With the release of 1995’s Demanufacture, Californian industrial metal outfit Fear Factory redefined what it meant for an album to be ahead of its time. The band’s trademark combination of turbo-charged guitar work and towering vocal hooks provided the blueprint for a sea of imitators who to this day fail to mimic the power and intensity of the genuine article.
Indeed, the album also charted a course for Fear Factory, setting them on a path that would see them eagerly experimenting with every new release, regardless of the reaction from critics or fans. The band’s next album, a follow-up to 2012’s The Industrialist and Fear Factory’s first with Nuclear Blast Entertainment, looks as though it’s set to rewrite the formula once again.
With the band’s new album currently set to drop around the time the guys embark on the highly anticipated Soundwave 2015 tour, we spoke to Fear Factory frontman Burton C. Bell to get a handle on what fans can expect on the new release, what they can expect on the tour, and how Burton makes sure he stays an artist and not just another politician.
Watch: Fear Factory – Replica
Music Feeds: New label, new album. How’s life in the Fear Factory camp at the moment?
Burton C. Bell: It’s going good. We’re deep into writing this record. I’ve started recording vocals already. Working with Rhys Fulber, I see him every day. We’ve got a lot of good tracks, a lot of good tracks. I’m really excited about it. Being part of NBE, which is Nuclear Blast Entertainment in the United States and also Nuclear Blast in Europe, we’re excited.
Monte Conner, who signed us to Roadrunner years ago, he really wanted to create a label to really bring back the greatness that was once Roadrunner. If you understand where I’m coming from. Monte Conner, good to be back in touch with him, he’s a good man.
MF: What precipitated the Nuclear Blast signing?
BCB: He approached us. The last label we were on was only a one-license deal. He approached us actually, he wined us and dined us. Y’know, it was good to hang out with a good old friend. After some talks we all saw eye to eye and we made it happen.
MF: You recently expressed your dissatisfaction with how Fear Factory was handled under Roadrunner. How has the industry landscape changed, in your opinion, since that time?
BCB: My dissatisfaction started at a certain point where Roadrunner had their sights on a different goal, to be a different type of label to what they started out to be, and Fear Factory did not fit that model. Does that make sense?
MF: Sure. Would you have done it all differently if you had the wisdom you have now at 23?
BCB: Absolutely [laughs]. I would’ve been smart from the beginning and I would’ve not signed the contract that Roadrunner sent us. I would’ve manipulated the contract to be better for Fear Factory. I would’ve still been on Roadrunner, but I would’ve manipulated the contract to make it better in the long run and that’s where I would’ve started. I’m 45 years old now. Of course, I would do things differently. Do I regret what I’ve done? No. But if I had the chance, sure, why not?
MF: Dino mentioned that the new album would could be a concept album. Are you able to elaborate on that at all? How’s that coming together?
BCB: It’s coming around pretty well [laughs]. We have a title, we’re sitting on it right now ’cause we just really wanted to let it seep in for a while and figure out if it’s the right one. But the concept is really growing on me and once we’ve really finalised the title of the album, the rest is gonna fall into place. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s gonna be a good one.
MF: Has the process been similar to The Industrialist, with the lyrics coming first and influencing the structures of the songs and sonic concepts?
BBC: No. Well, we always come up with titles, we always stick with titles, and when we think of titles, a title can be a word or a three or four-word phrase. All these different thought patterns, it creates a vibe and all these words and titles we think of will be incorporated into the concept at one point or another. So, as we’re writing, we talk about it, we figure out what’s going on and it was a development. It’s like building blocks, you just keep adding to it, refining it, developing it, just making it a good concept.
MF: Rob Halford actually writes like that. He’ll hear a word and a song will start to form in his mind because of that word. Is there a famous example of that with Fear Factory?
BCB: Demanufacture, that was one word. Hunter-Killer, that was another word. Obsolete, that was jut a word. It really develops [like that]. Archetype, that really set a whole concept for that album. You pick one word and it really develops the entire record. Dino and I will… it really resonates within us and with everything that we know and the things that we like with music and science-fiction stories or movies, something just resonates and it’s like, “That is the one.”
MF: Were there some delays with getting into the studio? Dino said you guys were aiming for early 2014, which got pushed back to the spring and you mentioned at one point that you wanted it out by August.
BCB: That’s the industry, it changes [laughs]. It’s just the way it goes, man. There’s setbacks beyond your control, there’s personal issues beyond your control, some personal issues that you just cannot avoid, with Dino or myself. There’s setbacks, but you take it in stride and you make a new goal. This record will hopefully be… it’s planned to be out in late February. So, probably while we are in Australia for Soundwave, the record will be coming out.
Watch: Fear Factory – The Industrialist
MF: Were you surprised or taken aback at all by the reaction to The Industrialist?
BCB: No, there was a lot of positive feedback. Of course, with every record there’s negative feedback, you cannot please everybody. For me, personally, I don’t set out to please everybody, I just set out to please myself. As an artist, that’s what truly matters. If your main objective is to please everybody, you’re not an artist, you’re just a politician.
I try and please myself, because if I am satisfied and I am content with the work I’ve done then I can live with myself. I trust my opinion and I trust the opinion of my close circle of peers and if they’re into it, that’s fine, but I have to be accepting of what I’ve done. I am my own worst critic. I will tell myself, “No, that’s not good.” And I will not release anything that’s not good. So if I release something, I am happy with it. People don’t like it, OK, that’s fine. People like it, that’s great.
