Fear Factory was a pioneer of the so-called nü-metal genre, before that designation became a bit of an insult. An early proponent of the fusion of industrial and death metal, Fear Factory first realized that sonic alchemy with its influential 1995 album, Demanufacture. Since then, the band has explored a wider range of sounds and more rhythmic strategies than most of its peers.
The group's sound, a blend of melodic vocals, gruff and sweeping atmospherics, crunchy, brutal guitar work and relentless percussion, has often been imitated, but it's the small details in the mix that have always set Fear Factory apart. The band's latest record, 2012's The Industrialist, could sit alongside Killing Joke's most recent release in terms of the primal tones, dreaminess and aggression. We recently had the chance to speak with the good-humored and friendly Dino Cazares about brujeria, Demanufacture, his use of seven-string guitars and how The Industrialist is about the power of discovery.
Westword: You were in Excruciating Terror before Fear Factory. That was kind of around the dawn of the existence of grindcore. How did you become aware of that kind of music and become involved with it?
Dino Cazares: I used to work at a music store on Hollywood Boulevard, and a guy came in saying that his band needed a guitar player, so I said, "Okay, what's the name of your band?" He told me the name of the band, and I said I would go down and try out. I tried out, and it was basically a straight-up grindcore band. There was some good stuff about them, but they didn't have the work ethic that I was looking for. I wanted to make it in the music industry. I wanted it to be my career.
I lasted in the band for about a month. I had another band with Raymond [Herrera] called Ulceration. I thought I kind of wanted to do a band with him. Ulceration had more of a Godflesh vibe. Then I ran into the drummer of Fear Factory and said, "I think the three of us would make a great band." I first got with Burton [C. Bell] and then with Raymond, and I left Excruciating Terror after a month. I literally played one show with them and I was out.
How would you say that Godflesh influenced the early development of Fear Factory?
Just being a fan of Earache Records and everything that was coming out on that label. Everything from Carcass, Napalm Death, Godflesh -- all those bands. Godflesh was probably the one band that hit home with me, just extreme, fucking heavy stuff, heavy industrial stuff like I'd never heard in that extreme before. Burton and I wanted to start a band like that, and that was Ulceration.
So Ulceration was kind of an industrial-ish, grindcore-ish band?
I would call it just a straight-up industrial Godflesh rip-off -- because Godflesh had nothing fast. It just had more the overtones of heavy metal but just tuned way lower and way heavier.
Yeah, because Streetcleaner you could never say is very fast at all like grindcore in its usual form.
Totally. We were totally like Streetcleaner.
What did Brujeria allow you to do and to express that maybe you weren't able to in other bands?
That was my first band, believe it or not. That was the first band I started with a couple of other guys before Fear Factory, but you probably didn't hear about it until after Fear Factory. That was just us wanting to cross boundaries with Latin music. We wanted to sing in Spanish. We noticed no one was really doing extreme metal like that in Spanish. There was a very famous drug lord in Mexico that also believed in the occult and Satanism, and they sacrificed people.
Are you talking about Adolfo Constanzo in Matamoros?
Yes. Exactly. I don't want to go into full detail, but we saw that in the newspaper in 1987 or 1988 or around there. We were like, "Okay, fuck, this is sick." All of a sudden we said, "Let's start a band!" The singer said, "Well, I'm not really a singer, but fuck it, I'll try it." That's kind of how it came about. We just wanted to go somewhere different with it. We took the concept of what happened in Matamoros and just created a band out of it. And that's pretty much what it was. In between Fear Factory records, I was doing those records.
After we finished the second Fear Factory record, Demanufacture, I went in and did a Brujeria record called Raza Odiada, and I think that everything I learned from making the Demanufacture record, when I did the Raza Odiada, the second Brujeria album, the quality of it shot way up compared to the first record [for both bands].
Obviously, years later, I took my Brujeria character, Asesino, and what it was about, the story behind that person, and created my other project Asesino. Basically he's a hired assassin. He was a hired assassin for Brujeria, and now he's got his own army and his own crew, and he kills people. Asesino was a much more extreme version of Brujeria but it has its own vibe, kind of like how Divine Heresy was a much more extreme version of Fear Factory. You know, guitar solos, really fast tempos and so on.
I try to do something a little different for each of my projects. Brujeria was, lyrically, about politics, Satanism and drugs. Asesino, lyrically, was about raping, killing and Satanism. Divine Heresy was definitely lyrically different from Fear Factory. Fear Factory was more futuristic, and Divine Heresy was more everyday stuff.
When you mention Demanufacture, that was right around when you started playing seven string guitar?
It was exactly at that time. Right after we recorded the album, Ibanez had approached me about playing their seven strings. They had made seven strings for Steve Vai, and they wanted to start endorsing other people, and they were looking for certain players. They approached me in early 1995, and I said, "Sure, I'll try one out." I did, and I was like, "Holy shit! I'm way into it." So I started playing them right after I was done with the Demanufacture album.
What did you like about the seven strings?
Just the low tuning. Back when I was playing six strings, I was tuning my guitars to B and A tunings, and it was just too floppy on the strings. Or you'd have to basically put bass strings on the six string. So I was way into, but I didn't really like the pickups, so I contacted EMG and had them make me some custom, active pickups. So that's pretty much how my sound developed, and I never looked back.
Sometimes you play an eight string guitar these days?
I do play eight strings sometimes, but mainly the seven string is my thing. On every record, I do a couple of songs, and they have a particular sound that I like some of the time. But I prefer the seven string.
