Latest release: Aggression Continuum (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.fearfactory.com
Instantly recognisable by their sound, it is a testament to perseverance that the tenth Fear Factory album, Aggression Continuum, saw the light of day. Despite a variety of major personnel disruptions, different versions of the band over the years and ensuing legal battles between subsequent warring parties, the bulk of the latest album is intact with content largely recorded back in 2017.
Since the enforced hiatus, primarily due to litigious concerns, Fear Factory co-founder, guitarist Dino Cazares has bought out recently departed vocalist Burton C. Bell’s half of the band’s trademark, given unfortunate intricacies within a bankruptcy case. The details therein are complicated but the result is an album that includes the talents of Cazares on guitar and bass, also remarkably, the vocals of Bell, alongside Mike Heller’s powerful drumming. Add in several notable keyboard players contributing various parts, and the legendary mixing skills from Andy Sneap across the project, Aggression Continuum is a solid addition to the Fear Factory discography. Loud Online caught up with Cazares recently to find out more.
You must be pretty happy to be finally getting this album out?
Most definitely, oh my God, I didn’t think we were going to make it but here we are.
I guess between recording this album and the actual release date, you’ve since written many more songs?
Yes, I do have some but I’ve mostly been working on other projects as well. Plus, I’ve been working on some other stuff with Fear Factory as well. Ever since July last year when I was able to regain the full rights to the trademark name, it has been full steam ahead, man.
The album itself is consistent with the jackhammer aspect but there are other angles. Purity is a bit of a different track so in that light, was a lot of production involved overall?
Well, as you know, we finished the album in 2017 and then it sat there for three years because, you know, there was a legal battle between us and the old ex-members of Fear Factory [Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera]. So, that name was held up in court for over two years. Again, when I arrived at July 2020, I was able to gain the rights to it. I decided to make some improvements and to make some changes on it. One of those changes was adding live drums because previously, it had programmed drums. Adding the live drums made a big difference. I also wanted to get Andy Sneap to mix the record, which I was able to do and I also got Damien Rainaud [producer, engineer] who has been working with the band since 2011, doing the production duties and we were able to pretty much go in and add all of the extra elements that we wanted to add to this record. We also did some minor arrangements on the songs but it didn’t take that long once it was going, it didn’t take long at all. To write the songs maybe took six months at the most.
Purity has harmonics over the top of it and Recode has the snare drum as a metal clank. Was that the kind of additional stuff after the fact?
Good question, I don’t remember, I think it might have been before the fact too. I believe that we changed the sound to where it would stick out a little bit more. We basically picked a better clank, if you want to call it that, but it was actually an anvil sound. So, we went back and changed that down into a better one and I like the final outcome. We also had other keyboard players and parts added, which contributed to a lot of those sounds. One was Igor [Khoroshev, from Yes]; he did a lot of the orchestration sounds in the first song Recode and in a few other songs as well. We also had Giuseppe Bassi adding keyboards and he was really great. He was able to do songs like Monolith, Aggression Continuum and different stuff like that. Then we had Max Karon who did part of Disruptor and quite a few other songs as well. Then we had Rhys Fulber, who has been working with the band since 1992. He was able to come in and add some of his programming to a couple of the songs. So we had a lot of different keyboard players on the record and it is really cool because they all had different kinds of things about them that I like.
When you add in atmospherics and dialogue, does it start to feel like you’re making a soundtrack?
Yeah, in some cases it does because it you look at a song like Recode, that could easily be in a movie.
Indeed, and particularity with End of Line, the last song on the album, with all the atmospherics.
At the end of that song, we had Alex [Rise], who has a band called Tyrant of Death and he did the outro to that song which is to the record basically and he ended with the Fear is the Mindkiller speech and that message is that I am not fearing moving forward. You know, some of the things that happened, as you know that Bell decided to leave the band so a lot of people were questioning, ‘Okay, is the band over? Is the band going to be done? Should the band be over?’ and some people were saying, ‘Yes, the band is over.’ So, that is basically a hidden thing there that says I am not going to fear moving forward. Really, I have no choice, not to move forward.
I did not expect there to be a guitar solo but there is one on Monolith [played by Max Karon].
Yeah, well, we just thought it would fit into that song, it has that melodic vibe to it and just to give something different. We do have other songs from records in the past that have solos in it. Fear Campaign has one.
It shows that the album is not just a barrage of riffs.
Yeah, but I don’t know as I still don’t think that a bunch of solos would fit on a Fear Factory record. I don’t see it. That was my idea when I first started the band because we were taking a lot of influences from industrial bands and a lot of industrial bands didn’t have guitar solos. Actually though, on out first record [Soul of a New Machine], we had a handful of guitar solos but we ended up taking them out. We thought, ‘Okay, this doesn’t really fit, we need to take them out.’
It made your sound a lot more stripped back and more aggressive.
On Demanufacture there are no fucking guitar solos at all and look how amazing that record is.
Cognitive Dissonance is interesting in the chorus, and during the verse of Purity, with notes that ring out, sort of in an arpeggiated, chiming guitar figure.
