BURTON C. BELL — USES VERIZON. I know this because about two minutes into our conversation the call is dropped because this writer is an AT&T customer. When I get him back on the phone I explain that in spite of years of difficulty I once again renewed my contract with AT&T because they gave me an iPhone. It is my twelfth phone in ten years and still I have dropped calls. I think Fear Factory could write an entire album about my mobile phone melodrama. Bell laughs as he recounts his frustrations with AT&T and mentions that he hasn’t had any problems since he switched to Verizon.
Man versus machine is a recurring theme for Fear Factory. The new album is called “Genexus” and continues that theme. With juggernauts like “Anodized” and “Dielectric” and a story that wends its way through each song, it has been hailed by metal fans and critics alike. Nicholas Franco of Cryptic Rock gave “Genexus” five out of five stars, adding, “Theirs is a sound that was so revolutionary and forward thinking in 1995, that in 2015 it still sounds like something they spearheaded and no one else has quite done.”
The sound of Fear Factory is a fusion of heavy metal riffage, atmospheric new wave and industrial grit. Lyrically, the soul of man and the advent of technology are ever at odds. It’s no wonder Burton C. Bell is hip to the best cell phone service provider. The band has gone through a few line-up changes over the years but the constant is Bell. Guitarist Dino Cazares started with the band and fueled the group’s most well-received material, only to leave briefly and return, to the delight of fans.
Bell has been hard at work promoting the new album, though he never really stops working. When he’s not promoting Fear Factory, he’s shared the microphone with Geezer Butler, Ministry and a slew of metal bands as well as his side project with keyboardist John Bechdel, “Ascension of the Watchers”. Recently, Bell completed “The Industrialist”, a graphic novel illustrated by Noel Guard and written by the singer, based on the Fear Factory album of the same name.
Fear Factory is on tour. They just finished a tour, it’s third, having wrapped shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and now they are headed to Russia, Israel and Europe. Bell is excited.
RREVERB: Will you be coming back around to the North America after the New Year?
BCB: We’d like to. We’re going to figure something out. We’d still like to do a “Demanufacture” tour of the United States but it’s up in the air. The promoters aren’t interested.
RREVERB: Wait, what? Why? You mean Fear Factory will go out and play “Demanufacture” from start to finish and promoters aren’t interested? That seems crazy.
BCB: Yes, but they are not interested. It costs money; but hopefully we’ll see that change in the next couple of months.
RREVERB: What lead to the creation of “Genexus” from “Mechanize” to “The Industrialist”, lyrically and musically?
BCB: Well, “Mechanize” and “The Industrialist”, they’re just different stories of a possible future. They don’t necessarily tie in together; they’re different vignettes. “Genexus” is a vignette, a different story of a possible future where the evolution of humanity continues. Before we started writing the record we were trying to decide where to take this: what haven’t we done so far? And it took a while to come up with a concept.
RREVERB: How did you proceed?
BCB: We had not had a title yet. We had working song titles but nothing stood out as an album title. I’d come up with some words and started writing about stuff about… personal observations, personal things going on that I’ve always done that when I transpose it I take myself out of it rather than becoming part of it. So I’m just telling a story. I was thinking a
lot about the theory of the singularity by Ray Kurzweil. He predicts that by 2045 man and machine will become one. Technology advances exponentially every year. It becomes more powerful and tinier, so to speak, and through nanotechnology, he predicts this will happen. So with that in mind we thought, “This is a cool idea, but where are we going to take it?” I was also thinking of the “Blade Runner” character of Roy Batty. He was a perfect specimen of human in every way but not given the ability to live a longer life. The psychological aspect of that was, as it was written by Philip K. Dick – even though he wrote about future times – very psychological. He wrote about the human psyche and how humans and machines are really very similar and almost the same.
Months later as we were into the writing process we were contemplating words and created “Genexus” out of two words, genesis and nexus. Genesis, meaning creation; and Nexus, meaning transition or the next step. So “Genexus” is the name of the next generation, because humanity is constantly evolving and evolution moves forward. Even the term “de-evolution”, which is contradictory because even with evolution everything will come to an end at some point. De-evolution is a part of evolution. So the evolution of humanity, incorporating the machine parts with Ray Kurzweil’s theory, comes to this effect. So “Genexus” is the story of the next generation of humanity and that will be the name of it, the Genexus Generation. Will they be considered human or machine? Will they be ostracized or embraced? Will there be prejudice? Will they be suppressed? These songs are the stories of that generation.
