When they were writing their eighth studio record, industrial metal pioneers FEAR FACTORY found themselves in more personnel trouble — which has plagued the band for the last decade. Vocalist BURTON C. BELL tells TOM HERSEY how the band managed to prevail through the new round of lineup issues and write their best record in a long time.
The personnel issues that have plagued Los Angeles’ Fear Factory are something like metal lore. Basically, in addition to innovating the genres of technical and industrial metal, Fear Factory have been the kind of band that make Anthrax’s line-up seem comparatively stable.
It started when Burton left the band in an intense flame of acrimony during the early months of 2002. Following Bell’s departure the band broke up, but reformed a year later when Bell rejoined with bassist and drummer, leaving guitarist and main songwriter Dino Cazares out in the cold. This line-up would limp through two albums while Cazares went on to start Divine Heresy. This rival tech/industrial band would seem like a side project to his Cazares’ main passion — talking shit about Fear Factory, which would continue until Cazares and Bell unbelievably announced that they had reconciled their friendship and would be playing in Fear Factory together. This led the duo to inexplicably kick out the incumbent rhythm section and replace them with the Strapping Young Lad alumni Byron Stroud and Gene Hoglan. The fiasco meant the band had to go to court over the rights to the Fear Factory name and cancel an Australian tour as a result.
Sound confusing? It certainly gets more than a little convoluted when you consider that Byron and Gene left the band shortly after 2010’s Mechanize album, and the band has been using hired guns to fill in for their live shows ever since. When OffStreet sits down with Bell, first up I ask about how all the line-up changes affected the making of the band’s new record, The Industrialist. The answer, according to Bell, is not really that much.
“On Mechanize, Byron didn’t even record bass… Gene and Byron were never really full members they were just playing with us. Then they left so we were left to our own devices to find some new artists to work with. So Dino, [long time producer] Rhys (Fulber) and I recorded the new record and then when set out to find some guys who could play it.”
In fact, Bell has no real opinion about these kinds of band changes. “It is what it is. I enjoy playing with talented artists, but people come and people go. It’s there own decision and I really don’t have any feelings on the matter.”
It’s probably this kind of nonchalance that made Bell and guitarist Cazares able to write such a smashing record with The Industrialist. They didn’t worry about finding the right guys or exploring their influences, instead they tried to focus on the essence of the band: Bell’s unmistakable bark and Cazares’ downtuned staccato riffs.
“I think we really searched within ourselves for the meaning of Fear Factory and we found ourselves the true sound of this band,” Bell admits. “We had some great ideas and a very deliberate focus to re-introduce some of the industrial elements to the music, and we just made it happen. So now that it’s out we’re really pleased with the album, we set out to do something and I think that’s exactly what we’ve done. That sense of achievement makes a world of difference, and I think fans have been responding very positively to that sound that we found. It was very focused. We had a deliberate goal in mind and I think we achieved it.”
Although they wrote the album alone with their producer, to tour the album Dino and Burton have enlisted the help of Chimaira and Six Feet Under bassist Matt DeVries and Malignancy drummer Mike Heller. According to Bell, the two veteran musicians are fitting perfectly into the band and are helping the present The Industrialist’s energy when the band hit to the road.
“When we play this record live, you can see that people are hearing the Fear Factory essence and they’re really having a good time with this stuff when we’re playing it. All the new songs fit in perfectly with old music.”
As our conversation with Burton draws to a close, we ask how the Fear Factory have been integrating The Industrialist — an unabashed concept record — into a live show heavy on the band’s formidable back catalogue.
“A good concert flow is the most important thing, and some songs have a better live feel than others. So it’s just a process of trial and error — playing the shows and seeing which of them work. Fortunately, we play enough shows to work out the kinks pretty quick.”
FEAR FACTORY play Townsville’s The Venue on Tue Sep 25 and Brisbane’s The Hi-Fi on Wed Sep 26. THE INDUSTRIALIST is out now via Riot! For more info on the band’s Australian tour dates head over to www.fearfactory.com.
TOM HERSEY is a writer and Amazing Race aficionado.