Early on you worked with Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly.
Yeah, he's a guy who's been working with us since way back in 1992, when we first came out. He's part of our sound. I would say he's like our fifth member, but he's more like our third member.
How did you come to work with him?
I had approached our A&R guy in 1992, and said, "I want to do some remixes." And he said, "What's that?" I'm like, "remixes, where you take somebody's song and you make something different out of it -- industrial or techno or whatever." He thought about it and said, "We have somebody on our label that's more into that. Maybe you should talk to them." So we ended up talking to a label called Third Mind Records. I talked to this guy who said, "I've got the perfect guy for you; his name is Rhys Fulber."
So I met Rhys Fulber, and he was way into it. He was talking about how much he liked metal and what early metal was producing and Venom and all kinds of stuff. So I said, "Oh, okay, so you pretty much get it." So we had him do the first EP we ever did called Fear is the Mind Killer. From there, that was the first time anybody had ever heard industrial, techno, death metal remixes with melodic vocals.
Then it was just a whole new thing. That's when Demanufacture came out. That EP is what inspired what became Demanfacture. That's why, during the mixes, we fired Colin Richardson and hired Greg Reely and Rhys Fulber to finish off the project. Unfortunately, if Colin Richardson had kept doing the mixes, it wouldn't be what it is today.
It's interesting that the title of the EP is Fear is the Mind Killer because I believe that's a Dune reference and definitely fits in with what you said about Fear Factory being focused on futuristic themes.
Yeah, total Dune. We are fans of sci-fi movies, and we've always been into that stuff and into the concept of future thinking: Ray Kurzweil, just being a fan of all of that stuff, and we read a lot, so we just got roped into those concepts.
There's an interesting title on The Industrialist with "Difference Engine." Does it reference, perhaps, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson's novel, as well as the earliest computers designed in the 1800s, before even the earliest computers existed, with programming methods that are still generally used today.
Yep. We're always inspired by stuff like that. We're just trying to figure out how the fuck we're going to come up with another record with lyrics that will make it interesting.
What made incorporating electronics and a more industrial sound with what you were already doing interesting to you?
We'd been a fan of all that stuff for years, everything from Ministry to Nine Inch Nails. So when we started Fear Factory, that was something we always wanted to do. But, unfortunately, we didn't have the technology to do all of that stuff until we met Rhys Fulber, who introduced it. We always had the craving to put all that stuff in there. We did the best we could with the instruments we had: guitars, drum machines and stuff like that. But it wasn't until we met Rhys that we were able to bring that all in. That's why I say he's basically the third member because he's been there since near the beginning of the development of the band.
When Rhys Fulber came in and introduced that stuff, that's where Demanufacture really shined -- the stuff he layered on top of it. Obviously the songs were great, and with the vocals, Burton took it to a whole new level, and it just worked. It was definitely a new era of music. It was time for something different in metal. Because at that point, death metal had run its course.
Don't get me wrong: All that stuff has come back again, but at that time, it was kind of played out. Nobody was doing anything different. No one was pushing the boundaries that much at the time, so we wanted to push all those elements and combine them all together. I think we did a great job of doing that.
It was everything from the killer riffs, the killer fuckin' beats and all the industrial elements that Rhys put in and killer production. A very aggressive but slick album, and everything shined through. It was a great era. That's when nü metal was blowing up, and Kurt Cobain was pretty much done. Glam metal was dead. It was the perfect time.
Listening to The Industrialist, it's reminiscent a bit of Killing Joke.
Oh, yeah, yeah, come on! Especially the chorus effect he put on his guitar? That chorus effect was amazing. That definitely had an influence on my guitar sound. We wear our influences on our sleeves; we're not afraid to say who we like and what we're influenced by. I know a lot of people are afraid to say things like that, but we don't have any issues with that.
What made it possible for you and Burton to patch things up to reignite the band?
Communication. Not talking for a good amount of years. He wasn't happy with the way things were going with the other two members -- just a lot of drama. He had planned to bring it all back together, but it was so hard. We got over the issues we had and moved on -- a lot of forgiving, a lot of forgetting, a lot of alcohol, a lot of crying moments. That kind of thing, a lot of bro moments. Bro moments.
The Industrialist is a concept album? It seems to be a commentary on the kind of technocratic aspect of the world we live in today and how we put too much faith in science to take care of things.
It's the power of discovery, I think, to experiment. That's where my faith lies -- the trying. You're never going to know unless you try. That's one of the things we try to incorporate into our music as well: Just try it, see what happens. We're definitely fond of science. We have to be to really be in Fear Factory to understand what we're talking about.
The weirdest thing about technology is how incorporated in our lives [it is]. Cell phones? Who the hell thought I would be talking to you on a cell phone while driving down a freeway in California doing an interview? Or that we could rehearse miles apart from each other on the Internet. Little things like that that have become a part of our lives we've been singing about since day one. The world has obviously become a lot smaller because of technology and the Internet.
On The Industrialist you have song called "Religion is Flawed Because..."
Because men are flawed. We're not perfect, so religion is not perfect. It was just a cool title, and we thought it was badass, and we decided to give it a kind of gothic-y, epic-y outro. We've always had a gothic-y element to the band, and Burton has always had a goth-y tone to his voice sometimes We are fans of music in general and try to combine every element of it into our music to make it different.
Fear Factory, with Kill Syndicate, Moth and Broken Image, 8 p.m. Monday, April 15, Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, $18, 303-487-0111, All Ages
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