Fear Factory: robots, humans, systems…

Fear Factory press picture

“This is is gonna blow your mind,” says the gruff yet gentle voice emanating from my laptop, “but we are all robots and until we become truly sentient we will not know exactly what we are, and once we do become, the world will be in sync and we’ll all work together as one.”

It’s the same voice I’ve had in my head since 1997, the year that Fear Factory‘s Remanufacture album came out, featuring the songs from the band’s defining work Demanufacture retrofitted into pulsating Electro-Metal hybrids. One would have expected the deep and unwavering exploration of the living and the artificial, the soul versus the programmed subset of behaviours, to last for a single concept album. This was not the case with Fear Factory who, after undergoing two and a half decades of ferocious touring and internal dissension, have imprinted it into the band’s sensory DNA.

It’s the voice of Burton C. Bell, the linchpin of the group, steadfast despite several overhauls of the original line-up. All these years later, after watching them quietly guide the trajectory of modern Metal through stylistic boldness and technological innovation, here I am receiving a transmission to discuss what lies in store for the local lovers of all things Industrial. It seems the newest incarnation featuring bassist Tony Compos and drummer Mike Heller has breathed new life into the excursion.

“It’s going really well! Tony is a great bass player and a great friend, he’s a fan of Fear Factory and being from Static-X and Ministry he knows the music. The music scene is really small in Los Angeles, it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing someone we know, musicians are very social people. Mike was recommended to us by the guys from Trivium. He’s a machine! We have our own characters. I would be the thoughtful mystic, relaxed and chilled – unless I’m on stage. Dino would be the social leader, he loves being around people. Tony, he’s the gamer. Mike, it’s all about drums and 80’s metal. He’s like a walking encyclopedia of music.” ~ Burton C. Bell (vocalist, Fear Factory)

In the wake of their most recent creation, the hulking and brightly polished Genexus, Fear Factory now have South Africa in their cross-hairs following a circuit of the United States, which included full-length live performances of Demanufacture to celebrate its 20 years of existence.

“This past tour we shared a bus with Soilwork. It was fifteen guys on a bus that were all the same size so it was quite cramped. The bus literally had a million miles on it so we had to deal with it breaking down. We had to get a couple of large SUV’s and a big truck to carry all the gear. I was driving the truck and that’s how we got around for a couple of days. Reminded me of the old days when we had to drive ourselves, it’s the best way to see the road!” ~ Burton C. Bell

Burton and co-founding guitarist Dino Cazares remain resolute in providing humanity’s cyborg counter-offensive with battle anthems, despite Dino’s seven year hiatus from the band. The shifting environments of renown and collaborative pressure have galvanised them, and they have adopted a sustainable approach to creating together.

“Getting away from each other is always good. Vacation is the key, just like in any other marriage. Dino is a great talent; no one plays guitar like him. We sit together and start brainstorming ideas and concepts for the record. Coming up with titles helps a lot because words and titles really generate inspiration for where to go and what to sing about. For Dino, it’s all about different rhythms, so he works with drummers coming up with beats that help him create riffs. Sometimes it takes a while for the seed to be planted. For a while we have to keep turning over the soil, but once it’s planted it grows and it’s a really fantastic feeling.” ~ Burton C. Bell

Fear Factory 2016 South African TourResurrected amidst the frantic throes of Mechanize, compelled through the grand and imposing era of The Industrialist, we now celebrate an album that explores the defiance and courage of future humanity’s hive-consciousness. Genexus follows the inversion of what it means to be alive, where we ourselves have become the machines. We experience asphyxiation within the coils of a system that perhaps only we could have designed, and the ten tracks on the album form ten chapters that unfold the tale of a generation struggling to keep their souls from being dismantled.

“When The Singularity occurs – when machine and man become one – will this machine-human be discriminated against? More than likely, it will be. There are songs on the record that could be an example of what people in South Africa have experienced. We’ve all experienced dehumanization. ‘Anodized’ is a positive reinforcement to help a person realize the insanity going on around them, but there’s hope! You can become strong and use it against them. These songs are all about people who have been oppressed and continue to be, and it’s put into a context of a new generation of humanity being machines.” ~ Burton C. Bell

It would be impossible to fathom the depth of the impact Bell’s trademark vocal style has had on Metal, particularly with how it slams primordial roars together with almost choral sections. Beyond this, he brings life to it by infusing it with sincerity. Without this, the songs would most likely sit inanimate, irrespective of the ingenuity of Cazares’s ratcheting chain-gun riffs and their interplay with the clone-perfect drum sequences.

