At first glance, Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell appears to be wearing a T-shirt for rising SoCal extreme metal band Nails. But upon closer inspection, it actually says “X-Files” in a black metal font above a stark black-and-white image of a UFO.
This marriage of science fiction and blistering heavy metal is a strong part of Fear Factory's appeal. Throughout their 25-year career, the Los Angeles group’s hypercharged industrial-metal tales of dystopian societies, as heard on albums such as their 1995 genre landmark Demanufacture, resonated with metal fans who worshipped Robocop and The Terminator as much as they did metal pioneers such as Godflesh and Carcass.
But as Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares explain, Fear Factory’s music and lyrical themes also are inspired by the turbulence of actual, modern society. While discussing the inspirations behind Demanufacture, both men reflect on the chaos wreaking havoc on Los Angeles in the early '90s.
“From 1992 to 1994, there was the riots, there was the Northridge earthquake, there were massive fires, and then floods and mudslides came,” Cazares says. “The National Guard was on the streets, telling you to stay in your homes. We were just watching L.A. fall apart.”
“I started developing my antiestablishment feelings during that time period,” Bell says. “The world seemed to be heading toward a 1984/Brave New World setting. Human beings were being suppressed and people were fighting just to exist within the system. Demanufacture wasn’t just a science fiction story. It was what society was living through.”
As the band has evolved in the years since Demanufacture, so too have some of the headier concepts put forth through their music. Tales of man versus man and man versus machine have dominated Fear Factory’s output in the years since their formation, but on their newest album, Genexus, Bell and Cazares turn their focus to man and machine becoming one through the “Singularity,” a concept popularized by futurist Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near.
“We still have an antiestablishment mentality,” Bell says. “But the idea of the machine taking over … it is something I think about. Concepts of transhumanism and the Singularity; we’re seeing aspects of it happening all the time.”
Cazares and Bell endorse the pessimistic view that humanity is all too willing to let the machines take over, citing our current obsession with sharing personal information via social media as an example.
“No one wants the NSA to be spying on them, but everyone’s gladly putting their whole lives on Facebook and Instagram,” Bell says.
“That’s why I’m saying people want it,” Cazares says. “People don’t know they want it, but they are already doing it. People are getting lazy.”
Fear Factory’s music reflects our turbulent times and projects that turbulence into the future. The band itself also has encountered turmoil within its ranks over the years. An acrimonious breakup occurred in 2002, with a Cazares-less version of the band re-forming a year later. Cazares and Bell patched up their differences in 2008, but disagreements with longtime drummer Raymond Herrera and guitarist/bassist Christian Olde Wolbers led to their departure soon after.
Bell admits now that there is chemistry when he writes with Cazares that was missing during Fear Factory's years without the founding guitarist. “We’ve matured and learned how to talk to each other a bit more,” Bell says. “What we do, it only works when we’re together. With Dino back, the equation works and everything fits together again.”
“We’re still young at heart,” Cazares says. “We still think about all the things that influenced us going back to the beginning. The love for those things — sci-fi movies, what we want to do with music and production — has never left us. When we got back together, it felt like the time when I first met Burton and was looking through his record collection.”
The individual record collections that Cazares and Bell were inspired by were a melting pot of heavy music styles. In the early days of their friendship, Cazares introduced Bell to the primal brutality of death metal through his Carcass and Bolt Thrower records. In turn, Bell introduced Cazares to the industrial grime of acts like Godflesh and the gothic overtones of Fields of the Nephilim. This brew of diverse heaviness continues to propel the band as it approaches its 25th anniversary.
This Halloween night will mark 25 years to the day that Cazares and Bell stepped into a South Central rehearsal space with then-drummer Herrera for their first jam session. The atmosphere of that evening set the mood for what Fear Factory would be in the years that have followed.
“The rehearsal studio was at Vermont and 70th,” Cazares says. “When we pulled up for the first time, there was a bunch of dudes running around dressed in costumes from The Warriors, with Dodger jackets on, their faces painted, and carrying baseball bats! We were standing there wondering, ‘Are we going to get jumped on our first night as a band?’”
Fear Factory performs at the Whisky A Go Go this Friday, Oct. 30. Tickets and more info.