MF: Have you ever experienced frustration with your fan base or with the scene in general? Metal and hard rock fans can be rather apprehensive in accepting something unfamiliar.
BCB: I let it roll off my back. I cannot strife about things like that. That is too unimportant to frustrate myself or worry about what people are thinking or saying, because everyone has their own opinion and everyone’s entitled their opinion. If I’m gonna be worried or frustrated about what everyone says, I’m gonna go fucking insane.
The best advice I ever got was when this band first started and it was from a person that we are gonna be touring with on Soundwave, Billy Gould of Faith No More. He said, “Never ever read your own press, good or bad.” And so, ever since then, it’s like, “Alright, I know what I said, I don’t need to read it.”
MF: You guys have always been pretty fearless when it comes to the progression of your sound. We read an interview in which you said watching your Pro Tools engineer manipulate Raymond’s drums during the Digimortal sessions inspired you to go with programmed drums. Have you noticed that there’s a real backlash towards even Pro Tools these days? A lot of bands are reverting to tape.
BCB: You can’t please everybody. First of all, the people who are most criticising programmed drums are drummers. Just look around, if anyone’s criticising it or complaining about it, it’s drummers. But it’s a tool that can be used quickly and efficiently, faster than a drummer can happen.
I guarantee, if we never told anybody that it was programmed drums [on The Industrialist] no-one would’ve said anything, no-one would’ve been the wiser. I guarantee it. But because we said it… I remember when Demanufacture came out, everyone thought it was a drum machine. No, it was Raymond. No-one knows. No-one has a clue.
But this time we are gonna use a live drummer, we’re gonna use Mike Heller to record a few of the songs, not all of them, but a few to get that live feel, because some of these songs require a live feel, and so we’re gonna go with that.
Watch: Fear Factory – Edgecrusher (Live at the Big Day Out 2014)
MF: Can we expect to hear some new tunes on the Soundwave tour?
BCB: You’ll hear at least one.
MF: Have you guys been given a good idea of what to expect on the tour? Some of the bands we’ve spoken to haven’t actually had a chance to see the lineup yet.
BCB: I looked at the lineup and I’m so stoked. I’m so happy. I’m a big fan of Faith No More, I’m a big fan of Soundgarden, I’m a big fan of Ministry, I’m a big fan of Godflesh. So, with these bands on the days that we’re playing, it’s gonna be awesome.
I can’t recall all of the bands right now, but I was pretty happy to see Monuments playing, looking forward to seeing them. I’ve heard them, they’re really good. I’m really anxious. The Big Day Out was a great tour, this looks like it’s gonna be a great tour. Two days in each town, it’s gonna be awesome.
MF: Another thing Dino mentioned was that you guys will definitely be doing some sideshows. Has there been any movement on that? Talk of cities or venues?
BCB: I haven’t heard anything about that.
MF: Are there any ambitions for the tour or do you guys just take any excuse to come to Australia?
BCB: [laughs] Well, is there anything wrong with that?
MF: Absolutely not.
BCB: Being able to perform to a large audience in Australia is great for the band in general. It exposes the band to new audiences, new fans, some classic and some die-hard fans will be there, there’ll be some people who’ve never heard of Fear Factory, who’ll get a chance to see us. We’re there to play for everybody.
We’re there to perform, enjoy ourselves and have a good time, and play a fucking killer show. And if I have the opportunity to see Faith No More and Soundgarden and Ministry and Godflesh, dude, that’s gonna be awesome. I can’t wait.
MF: You guys are frequent visitors here. Fear Factory are one of the bands that’s able to do really well Down Under and we were the first country to really embrace the band, your quote. Have you ever tried to dissect that or analyse that?
BCB: To dissect that would really be a psychological endeavour. It’s something that’s really hard to explain. I don’t know, I’ve never tried to dissect it, I’ve just accepted it. The continent loves us, let’s not ignore them.
MF: What’s happening with the Industrialist graphic novel?
BCB: Well, I’m glad you asked. It took a long time to really find the right artist. But I finally found the right artist in London, England and his name is Noel Guard and I hired him to produce all the graphics for The Industrialist. He took the story and he nailed it, really. He completed my vision, graphically, perfectly.
I have my production team that I’ve created, Noel created all the artwork, and then we got a colourist to colour it all and to make it professional-looking. We’ve got a cover, we’ve got it all, and now we’re just looking for a home for it and hopefully that’ll happen soon. It looks amazing, it’s just amazing and hopefully it’ll happen soon.
MF: You said you’re looking for a home for it. You were originally going to distribute it via your website, weren’t you?
BCB: I was and I changed my mind [laughs]. I’ll still distribute it through my website, which will be done February 1st. But I want it to be available in a lot of places. It’ll be available on my website, but we’ve just got to get this finished and have it properly done and I really want a proper release.
MF: Would you guys do another classic album tour like you did with Demanufacture? Perhaps do it for Obsolete?
BCB: Well, it would make sense [laughs] I don’t see why not. Dino and I have discussed that and if we did Demanufacture then in a couple more years do Obsolete, it would be perfect.
Fear Factory will tour alongside Slipknot, Faith No More and Soundgarden as part of Soundwave 2015.