While cleaning out the office recently, this correspondent found an old clipping from the letters page of Sydney’s Drum Media at the bottom of a suitcase. It was a missive from Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell, apologising to fans for the enforced cancellation of their Australian tour after just one show in mid-1996. When Bell comes to the phone to talk about his band’s upcoming visit to these shores, he is reminded of that fateful occasion.
“We played one show and I contracted laryngitis. I couldn’t sing because my voice was just… gone!” he says in a casual, slow drawl. “We couldn’t play because I had no voice.”
Despite that considerable mishap – which led to disappointed fans smashing through the locked doors of the Sydney venue after waiting vainly for hours for them to appear – the album the band was touring on, Demanufacture, went on to sell more than 35,000 copies here, enough to be awarded a Gold Record. Australia was the first country to deliver the band such an accolade.
“We went down there on our first album Soul of a New Machine, and we did something like fourteen shows,” Bell recalls. “We were flying sometimes and in a van sometimes. We played a lot of places. And after that, our popularity really seemed to grow and when it came time for Demanufacture, our fans there really embraced that album.”
Fear Factory has returned to Australia with almost every album release since, most recently only nine months ago. Their tour in July will be the fourth after a “secret guest” slot at the 2010 Big Day Out, shows with Metallica the same year and The Industrialist tour last September. Those shows planted the seed for this year’s live Demanufacture showcase, when they closed each set with five of the album’s tracks.
“It was partially what gave us the idea,” Bell admits. “We just thought, ‘Well why not play the whole damn record? It’s not actually a bad idea!’”
Seventeen years on, Demanufacture still exudes the power and innovation it had when it first appeared. Even with the myriad of copycats that followed in its wake, it remains a genre hallmark.
“When I think about it, I’m rather amazed. When I hear the record, it still sounds fresh,” Bell says. “If no one’s ever heard it, and you play it for them and say it come out almost twenty years ago, they’re like, ‘What?’ It was one of those underground records that got a lot of recognition but it never really broke in the mainstream.”
Celebrated as a groundbreaker at the time of release in 1995, Demanufacture is now often considered one of the cornerstones of modern metal music. It was an album that introduced a litany of tropes into the genre, including heavy use of digital processing, the complete absence of guitar solos – something the nu-metal breed heavily adopted – and, perhaps most prominently, the juxtaposition of cleanly-sung melodic vocals and ferocious bull-throated roars. This writer recalls quite a few people saying at the time that they initially thought the band had two singers.
“It was a highly influential record on a lot of people,” the vocalist says with some air of humility. “Sometimes I feel like a kind of teacher, that we offered something to the metal world that our audience can take from and be influenced by. It’s a very positive aspect of making that record.”
The fact it was so well received in Australia is the reason Fear Factory decided to come here to play the entire album live for the first time. Almost every track has featured in their live performances on various occasions, except ‘A Therapy for Pain’, the haunting Gothic number that closes the otherwise mostly bleak album on something of a positive note.
“It hasn’t been played since we recorded it really,” Bell says. “I’ve always wanted to play that song, it’s just never been one that we’ve been confident of it working. But we’ll see.”
The extended edition of Demanufacture that was released locally also included the Agnostic Front cover “Your Mistake”, featuring a guest performance by Freddy Cricien of Madball. If Fear Factory is presenting the whole album, will they be playing that? Bell pauses briefly.
“Hmmm. We haven’t discussed B-sides, but you know, we are gonna have to play more songs than just the Demanufacture record, so that’s a great request.”
On an album laden with great tracks, does the singer have a favourite?
“I love ‘Self-Bias Resistor’,” he says. “I love that song. It’s got a great vibe to it. I helped write the chorus on guitar. It’s one of the fastest, very positive, really energetic and empowering.”
Following up an album as close to perfect as Demanufacture is always a difficult task, but Fear Factory came close to the best result possible with 1998’s Obsolete. If this tour goes well, does he and Dino Cazares have plans to tour that album in its totality as well?
“One day!” he says with a laugh. “On its 20th anniversary we’ll consider it!”
Fear Factory plays Demanufacture in July:
4/7: Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
5/7: UNSW Roundhouse, Sydney NSW (Lic. A/A)
7/7: Palace, Melbourne VIC
9/7: HQ, Adelaide
11/7: Metro City, Perth WA