In the first of another new feature, we send our latest contributor, Matt, back in time to revisit one of the defining Metal albums of the ’90’s. Can you believe “Demanufacture” is almost 20 years old…
Released in 1995, and their follow-up album to 1992’s death metal-tinged debut, “Soul of a New Machine”, “Demanufacture” is considered by many as Fear Factory’s greatest piece of work. If their debut was the concept of the spawn of the machine, this album is the initial friction and struggle when man faces that machine.
The album was produced by Colin Richardson, synonymous with heavy metal, and producer of many iconic records, including last year’s acclaimed “Surgical Steel” (Carcass) and 1991’s “From Beyond” (Massacre). However, in a similar situation to that of “Surgical Steel”, Fear Factory appeared to be unhappy with Richardson’s mixing post-production. Therefore, Greg Reely and Rhys Fulber (ex-Front Line Assembly) collaborated with the band on the final mixes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can check out a couple of Colin Richardson’s mixes on a compilation album called “Hatefiles” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatefiles).
The opening title track doesn’t blitz its way in like then-contemporaries Pantera’s “Strength Beyond Strength” (from “Far Beyond Driven”), but it is in the same league of seamless intro tracks, for sure. I really like the effects of what sounds like unlocking gates at the opening, the brief hard pan zig-zag accelerating across the stereo field to the excellent guitar riffs from Dino Cazares, and the sharp, repeating growl of “I am the thorn in your eye”. All of them highlights on one of the best tracks on the album.
I heard my first sample of Fear Factory in the background of an online Flash game, and that was the full-on melodic assault chorus of “Self Bias Resistor”. The riff, the vocals and the drum blasts, they hook you in! Raymond Herrera’s double-kick pummels throughout this track, and this album. If you wonder how the drums sound so perfectly timed, he recorded with a click track.
It’s when you get to “Zero Signal”, that I think the keyboards really start to shine out of the mix. The epitome of industrial, they wind through with slow, cold tones (and long release time). Credit for these haunting, overlaying melodies goes to both Reynor Diego and the previously mentioned Fulber. Along with programming duties, Fulber has helped to create soundscapes right up to present day with the band, and to me, should be seen as the fifth member. Also, you can’t knock a good piano ending.
Blade Runner’s replicants would appear to have inspired “Replica”‘s title. This track is pure groove from the start, but after the multifaceted structure of “Zero Signal”, this is more simple (with two guitar riffs) and sadly not as fleshed out. It is however popular, and Epica covered “Replica” on their album, “The Divine Conspiracy”.
The way “New Breed” plays out makes me want to describe it as industrial hard dance, with guitars. It’s like a resistance that wants to be heard. Burton C. Bell’s vocals stand out in particular for the faithful-to-the-original cover of “Dog Day Sunrise”. Originally written by British band, Head of David (including Justin Broadrick from Godflesh on the drums), lyrically it reads of slaving away over and over for something that never occurs, to the point where you accept that tomorrow is going to be the same as today, and the day after that and so on. Sonically, it’s closer to a rock song than anything else, the sort of thing you’d get from Killing Joke (such as “A New Day”).
The low end is optimal on “Body Hammer” as though “swing and strike” is happening around you, breaking down the environment beneath and around. Meanwhile, “Flashpoint” brings immolation into the fold. The lyrics come from the point of view of someone whose lies are their own downfall. My point of view is the New Breed have captured someone who betrayed man, and now he pays the price.
An influence for this album is James Cameron’s classic sci-fi action film, The Terminator, and “H-K (Hunter-Killer)” is a brilliant example of this. I could write about the drums for almost every track on here, they’re so prominent in the mix throughout, but they seriously burst through this track like an AK47. An opening sample meshes soundbites regarding the (relevant to this day) topic of gun control.
Rehearsal for “Demanufacture” took place in a significantly gang-populated area in Los Angeles, and with the riots around the same period, it would seem inevitable for those vibes to creep into Fear Factory’s record. “Pisschrist” gives some idea what the band think of organized religion. It’s a topic touched upon in the band’s other releases, such as Mechanize’s “Christploitation”. Just like “Zero Signal”, the layers upon layers make for great listening. Perhaps the message here is that the oppressive machine the album speaks of, has forced mankind to create religion as a means of hope. Bell asks the listener, “where is your saviour now?”.
“A Therapy For Pain” comes in with a slow, haunting, ethereal thump. This track is where Fear Factory truly wear their industrial & sci-fi influences on their sleeves. The slow, harmonised chant from Bell almost seems to lead us tauntingly into a dystopian, mechanized abyss. In fact, with a minute remaining, a seventies horror pad leaps out and it’s as though the listener has stepped back to reveal the full horrifying extent of the machine. The mood is set for the next album, “Obsolete”, and the bleak future for mankind.
With its mix of cleans and growls, grooving riffs, machine gun-like drumming and sci-fi soundscapes, Fear Factory had something unique at a time when the rock landscape was mostly being fed flavours of grunge. A landmark album, and a tribute to the world of science fiction.
For you audiophiles out there, the original CD versions of “Demanufacture” (as reviewed here) have an average dynamic range of 7 dB throughout the album. It’s not great, but it’s on par with the norm. If you can acquire a vinyl copy, you’d be looking at a natural gain of an extra 5 dB range though.