When I wrote the songs, I had them with that stuff on it. I probably didn’t really start doing that stuff until around Obsolete. You know, kind of holding a note and then hitting a little high note as I go. I really didn’t start using that until Obsolete but I really fell in love with that technique and since then, for every record I’ve done, I’ve added in those kinds of notes. Yeah, I like doing it and it adds to the melodic side.
How did the riff for Disruptor come about? It has got that excellent bounce feel to it.
I kind of felt, well, ever since our first album, the song Scapegoat has that bounce to it and then going back to Edgecrusher, I’ve always had those bouncy riffs and Genexus where we had a song called Soul Hacker, it had a very bouncy riff. So, I’ve kind of had that feature everywhere and Linchpin is our biggest song and that has a bouncy riff. So, I don’t know, I just decided to do that as bouncy as I want to give it something different to give it a weird 6/7 time signature that people get thrown off.
It is one of those things that cannot be easily explained until up to pace. You have to be up to speed for it to really work.
Yes and it works really well and I was really happy that I was able to create something like that. The song didn’t take that long at all, to be honest.
Technology moves incredibly fast. You were one of the first to embrace what is now profiling. Given all the amplifier profiling and modelling around now, you got your definitive live sound?
No, I’ve never got my definitive sound because I am always searching for the best tone, you know what I mean? I just got new amplifier a few days ago. I had somebody build me my Demanufacture head and it sounds like Demanufacture so I was very happy that I was able to replicate that. Now, I am going to profile all of it and put into my Kemper so I don’t have to take the head out on the road and possibly risk it getting stolen again. So, thank God for the structure of Kemper stuff, I really got into the profiling tones way back in 1998 or 1999, with an amplified company called Line 6 when they were doing like 16 bit sampling rate on amp tones. Obviously it has progressed and gotten better since then but now your profiling amps pretty much sound identical to the amp.
Do you have to crank you amp up like you would in a live situation to get those frequency cuts?
Yeah, you’ve got to find that sweet spot. Not necessarily the volume of a live show but as loud as you record on a record. In other words, when I was recording albums like Demanufacture and Obsolete, I found the sweet spot on the amp before it breaks up too much, and once you find that sweet spot then that is how I profile it. Once you find that sweet spot, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be loud like playing a big live concert.
What led you to Ormsby guitars because I’d have presumed you would have stayed with Ibanez?
Well I was with Ibanez for twenty one years so I was with them for a long time. But, during the court proceedings, the label kind of got scared and kind of got falsely sued by Raymond and Christian. So they got really scared and it put a strain on my relationship with Ibanez. I think that was a legal tactic. Sometimes when you are in a legal battle they want to hurt everyone around you so that was exactly what they were trying to do. They were trying to basically ruin my career in one way or another, right. So they put a strain on my relationship between me and Ibanez so I just felt that maybe to make it easier for Ibanez, I left. I got to a company that I though was a very reputable – a company like Ormsby. I go to NAMM Convention which is a convention where you can see all different instruments and there are always a bunch of guitar companies there so I go and look at different guitars and I try them out. Every NAMM I always pick my top favourite guitars and there is always somebody coming out with new guitars, every time, right. So I first discovered Ormsby guitars about three or four years ago and I’ve known them for a couple of years now. But, I always kept going back to their booths because they had some amazing guitars, they felt really good and they were fan fret or multi-scale as some people like to call it, and they just had a really good vibe about them and I really liked the company. I became friends with the owner before I even signed with them. So I had been friends with them two years before that so that when it became time to move, it was a quick, easy choice: Ormsby. I just called them right up and said, ‘Hey look, I’m free,’ and boom, we worked out a deal that quick.
Nice, so in that light do you prefer a seven string or an eight string guitar?
I like both but I prefer a seven string more because I can write more stuff with it. Believe it or not, for me, it is like, when I write with an eight string I feel a little bit more limited in tone because when you hit that low F or if you tune it down to G or whatever, it automatically sounds like some other bands. So, I keep it to a limit for how much I use it.
Do you have to scoop the EQ mids within the mix much so you get that clarity?
I scoop the mids a little bit anyway, but not too much. I usually start around twelve o’clock and I scoop it down to eleven but not too much. On some other stuff that I worked on, with early Fear Factory of Demanufacture and Obsolete, I guess that I scooped the mids more but during Digimortal, I brought some of the mids back in. So, as far the eight string goes, what I usually have to do is tighten up the low end, so it doesn’t sound too floppy because if you don’t, it sounds, you know, the notes can be indistinguishable. I like there to be as much clarity as possible. So I found that works if I tighten up the low end.
The reason I ask is because on this album the clarity between the bass and the guitar is distinctive.
Yeah, actually on this record there are a little bit more mids then what I put on Genexus, the record before Aggression Continuum.
The current line up with Mike Heller [drums] and Tony Campos [bass] looks to be stable. How did getting those two in the band come about?
