It's been just over twenty years since L.A.-based industrial death metal band Fear Factory released their full-length debut, Soul of a New Machine. (An earlier album, Concrete, was recorded, but shelved until 2002.) Almost from the moment it emerged, the album created shockwaves in the metal underground.
The group was fronted by vocalist Burton C. Bell, whose ability to switch seamlessly between a death metal growl reminiscent of Napalm Death's Mark "Barney" Greenway or Godflesh's Justin Broadrick and a cleaner singing style that was all his own would be hugely influential. But it was guitarist Dino Cazares who provided the creative spark. In a 2012 interview with Re>Gen Magazine, he described the band's early days: "when me and Burt did our first demo back in 1990, it was with a drum machine...it was me and Burton in our apartment, a one-bedroom apartment, and Burt was singing in the bathroom to get that reverb effect, and a friend of ours named John Fenton, who was a manager for a lot of bands...I did guitar and bass. We used a little Boss Dr. Drum machine, and Burt sang in the shower, and that’s how it was. Then, obviously other people came in and we kind of progressed into a more metal band (or death metal band), but we did have some industrial elements; Burt, obviously, with the melodic vocals, which has inspired bazillions of bands."
The band, which also featured drummer Raymond Herrera and live bassist Andrew Shives (replaced in 1993 by Christian Olde Wolbers), hit the road with a vengeance, touring with then-labelmates Biohazard and Sepultura, among many other acts. The tight, grinding songs of Soul of a New Machine came across as something almost totally new live, the grinding riffs, mechanistic rhythms and ominous samples all providing a platform for Bell's powerful vocals and impressive stage presence. One year after releasing the debut, they worked with Front Line Assembly keyboardist Rhys Fulber on the Fear is the Mindkiller EP, which featured techno/industrial remixes of the Soul tracks "Martyr," "Self Immolation," "Scapegoat" and "Scumgrief." Cazares recalls, "It wasn’t until we met Rhys Fulber that we did the remix album Fear is the Mindkiller...that was when we were like, ‘OK, Rhys can afford all this technology. Let’s bring it in. Let’s embrace it. Let’s use it'...most metal fans, at the time back in ‘92, it was not really well known in metal to do that kind of stuff. I’ll put it this way, it wasn’t really spoken about. Bands have used other members and other stuff–samplers and stuff like that–to do certain things, but they just never talked about it; they never brought it to anybody’s attention. We embraced it, and that has always kind of like always been like our concept."
As Fear Factory's success grew, they shifted more and more toward a hybrid industrial-metal sound that was radio-friendly at times, while always remaining heavy as hell. They also continued to explore remixes on discs like Remanufacture, which reworked all the songs from their second studio album, Demanufacture. But on Soul of a New Machine, they were truly pioneers.
Watch rare video above of them performing "Crash Test" in Hollywood, CA 20 years ago today!
Fear Factory's five studio albums (Soul of a New Machine, Demanufacture, Obsolete, Digimortal and Concrete) are available now as a digital boxed set on iTunes!