Artificial intelligence is the by-product of artificial technology. Already, recently, a scientist did a test on three androids to determine if they had any sentience or consciousness. One of the androids passed and said “I”.
RREVERB: So the machines are becoming self-aware.
BCB: As technology advances there is already artificial intelligence. We have not created the correct output for it to relate to us on a human level.
RREVERB: Shouldn’t we be trying to avoid developing artificial intelligence?
BCB: I think it’s inevitable. Should we avoid it? Steven Hawking and Elon Musk would agree that, yes, we should avoid it. (laughs) There are scientists who say that we can’t let this happen because this will lead us down the wrong path. I think we’re already on that path. We’ve already opened Pandora’s Box. Humanity is dependent on technology. The rise of the machines… a takeover is not going to be violent. It’s going be achieved through apathy. “Okay, well. Let them do it!”
RREVERB: My fiancée bought the Amazon Echo. Her name is Alexa and we always ask her about the weather and sometimes ask her to play music. I might surrender if she can order and deliver Chinese food and champagne before I think about it.
BCB: Well, that’s close to what we’re doing already. Everyone has this thing in their hand that thinks for them. Your new phone. Human brain power is decreasing exponentially as technology advances exponentially.
RREVERB: That’s frightening.
BCB: I’m not trying to send a message but I am trying to show a possible future. This could happen. Let people think about it and come up with their own thoughts about it.
RREVERB: Well, it’s just that you guys make it sound so cool. Why do you think (people are saying) this album a “return to form”?
BCB: (thinks for a moment) We did a lot of soul-searching. As we were writing we reflected on old records, especially “Demanufacture”, “Obsolete” and “Digimortal” and basically we reverse-engineered what made them so popular. We looked for what made them stand out so much more than other ones. As we were doing this we rediscovered things about those albums: those albums have a lot more groove, for example. The production quality was different and we spent more time on “Demanufacture” and “Obsolete”. So we took our time writing this album and working with arrangements and recording as we would write. We worked longer on crafting songs and kept developing them until they got better and better until we agreed that they couldn’t get any better.
RREVERB: There are almost no (guitar) leads on this album. It’s all groove.
BCB: There is one lead on it. One lead, on “Soul Hacker”.
RREVERB: Was that a conscious decision?
BCB: It was a surprise for me but I actually liked it. It has soul to it; it resonates. It’s not some middling thing that’s annoying.
RREVERB: What was the contribution of Rhys Fulber?
BCB: We’ve been working with him since 1992 on “Fear Is The Mindkiller”. He’s worked on pretty much everything except “Archetype” and he’s not just a collaborator: he’s integral. He’s a person who knows the intricacies of this band and knows when to put something in and when not to put something in. He knows what a part requires: sometimes a part requires nothing. If he hears something he will know what to do and achieve it through a classic analog technology mixed with new technology and creates such original sounds. If I have some samples I want to use he’ll know how to put it in there and where to put it and does really cool stuff to it. We like to think that we’re not just writing a record but we’re creating a soundtrack.
RREVERB: “Genexus, The Movie”.
BCB: This could be a movie. Lyrically, this tells a story. It’s very systematic and very cinematic at the same time.
RREVERB: How does that translate to your videos? You have a couple out.
BCB: To me there’s only one true video for this album and that’s for the song “Dielectric”. That’s the video we’re actually in. You know, the kids these days… they like the lyric videos! (laughs) People put them together and we go, “Yeah, that’s cool!” There’s one for “Regeneration” that looks cool. It works. “This song is being played on ‘Octane’ (the XMSirius Radio station)!” and then there’s a video for it.
RREVERB: How much input do you have on those?
BCB: We have input. For lyric videos they show us what they want to do and if we have any suggestions they’ll listen. The “Soul Hacker” lyric video, I recorded myself singing on my phone and sent it to them so it would be on TV. As long as it’s futuristic and looks cool and makes sense for the song. I have more input on the videos that feature us and I’ll work with the director. A director will come up with a treatment and we’ll choose the treatment from various directors and we shoot the best one. We’ll talk to the directors about what the song is about and what we’d like to see, ‘this is cool’, ‘let’s expand on this a little more’, and so we put our two cents in to make it more of a band kind of thing.
