A few short years ago, a reunion between Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares seemed unlikely to the point of ludicrousness. The bad blood and public shit-talking between the two ran rampant throughout the internet and both had moved on with other projects. So of course they got back together. Having ejected the rhythm section of Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera, Bell and Cazares enlisted legendary drummer Gene Hoglan (Strapping Young Lad, etc.) alongside already-FF bassist Byron Stroud (though he too was in SYL) to complete the lineup for their new album, Mechanize.
Mechanize is the quintessential Fear Factory record, let there be no doubt. Bell and Cazares, in New York on a press trip to which our evening-time interview seemed an epilogue, sat down with yours truly in a pub on 30th St. to discuss the makings of the album, their relationship with each other, and how it feels stepping back into Fear Factory as it used to be.
The overall tone of Mechanize reminds me of the rawness of Demanufacture and the confidence of Obsolete, without the conceptual edge. And of course Gene Hoglan is a god.
Burton C. Bell: He’s amazing. I’ll drink to that.
Dino Cazares: He’ll drink to anything (laughs).
BB: (Laughs) Conceptually, it’s not like Obsolete, where it’s a story, but it is conceptual. It is a modern day look at today’s world. It’s the soundtrack to today’s world.
DC: I think it also, maybe Burt noticed it or didn’t notice it, has a lot to do with what Fear Factory means.
BB: How so?
DC: Talk about “Christploitation,” “Fear Campaign.” That’s all what Fear Factory means. [To Burton] Don’t know if you knew that.
BB: (Laughs) I guess I don’t think about that, but that’s one of the things about working with Dino. We discuss things a lot and come up with titles and stuff and titles that fit the concept of Fear Factory. Dino helps a lot with that.
Something else that struck me was how much the album feels like Fear Factory. It feels like there was a lot of thought behind it.
DC: Yeah. There was and there wasn’t, because the thought that was behind it happened fast. We weren’t sitting there like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been working on this project for two years.” It was more like four months—boom. From the beginning when me and Burt just met, he came from this side, I came from this side, and it just happened again. We were coming up with titles, we both came up with maybe 20 titles, and he always wrote them down and we always picked the title that fit the music.
BB: The titles were on a big posterboard behind Gene. We’re working on something and all the titles are right up there.
DC: It’s basically our notes and kind of guides in a way.
BB: “Well, this song feels like this,” and such. It guides conceptually and lyrically, the vibe.
DC: “Final Exit” had more of a darker vibe in what it meant, so when we were writing the music for it, we looked at the title to make the music fit.
BB: Vibe-wise, it is the most aggressive record we’ve done in a long time. Very aggressive. That’s something I really like about it.
You guys had both stepped away from Fear Factory. How has it been for you to come back to these roles?
Is it mechanized at this point?
DC: Yes and no. More of a natural reaction. When we write songs together, me and Burton, we discussed a lot of stuff, and it just came out naturally. It was a combination. We would get the skeletons, concepts, song titles.
BB: It’s like an auto-reflex kind of thing. It was kind of regenerated from working with Dino again. I’ve been calling it a creative consciousness.
DC: It’s like we put a new engine in an old car (Laughs).
BB: Comparing Fear Factory to a machine. Fear Factory is a machine. Some parts get old and have to go. Some parts have to be fixed and recharged. This machine is no different from any other machine. There’s many parts that have to come together to make this work smoothly. The auto-reflex, working with Dino again brought it all back.
The last decade of Fear Factory: You had Digimortal, then the split with you two, then Archetype and Transgression and the split with Christian and Raymond. It’s been so tumultuous. How can you feel established as a band?
BB: We’re still Fear Factory. So many bands in history have had the same experience we’ve been having. The only difference is, the past 10 years, the internet has been such a venue of gossip, misinformation, untruths and truths. It’s just out there. There’s a particular website… that just thrives on that type of National Enquirer—TMZ of metal. The band’s been established. We’ve had peaks and we’ve had valleys. I think we’re coming out of a valley now. It’s a regeneration. I wouldn’t call it a reunion because the band’s been working.
It’s a reunion for you two.
DC: It’s a reunion of me and Burton. Some of the things you said, it really just tells you how irrelevant the other two dudes are. It tells you who were the main songwriters in the band. It shows you who that is. It proves a lot of things. I think that where the other two members are with their music and where we are at, me and Burton, it’s completely different.
BB: It’s interesting that you say that. I was thinking about that.
DC: A [full] reunion wouldn’t have worked, because we’d have to compromise with the other two dude’s ideas and listen to Arkea-type shit and it wouldn’t have worked.
BB: Those two albums are exactly what the titles of those albums are.
I remember interviewing you when Archetype came out and you said this is the archetypal Fear Factory sound. It was almost like the band was getting to the core of what your and Dino’s sound was, but without Dino. With Mechanize, is that a response to the automatic feeling of getting back into it?
BB: It’s a natural response. This is what happens when Dino and I are working together and we’re on the same page. We’re talking, discussing. We have a shared vision of what this record needs to do.
DC: Like it was from the very beginning.
BB: The very beginning. It’s a shared vision that got lost after Obsolete. When other interests got involved—not just band member interests, management, label.
DC: Yeah. I think personally, there’s no way I would have been able to share the writing duties with Christian or Raymond.
BB: Where I was going was, their idea of what Fear Factory was going to sound like, because they’ve mentioned that Arkea was supposed to be a Fear Factory record. Their idea of Fear Factory different from my idea of Fear Factory. It’s a very different idea. There’s no industrial aspect about that album at all. No mechanical, nothing groundbreaking. Nothing that pushes the envelope.
Coming back to it for this album, and for [Dino] coming back to the band, how do you balance the already established elements with trying new things?
BB: Something new I think has to do with maturity, experiments, and 20 years under our belts.
DC: The band is not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re just trying to write classic songs. We were just trying to write the best songs we could write. There are a lot of new elements though.
BB: We’re working together, it’s just going to sound like Fear Factory. His guitar playing, my voice. Dino writes the riffs, his style is a mechanical feeling and it’s a feel that’s for a style of drumming that he really started for Fear Factory.
So is this a one-time deal or an ongoing thing for you guys?
BB: Well, contractually, we have one more. Right now, the momentum is gaining. Lot of good ideas. Fear Factory is still working, there’s still an interest. And if there’s still an interest, I can still do this, and when it comes down to it, I can support myself. I’m not Dave Grohl, but I can see Fear Factory, for the next decade, continuing. We always seem to put out a record every three years (laughs). Actually, this record and the last one is the longest time. Five years is the longest time we’ve spent. Times are changing, and the album cycle times are changing. Maybe two years? We’re gonna tour all this year.
DC: Europe, then we tour here in the States probably March, April. I can’t wait to do a US tour because it’s been a while. Everywhere around the world. Australia’s gonna be amazing. South America was amazing. I’m sure Europe’s gonna be amazing. I’m curious to see how it’s gonna be here. We know we have a lot of work to do to rebuild.
BB: We have a very dedicated fanbase.
DC: Yeah, let’s see if they come to the shows (laughs).