Every artist would love to release an album that may one day be referred to as “seminal” A work that defines a career and occasionally a whole genre, a work that is so fresh that it is difficult to draw any direct comparisons to anything that came before it but will be used as a reference point for so much that follows it.
In 1995 Fear Factory released their magnum opus ‘Demanufacture’. I was bang in the middle of the target demographic – young, pissed off and following a wormhole of heavy music that I continue to tumble down to this day. I remember the first time I heard the album, the opening beats of the title track penetrating my eager brain like a surgically precise jackhammer, by the time the riff began only seconds later I was already in love. The album was a sound I had never come across, a lean powerful a hybrid of industrial noise & death metal infused with striking melody. Demanfacture made an instant impact and remained on high rotation for several years.
To open the show – Melbourne lads 12 Foot Ninja were the first and only support. They were an excellent choice; it must be a daunting task for a local act to open a show to a room full of legendary acts impatiently waiting acolytes but the Ninja’s won them over.
The band has sound that is easy to like – heavy groove is always a winner when trying to get a largely unfamiliar crowd moving. And these boys packed enough of that in to ensure a suitable amount of bobbing and bouncing occurred among the gathered crowd. 12 Foot Ninja definitely crammed a plethora of influences and sounds into their tracks with the aforementioned heavier breakdowns tempered with some sweet stripped back atmospheric passages, a bit of funk, some ska tinged sections and plenty of catchy melody provided by enthusiastic frontman Kin. It was a polished performance by an impressively tight band that seemed appreciative of the opportunity and experience. These guys have got the chops to make it large and just the right amount of mass appeal to make me believe it is very possible they do.
The vibe was buzzing with anticipation as the stage was readied for the stars of the show. I too was increasingly excited as the time approached, also still reeling from having the opportunity to meet the band pre-show backstage whilst reminding myself of why I have long placed Fear Factory in the very top tier of live bands I have seen. The eerie ambient noise playing through the house speakers slowly grew toward its crescendo as the moment drew closer. And what a greeting that moment elicited from the faithful attendees – a huge heartfelt cheer resonated around the venue when the band entered the fray.
After the somewhat protracted build up there was to be little fucking about for the rest of set. The band launched furiously into opening track ‘Demanufacture’ and the place went nuts. The sound was enormous, a cacophony of controlled chaos that forces your heart to pump, endorphins to surge and head to bang. The set was being played in order of the album track list, which meant my two favourite tracks were second and third of the evening. The ominous electronics that signal the intro to ‘Self Bias Resistor’ before the shear force of the tracks compel the crowd to swing, sway and sing.
It was however these two songs where the vocal struggles of Burton C Bell became apparent. I had given him a pass on a few missed notes during the clean vocals on the opening track, but he really struggled with some the registers he was meant to find throughout these songs and the rest of the performance. One of fresh and exciting things about Fear Factory and Demanufacture was the fact that among the crushingly heavy waves that pounded down there was balance and relief provided by Burton’s impressive clean vocal skills. His ability to mix his guttural roar with amazing range put him in a unique stratosphere for metal vocalists. But it seems that the very ability that separated him from the pack has perhaps been a factor that has ravaged those vocal chords to the point that he hasn’t quite got it anymore. Every attempt was made to hide his failings with the mix – heavy effects over all clean sections are not new to this band but were much more noticeable, or possibly less effective this time.
When in full flight Burton is still a great frontman, his powerful roar is still in good working order, his stage presence is great and he still held most of the crowd in the palm of his hands, but is hard not to let his drop in vocal performance knock a little edge off the show. The odd bum note was unfortunately jolting enough to stymie some of the momentum and captivating power the rest of the band worked so hard to create.
Dino is a riff-o-matic machine, tearing through his cache of classic riffs effortlessly and with a genuine joy and charisma that is truly endearing. Newest members Matt DeVries (bass) and Mike Heller (drums) filled the big shoes they were tasked with aplomb, both guys were flawless in their support roles to the favourites and mainstays in Burton & Dino.
I heard whispers there had been critisism of this tour for the amount of pre-recorded production & trickery used, but that has always been part of a FF show – triggers, effects, samples, keyboards etc. I accepted that long ago so I don’t find it the affront some apparently did.
After tearing through the entire of the album the guys wandered off stage for a breather and an anticipation increasing pause before re-entering to another round of rapturous applause. They closed out the show with a second act comprising a career spanning cross section of tunes, the highlight of which for me was ‘Edgecrusher’ which despite being more “nu-metal” flavored still works as a dominating live track. The night was ended by bringing Kin from 12 Foot Ninja back out to help on vocals with early FF anthem ‘Martyr’ which was a blistering and brilliant way to bring proceedings to a close.
So as I reflect on an amazing night of nostalgia that included meeting the protagonists in person I am sad to report that I am a tiny bit disappointed by the night’s performance. It is hard to say how much of this may be down to an expectation built on embellished memories, yet I can’t help but feel that Fear Factory are past their best. It is a cruel fact that I can only measure the band against the times I have seen them previously, shows that I count among the top few I have ever seen, but that is the reality. Burton cannot be blamed for having significant wear and tear on his voice, but likewise I can’t be blamed for feeling it detracted from an otherwise awesome performance. Even after taking into account the vocal struggles Fear Factory would still wipe the floor with many contenders and pretenders, it’s just that fairly or otherwise they fell a tiny bit short of my expectations this time.