RREVERB: Are you working on more performance videos?
BCB: It depends on the success of this record. If we do another live action video, we should do it for “Expiration Date”. A lot of people love that song.
RREVERB: Okay, you’re getting ahead of me here but now that you’ve brought it up I’m going to ask you about that song.
BCB: Oh, sorry – but all right let’s do it!
RREVERB: Okay. How deep into the Ultravox catalogue were you when you wrote “Expiration Date”?
BCB: (laughs) You know… it’s just part of the music encyclopedia in my head! Ultravox! Yeah! Midge Ure was fantastic, a tremendous songwriter and vocalist. It’s all songs of that era and I think – I think – that’s what really sets me apart from the rest of the singers that do heavy vocals and singing. I’m not coming from a metal background: I’m coming from a new wave and goth/industrial background. This is the chord that strikes in my head. Dino’s guitar playing has a lot to do with it, too. This is what I feel and this is what comes out. It is pretty odd that it resembles an Ultravox song…
RREVERB: It’s so much like “Vienna” in that is has that mood: that sound of isolation and Cold War desperation.
BCB: (sings) “Ahhh, Vienna…” I love that song! I was listening to that song a lot, though. (laughs)
RREVERB: Also, with this song the album achieves a startling closure. It’s almost the way Pink Floyd ends “The Wall”. I went back and listened to “Mechanize” and “The Industrialist” albums and they end with songs that button them up but this is more noticeable because it is such a remarkable standout. It’s so grand.
BCB: Well, thank you for that. It was such a simple song but it was one of the hardest ones to do, but it’s beautiful. Dino is playing on it and it’s all harmonics.
RREVERB: It’s just sensational. How did your relationship with your new record label, Nuclear Blast, impact the album? You’re working again with Monte Connor, the A&R man who worked with you at RoadRunner in the 90s.
BCB: It’s cool, you know. I like the fact that we have returned to a family-like environment. We haven’t been with a family for the past four albums. Each of those albums was pretty much a one-album deal, so it’s nice to return to a family-like label and have the support group that understands the band. Monte understands the band. He knows what needs to be done. They have great promotion, they have great marketing and most importantly they love the record. They believe in the album, so that’s even better. Working with Nuclear Blast has been awesome.
RREVERB: What other things influence you lyrically? You mentioned Ray Kurzweil and Blade Runner.
BCB: I keep up to date with world events and advances in technology, space exploration. I like to read and keep up to date. I’m constantly reading. I think Kurzweil is a genius. I love Philip K. Dick; Cormac McCarthy, who creates these worlds that are so familiar and he’s epically descriptive – Oh, my God! I enjoy Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman. I also love movies – a lot of John Carpenter and Ridley Scott. I thought “Prometheus” had some cheesy parts but conceptually was remarkable.
RREVERB: How do you view the bonus tracks on “Genexus”? Are they part of the album and the story?
BCB: Well the song “Enhanced Reality” was a song we didn’t use on “The Industrialist”. That actually ties the two albums together. If that song is the last song on “The Industrialist” that would foster the creation of that world and then you go into “Genexus”. The two remixes were done by Al Jourgensen “Mandatory Sacrifice” is a “Genexus remix” and “Maximum Voltage Capacitor” is a “Dielectric” remix and I would look at them as enhanced versions of the original songs. Maybe play them after the originals.
RREVERB: I’m making a playlist. I was looking at the cd booklet: why did you thank “Wines To The Stars” in the liner notes?
BCB: Ha ha! Because of this guy Andrew who hooked me up! We had just done SoundWave and he brought us some bottles of wine then took me to a vineyard and gave me a tour and it was just beyond the call of duty so I wanted to thank him.
RREVERB: So you’re going to be on tour for a while. I know that Fear Factory has played “70,000 Tons of Metal” in the past and I was wondering if Fear Factory might be appearing this coming year (2016)?
BCB: We haven’t been invited. Not yet. It’s a really great time. I’ve done it twice and both times was really fun. I would love to be on it again. I’ll cross my fingers that they ask us because that would be a really fun tour to do again!
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