Fear Factory Continues with the Aggression: Formed in L.A. in 1990, industrial metal band Fear Factory made waves in metal circles with the ‘92 Soul of a New Machine debut. But it was the ‘95 sophomore effort, Demanufacture, that propelled them into the big leagues. Nu-metal was just one thing that was happening to the harder side of rock in the mid-to-late ‘90s, as the likes of White Zombie, Nine Inch Nails, Filter, Marilyn Manson (pre scandal) and even Ministry were blending the mechanical purity of industrial music with the eager ferocity of metal. Fear Factory just made sense.
Suddenly, they were performing on the main stage at big European festivals such as Donington, and with Black Sabbath at their initial reunion shows in ‘97. They worked with Gary Numan on an updated version of “Cars.” The next two albums, Obsolete and Digimortal were well enough received by fans but the two after that – 2004’s Archetype and 2005’s Transgression – didn’t feature founding guitarist Dino Cazares. He returned for 2010’s Mechanize but the feeling was always that relationships were strained between himself and singer Burton C. Bell. They were friends, brothers, colleagues, and then they weren’t. And so on.
It all came to a head last year, when Bell announced his departure from the band. With drummer Raymond Herrera also gone, that leaves Cazares the last man standing. He’s holding Fear Factory up by himself and, to complicate matters, he’s trying to promote a new album that includes vocals by Bell that were recorded back in 2017.
“We went through a very bad legal fight for the trademark name,” says Cazares. “That occupied and halted everything with the band, because we couldn’t work. We couldn’t use the name. So we were just going through this legal battle that sucked the life out of us. I went through a divorce, a bankruptcy, multiple lawsuits, the typical broke musician story. But mine’s different because most rock stars might have gone broke because they spent it all on drugs or something. For us, I was broke because of this lawsuit. So it was pretty intense. Then trying to write a record while you’re going through a trial, trying to have focus.”
The new album is Aggression Continuum, out now via Nuclear Blast. It’s been sitting around since 2017, but those legal issues put the brakes on proceedings. Last year, when things were finally settled, Cazares could get back to work.
“I was able to go back and add certain elements that I thought were missing,” he says. “I was able to get live drums on the album, because the first version had programmed drums. We’ve done that in the past on the 2012 album The Industrialist, and our fans didn’t like it. I didn’t want to go down that path again. Live drums added new dynamics to the songs and gave them new life. I was able to collaborate with different keyboardists. For Fear Factory, there’s always a dark and a light. A tension, and release. You build up this tension, and then release it on a beautiful, melodic chorus. Our verses are always building up. Getting Andy Sneap to mix the album – he’s an A list metal mixer. I’m glad I was able to go back and do that.”
As is often the case with Fear Factory, there’s a concept to the album and it involves the relationship between humans and machines – organic and robotic material.
“There’s a big organization – let’s call it Skynet – that is capturing humans and extracting their memories and their mind, their consciousness, and basically uploading them into an automaton so it can think it’s human,” Cazares says. “So it’s a relationship between humans and AI. This AI thinks it’s human but it’s not. Through the whole process of Fear Factory, it’s always been a relationship between man and machine. In this one, they’re not getting along at all. There’s a war between them going back and forth.”
Cazares is now in the unique position of desperately trying to hire a new singer, during COVID restrictions, in order to be able to tour the new album. The songs that Bell recorded will be performed live for the first time (at least) with a different singer. It’s fucking weird, let’s face it.
“That is exactly the position I’m in,” Cazares says. “People ask me if I thought about replacing Burt’s vocals and the answer is yes. But the record company wanted Burt’s vocals to remain on the record, and I was a little hesitant at first. This is a unique situation. But at the same time, maybe his vocals should stay there because this is his last album and people should hear it. I agreed with the record company, so we kept his vocals intact and worked around them. It worked out great in the end.”
It’s great that, somehow, Cazares has kept the band alive. But you have to feel for whoever takes the singer gig. Initially it’ll feel like winning the lottery, but the reality of singing somebody else’s parts on brand new songs will hit fast.
“We put it out there a few months back and were overwhelmed with video submissions,” Cazares says. “That was part of the first audition – video auditions of them doing Fear Factory songs. We got a lot of joke ones, where they fart in the microphone. Some of them are pretty funny. I wish I could compile them and put it out. There were those people who had the passion but just can’t do it. If they can’t do it, we politely let them down. Then we have the A list ones that are just amazing. There’s a few of them. All that’s left now is the physical auditions.”
Cazares describes Aggression Continuum as a “very pissed off record” and, based on new single/video “Recode,” that’s fair comment. The in-band issues, as well as the political climate, resulted in a whole heap of bitterness and fury that found its way to the surface. Things might be more settled now, but one could argue that the album has benefitted from the adversity they faced.
“The rest of this year is dedicated to the singer, whoever we choose,” Cazares says. “We’re also going to be releasing a few other things here that we’ve worked on, and announcing a tour for early next year.”
See? Nothing to fear.
Fear Factory Continues with the Aggression: The Aggression Continuum album is out now.