Mike has been in the band for nine and a half years but for some reason there has been a big misconception that these guys left. They never left, they were always there. Bell left but Mike has been in the band for nine and a half years and he is great, he is an amazing drummer. I mean I wouldn’t have picked him if I didn’t think he was amazing. As a matter of fact, when our other drummer, Gene Hoglan, was not in the band anymore, I reached out to a company called SickDrummer.com and they have a list of the drummers that are coming out, right. So I asked them to help me find an unknown drummer that is amazing. So, we narrowed it down to, you know, out of the hundreds of drummers that were listed, there were two that really stood out, and they were both amazing in their own right, but I ended up picking Mike because I thought that he was good for the band, the best. Then, Tony has been my friend for 25 to 30 years and we both grew up here in the local scene here in Los Angeles. We both had different bands, you know, different metal bands when we first started. He was in Static X and obviously, I was in Fear Factory. Static-X has gone through a lot and he was out of Static-X for a while. Then he joined us about five or six years ago. He also still with Static-X now as they reformed and they put a record out about a years and a half ago [Project: Regeneration Vol.1]. It did really well and so we still love it.
Is the secret to the Fear Factory drum sound the triggering and the tight gating?
Yeah, well what we do is we use a sampler live and the sampler, well, what we do is we sample in the kicks from the record. Right, so those are gated, cued and tight as fuck. So we sample it so that when Mike plays the kick drum, it triggers the sound and it is the sound from the album and that is probably why it sounds so tight. But, you still have to play it as tight as hell, for it to be that way.
That is the thing between some bands that sound great on record versus live. Having seen Fear Factory play live many times, I know that you do it brilliantly live.
Yeah, well, again, it comes first from how tight that band is, not necessarily just the tones that are coming out of it. You’ve got to play it tightly as well. I don’t have anybody to play my guitar for me, I have to make it as tight as possible. If the drummer is tight then I know that I am going to be tight.
Looking at the album overall, which track are you most proud of currently?
Oh, I don’t know which track I am most proud of, I mean, they are all pretty intense. But, I can say that some songs were like, difficult to do, or at least, difficult to mix. A song like Recode has so many layers of keyboards on there that it was hard to balance them out and get them to be perfect. So, that one was a challenge as well, you know what I mean? Andy Sneap’s mix pretty much nailed it and he mixed it really well so I was really proud of it. That one, I had my concerns about because, like I said, it had so many layers of keyboards on there that I was thinking that no one would be able to mix it and there was too much stuff going on. But, ah, he nailed it so that was one that I was really proud of in that we were able to finish it.
Is there anything that stands out for you across the entirety of your back catalogue?
I don’t know, that is a hard one to answer. I mean, we have songs like Resurrection which has a lot of keyboards where we actually had an orchestral – the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra actually come in and played that song with us. That was an amazing thing to see, but unfortunately we couldn’t film it because they were working behind the scenes and they couldn’t let the Canadian government know that they were doing it because these guys are paid by the Canadian government. They work for the state, right, so they couldn’t be caught moonlighting, working on somebody else’s record. So we couldn’t film it, which sucked, I wish we did. That song, Resurrection, with a live orchestra was amazing. I was like, ‘Wow, we actually did something.’ That was like out of the norm for us so I’d like to be able to do that again some time.
The artwork for Aggression Continuum is great. What is the story behind it?
Yeah, it is by Francesco Artusato who is the guitar player in Light the Torch. He creates that kind of 3D artwork, whether it be for commercials or just art for print, or whatever, he is one of those guys. He is just amazing dude and I just wanted to get that high quality look for the cover. On the cover, it is an automaton but it also has its legs open; it was made up to resemble an X. A lot of people are like, ‘Why are the legs open? Why can’t they be closed like on other records?’ But, we made the legs open to resemble an X, the Roman numeral for ten. It is our tenth studio record so that is why we made it that way, to signify our tenth record.
If you look at it from a distance, it sort of becomes an image in an image.
Hah, well that might be where the Continuum comes from – with the background and the circle and that effect, in that it is ongoing, right? On the bottom right, small F, there is a serial number, and that says FF103190and that is to indicate the birth of this machine. So, the serial number is the beginning, automaton is the present and the continuum is basically just saying that it is all going to keep on continuing. It is a continuous thing and that, for one, represents the album, Aggression Continuum, because it is a pretty pissed off record. But then, the continuum part just means that I am going to continuing further past this record.
Finally, what is your favourite memory of touring Australia?
Wow, they are all my favourites but I think maybe the first Big Day Out, might be my first and that was 1996 when Prodigy and Soundgarden were headlining. I remember it was like Fear Factory, Offspring, Prodigy and Soundgarden. It was Soundgarden’s last shows and last tour before they broke up. I would have to say, that was one of my favourite memories. It was also great was coming back and headlining on Demanufacture. We came back and we had been to Australia like three times within a year and a half. It was crazy.
Yeah, you started with a club show at venues like Sydney University, the next tour on a Festival and then on the next visit, Fear Factory was headlining large venues.
Yes, exactly and it just kept growing and growing. I have always had a blast going to Australia and I cannot wait to come back again.