

“Oh yeah it's always difficult like that, especially on a big tour where you're playing amphitheatres. When we were going on around five in the afternoon, the crowd's still milling in and we're kinda playing to an empty place and they're still sitting down. It kinda reminded me of the first Ozzfest and I was thinking 'Great.... Ok...' But y'know, you just kinda look past it and just think 'Ok, the people are here. You still gotta impress them!' I still gotta do the best show that I can. Every show is difficult that you have a bunch of new people in front of you at ... even this tour... it's all Fear Factory fans but it's still difficult because you still gotta impress them, because as for myself, I want to give them the best show possible. I wanna sound good. I wanna deliver well and I wanna make sure that everyone has a great time.”

Fear FactoryOf course, hindsight is a wonderful learning tool and sometimes it can be a case of love the knowledge but hate the lesson. Looking back, Bell is comfortable with the band's decision to take part in Gigantour.

“Uh... yeah it was a good decision because we got to expose Fear Factory out there again, play some shows, sell some merch y'know? We exposed Fear Factory to new fans and on this tour there's a lot of people seeing us for the first time as well. There's no such thing as a bad tour. I mean, people might have a bad show or low turnouts but it's always good to tour.”

In the little more than two months since Transgression was released, to say there's been varied reactions and discussions around the album would be an understatement and Bell is fully aware of just what has transpired.

“It's been very mixed like I knew it would be. I had a feeling when we finished this record that a lot of people would be surprised and my decisions were correct. However it still sounds like Fear Factory. Sonically, it's a little different. There's a lot of transgression going on. There's a lot of experimentation going on on this record. We're breaking boundaries, traversing new ground and we're expressing ourselves in different ways on this album. I knew people would be surprised and just like every Fear Factory record that we've ever done, there's always been somewhat of a discussion about it.”

Whilst the departure on Transgression compared to previous Fear Factory albums has caught many by surprise, Bell knows the exact point at which he knew that Transgression was going to be different and the motivations behind it.

“When I was coming up with the vocal ideas,” laughs Burton. “I wanted to challenge myself with this album. I wanted to do something different other than my formula, patented Fear Factory style. I just wanted to try something different and I experimented myself and did some interesting things... some things that I'm very proud of but yeah, things that would definitely surprise people. To me, I'm glad that I'm surprising people. It was to push myself further...to try something different. Another mentality was, I remember some of my favourite metal songs back from the 70s and 80s, and it was all singing, y'know? Why does it always have to be aggressive? That's my question. It doesn't always have to be. I wanted to experiment. It was like, 'I'm gonna sing over this. I'm gonna sing over the whole damn thing and see what happens.' It was definitely an experiment.”

For guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera (bassist Byron Stroud did not play on Transgression due to commitments with Strapping Young Lad), Bell's experiment came as somewhat of a surprise but in a good way.

“Yeah, it did but they were into it. I might take them a while to get what I'm doing,” laughs Burton. “But they finally understood.”

Whilst Bell is known for his more melodic work in the decidedly non metal and very atmospheric Ascension Of The Watchers, he asserts that his work in Ascension Of The Watchers was not a factor in the vocal shift evident on Fear Factory's latest release.

“No, because I still sing a completely different way in that band and the way that I sing with Fear Factory is nothing like that. I wanted to try something new for Fear Factory and I think it's just me as a person in general, growing and wanting to expand upon my talents and just trying to do something with what I already have.”

Forever the tortured artist, given the time again or even some more time, Bell would like to be able to make the odd change to Transgression.

“Oh God! I think about stuff like that on every record, so this record is no different. If I had more time to work on vocals, there'd be a couple of things I'd do here and there... nothing too drastic. It's just like an artist - every artist be it a painter, a singer, vocalist, photographer - there's always something that they would wanna do to make it better after the fact.”

Fear Factory's TransgressionBut as a part of the big picture of Fear Factory releases, Bell agrees that Transgression is a move away from its predecessor Archetype.

“Well, it's definitely a step from Archetype... maybe a few steps but I'm not sure in what direction. I wouldn't say that it was planned. It was kinda planned, kinda not. Y'know, this record is a transgression itself. It came out a year and six months after Archetype. So there's a lot of experimentation going on with writing a record that quickly and it created a lot of stress and a lot of angst which created a really interesting air of creativity. But to say what the next record is gonna sound like, I have no clue. This is just a step that we took on this one and it was a very interesting experiment.”

The idea of such a rapid fire follow up to Archetype is something that didn't come from within the band themselves.

