Fear Factory: Burton C. Bell Looks Back On 25 Years Of Demanufacture
Perhaps we can forgo the sense of astonishment that it’s been 25 years since the release of Fear Factory’s groundbreaking second album, Demanufacture, and that some of our younger readers may not have even been born when it came out. Such anniversaries happen to all albums eventually, although it must be said that few have the luxury of ageing quite so well. Indeed, Demanufacture was so ahead of its time and so innovative that it sounds as fresh today as it did then; a blistering collision of metal and hardcore that easily rivals any of its peers. In short, a masterpiece.
Fear Factory laid the foundations with their 1992 debut Soul Of A New Machine, after which came remix album Fear Is The Mindkiller, but Demanufacture was – and in many ways still is – lightyears ahead. Today we talk to frontman Burton C. Bell about his recollections of the album, its legacy, its influence echoing to this day and becoming such a standard in metal – particularly Burton’s style of mixing clean vocals with extreme death grunts.
“A lot of bands have done better than us with it!” Burton laughs. “If I’d known I would have trademarked my style, although you probably can’t do that. After Fear Is The Mindkiller, we wanted a combination of that and Soul Of A New Machine – not totally electronic, but with some new developments – and we also wanted to keep the hardcore and metal vibe because we’d toured with a lot of hardcore bands. I also started expanding my vocals, to add a little bit more to it.”
Where did that vocal style come from?
“Well, I was never really a metal guy,” Burton confesses. “There was a couple of metal bands I liked, but I was more into Head Of David, Sonic Youth, Big Black… There were aspects of other bands that I really liked; for instance, with Godflesh, Justin (Broadrick) wasn’t really singing, it was more like moaning. I started imitating Justin, but instead of a moan it came out more like a melody kinda thing. It sounded cool, so we kept rolling with it and I was able to incorporate more of that vocal style into the songs. Not every song, because not every song called for it, but it worked really well with songs like Pisschrist, Self Bias Resistor, Zero Signal and Replica. It just kinda happened and kept developing more.”
But it wasn’t just Burton’s vocals that were ahead of their time. Such was the speed and ferocity of Raymond Herrera’s drum patterns that people assumed the band had used a drum machine instead of a real drummer.
“He was a machine himself!” grins Burton. “He would play with combat boots and leg weights, just to build up stamina and strength. People didn’t believe he was a real drummer, and people didn’t believe there was just one singer, so we had a lot going against us. They didn’t understand it at first, like, ‘What’s this singing shit?’ It took a while for people to accept it, especially since our early tours were with hardcore bands like Sick Of It All and Biohazard.”
Recorded between October and December 1994, Demanufacture was not without its problems. The band started the process in Chicago’s Trax studios, chosen because of the great records that had been made there, but soon found that it was not what they had hoped for.
“We had issue after issue and it was a just shithole,” remembers Burton. “We started listening back to the drums and there was a lot of shit missing because the microphones weren’t working, so we’re like, ‘Fuck this place’ and we flew to Woodstock, where Faith No More were recording King For A Day. There was space available, but not for a month, so we ended up sleeping on the floor at a Day’s Inn in Chicago for a month. Then we lived in our manager’s house until the Bearsville studio was available. We were using this unfinished basement to rehearse, literally rehearsing on dirt. Between June and October we were in limbo.”
Although Bearsville was a better studio for their needs, the band ran out of time, and vocals were completed at Whitfield Street Studios in London; the album being mixed and remixed several times before it sounded just right. It should also be mentioned that while he is credited on the album, bassist Christian Olde Wolbers was new to the band and according to Burton, “not playing tight enough”, so his parts were played by guitarist Dino Cazares.
According to the font of all misinformation, Wikipedia, Demanufacture is a concept album that took its inspiration from the first Terminator movie, but while Burton agrees that that was one of the inspirations, it was just one of many.
“I was a fan of Robocop, Bladerunner, Falling Down, and Apocalypse Now,” he relates. “And there was this movie called the Closet, about stasi-style interrogations, and that inspired a couple of songs. We also took some things from video games at the time. But I think the biggest inspiration was the ’92 riots in LA, which we lived through. We were there for the beatings and the trial, and then we lived through the riot, which started on April 29.”
Ironically, the band were doing a photo hoot for Soul Of A New Machine in south LA on the day the riots started, one of the locations literally three blocks from Florence and Normandy where the trouble began.
“We were driving through there just as people were gathering to start protesting,” Burton recalls, “and we were like, ‘This is gonna get ugly, we’ve got to get the fuck out of here!’ And it did get ugly! It affected us mentally and physically. I mean, we lost the place we were living in and officially became homeless and lived on couches until we were done recording Demanufacture in ’94.”
The idea of man vs machine became a recurring theme for Fear Factory. Perhaps more prophetic than they could have imagined in these days of self-checkouts, drones, and self-driving cars, but the idea of a concept album, explains Burton, came after Demanufacture was completed.
“We’d recorded the album and the artwork was done,” he says, “but I was asked to do a description of each song for the press. I started typing it out and decided to tell a story for each song, so we have our protagonist in the midst of all this chaos and people rioting.”
Looking back on the lyrics, some of it seems very personal rather than futuristic…
“Yeah, they’re all personal,” agrees Burton. “Therapy For Pain is about a dream about an ex-girlfriend, and being in love and in pain. And I wrote Zero Signal in London, waking up from an acid trip. I took this big dose of acid at the Marquee club at some kind of rave and started hanging out with this girl. We tripped all night in her room and I woke up to sunlight coming through the blackout drapes, this ray of light coming in and hitting this huge picture of Jesus with blue eyes. So, that was very personal. I was also watching a lot of law shows and recording dialogue onto cassette, and a lot of that got used for the album.”
Dino, meanwhile, found his inspiration elsewhere.
“Dino and I used to live together back then,” says Burton, “and he memorised all of Cowboys From Hell, because he wanted to pick like Dimebag. And here’s a fun fact… the riff for New Breed is the riff for a Stone Temple Pilots song played backwards, Vaseline, I think.”
Released on June 13, 1995, Demanufacture certified Gold in Australia and Silver in the UK, reaching number 27 in the album charts – an incredible feat for such an extreme record. Moreover, it influenced countless metal bands, becoming a blueprint for industrial metal and metalcore.
“That album changed my whole career and opened up a whole lot of doors for us,” says Burton. “I think it’s stood the test of time. Not just sonically and in production, but lyrically it holds true. For us, with the riots and everything, there was literally tension in the air, you could see it.”
So pretty much like it is now!
“Exactly! The more things change, the more they stay the same!”
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