“I don’t scream for no reason. My vocal technique – the heavy part – some people call it ‘screaming’. For me, I’m ‘vocalizing’. I truly believe in what I say. I hear bands screaming and I’m like, ‘what’s that for? That doesn’t sound real, that doesn’t sound passionate.’ I’m trying to get a point across so deeply that it sticks with you. It’s hard to explain why we connect to music, it’s something that’s metaphysical to me. When something strikes a chord in your soul there’s something undeniable about that, it’s like a drug and makes you want to go out and search for more. It’s a gateway drug.” ~ Burton C. Bell

The human race has a rich history of powerful storytellers who tell the same story for an entire career or lifetime: Ridley Scott’s restless explorations of broken families with parents estranged from their children, Trent Reznor’s musings on inner-turmoil, Chuck Palahniuk’s uncomfortable studies of misanthropy to name some recent examples. Perhaps to make an indelible mark on the world, we must first let it make a mark upon us, and this cycle must be repeated several times as we turn a concept over in our hands and examine every facet. Mr Bell’s voice assumes a lively waver as he unfolds the secrets of his inspiration.

“I am an observer of the world: They can grow skin now. They created something called a ‘ghost heart’, it’s a heart made of skin tissue but it has no cells. Just last week an AI computer was hired onto a law firm. The advancement of robotics in limb replacement, limbs that can be operated through thought, it’s pretty amazing. Trans-humanism is around the corner man! This is what I write about. Fear Factory‘s world is dark, it appears to be bleak. But in my lyrics I purposefully try to have a brighter outlook or a ray of hope somewhere in there. There’s always a sense of hope. You have to be true to yourself and be honest with the music you want to create and with the words you want to say because people can tell when it’s fake. That doesn’t go very far. If it’s honest it’s passion, and passion is truly received.” ~ Burton C. Bell

fearfactory-stephanie-cabralAs I listen to him talk excitedly I realize we have achieved an excellent rapport and so decide to shoe-horn one of my more unusual questions regarding whether he would like to write the film score for the imminent reboot of the Blade Runner film. He chuckles with delight.

“I wish! I can imagine that. I’d be curious to see what they do, like a continuation of the story, that would be fascinating to me. In Hollywood-” but his response is shredded by digital interference, chopped into mangled shreds of partial words.

I panic.

I attempt several times to reconnect with no success, and Mr Bell reminds me of pressing engagements that he must soon attend to. I beg him to stay on the line and hard reset my treacherous laptop. It boots back to life after a brief millennium, and I’m relieved to hear Mr Bell’s voice cutting through the silence once more. There’s some kind of bizarre irony in this moment, having just liberated ourselves from technology which sought to tear us apart. It’s this very struggle that is the catalyst of Bell’s lyrics and I ask how he’s kept it fresh for so long.

“It stays fresh with me because I continue to see the same bullshit around the world: oppression, suppression. I started making stands when I was a teenager. I stopped going to church, I’ve always questioned authority. I was a punk rock kid, anti-establishment was all the way, screw the man! I felt like a slave in the Roadrunner machine. A lot of times I feel like this government doesn’t recognize what my needs are as an individual or as a human being. All the lyrics I write originally come from a first-person perspective – that would be me! I put it into a third-person perspective so when someone reads it they can imagine that they’re saying it themselves. For me ‘the machine’ is a system that is suppressing you, making you feel worthless. That would be an authoritative government, an organized religion or even public education. That for me is what Fear Factory is about, and as long as that continues I have fresh fodder for every record.” ~ Burton C. Bell

Most of us can attest to having reinforced our minds against malevolent constructs, it’s a shared experience through which we connect and transmit understanding. With the upcoming shows in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, we will be afforded a real-life opportunity to celebrate our freedom together at what will no doubt be two high-octane performances.

“In these nations where the Western music scene is developing, the fans are really excited that we’re there. It’s something that they’ve embraced, music that’s not popular. Something that relates to them more so than any other type of music. For me it’s exciting ‘cos I get to go to a place I’ve never been to before and experience some of the cultures. Smaller venues create a much better vibe and the shows are much better that way. We like to focus on a very high energy show. We’re coming a long way to play for fans there, so please come down to support!” ~ Burton C. Bell

I can think of nothing better to warm the bones in the onset of winter than being in a writhing pit of beings all surging to the same syncopated rhythms. The two local shows promise to impact our senses with fresh cuts off Genexus, and charge us into the night with old favourites from the edge of the last millennium and beyond. With crowd-tested support from three excellent local acts who promise an eclectic yet Nu-Metal-centric opener and organised by Witchdoctor Productions, brace yourself for two unique evenings of monstrous grooves and saturated airwaves.

Enjoy a taste of things to come:

Tour information is as follows:

Friday, 10 June 2016: Bassline, Johannesburg – supported by Boargazm and 11th Hour

Saturday, 11 June 2016: The Assembly, Cape Town – supported by Boargazm and Ill System

Tickets can be acquired via Quicket here.

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