“I think it's because the label has this notion to keep the momentum of Fear Factory rolling as Archetype was doing so well. They just wanted to keep that moving. To me, I think it confused a lot of the fans because on Gigantour, they didn't even know the record was out. That's partly the label's fault but we're past that and people know the record's out now. So we're moving forward!”

With the push for a new release coming from the label comes an air of pressure as well that Bell definitely felt and was able to put to good use.

“Yes, tonnes of pressure. That's what the song Spinal Compression is about,” laughs Bell. “And Moment Of Impact... just like every record, there's a bit of me in every record.”

In another new move for the veteran cyber metallers, they opted to work with producer Toby Wright who has worked with the likes of Alice In Chains, Metallica and Korn amongst a whole host of others.

“Y'know, it was just a different ear. It was his experience. He's experienced with working with a lot of different types of bands like Metallica and Korn and tonnes of others, but he's never worked with a band like Fear Factory before. So that was an experiment for him and it was an experiment for us to have a producer recording us - recording the drums, recording the vocals. It was the first time I was ever sitting in the same room doing vocals with the producer...there...just listening. I had ideas and lyrics and forms and flows and stuff like that and if I was stuck, I trusted the man enough to listen to him and say 'Ok, let's see if we can work something out together.' So that was a great experience! Then, we used him for the mix. It was the first time that we've used someone else for the mix other than Greg Reely ever since Soul Of A New Machine. That was another experiment... another transgression for Fear Factory. He just has a different ear. This is his interpretation of Fear Factory.”

Fear FactoryThroughout Fear Factory's career, their cover versions of both unknown (such as Head Of David's Dog Day Sunrise from 1995's Demanufacture) and known (such as 1998's cover of Gary Numan's Cars) tracks has always been a point of discussion amongst fans. New cover songs have emerged on Trangression including a true to form cover of U2's I Will Follow (from their 1980 album Boy) and a take on Killing Joke's Millenium (from their 1994 album Pandemonium). For this interviewer however, the main concern was the omission of a highly anticipated cover of Godflesh's Anthem (from their 2001 album Hymns).

“The Godflesh cover is still around. It's a song called Anthem that we did which is off of one of the later ones. But still, I have every Godflesh record and I think every Godflesh record is God-like. You and I being Godflesh fans, I think Justin Broadrick is a genious and I think Jesu is a fantastic project of his and I just wanted to respect the man the best way I could. I think we're gonna save it for something. It's a little different. The vocals and guitars are done but we put a synthesised bass down instead of a real bass. It has a real almost Neurosis vibe to it... real low and deep. It sounds good. But you'll hear it eventually, hopefully. There was originally supposed to be one cover song on the record but when the label heard the U2 cover they kinda like really urged us in a label like way to put it on the album. A little bit more of that subtle pressure!”

The last time I interviewed Bell, Fear Factory were in Perth (AUS) on the eve of recording the video for the lead single from Archetype titled Cyberwaste. At that point, Bell had a very obvious fire and passion inside for the reformed Fear Factory that exuded in his voice and every thing he said. Two years on from that time, the husky voiced vocalist is confident that drive is still there.

“I would say so. I'm probably a little tired right now, but things are moving along. Everybody has bad days. Every band has bad days. Every peak has a valley behind it. Sometimes we have our bad times but it doesn't mean I don't have that fire about Fear Factory. I still got it.”

Upon rejoining Fear Factory, Bell's did so with a simple view of the band's future.

“I just wanted to do a couple of new records and take care of some business really,” Bell says simply.

Two years on however, Bell is unsure if Fear Factory's achievements to this point have surpassed any expectations that he might have had but he's not willing to divulge any further.

“That's a good question. I still have some expectations that I'm waiting for but I'd like to keep them to myself.”

Fear Factory

One expectation that we have in Australia is that of a full tour by Burton and Co. who have been to this country on no less than eight occasions during their career.

“Y'know, Fear Factory hasn't done a proper tour of Australia in a long time. We were there on the Big Day Out (also with Korn and Static-X in 2004) briefly and that wasn't a proper tour for Fear Factory fans. I think hopefully we're planning on being out there if things go as planned in the middle of 2006.”

Given the chance, they'll be once again doing their bit to help advance the flourishing Australian metal scene by choosing local support as opposed to bringing another name act with them.

“I think we've always done local support and there's plenty of decent, hard rockin' Australian bands out there that would love to play in front of Fear Factory. So why not utilise them?”

Fear Factory's latest album Transgression is out now on Calvin Records through Roadrunner Records Australia and Universal Music Distribution. For more information on Fear Factory, check out www.fearfactory.com.

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