Groundbreakers: Fear Factory’s Demanufacture
Welcome to another edition of Groundbreakers, our look back at hugely influential metal albums of the recent past. For this entry, it’s only fitting that I, Toilet Ov Hell’s resident cybernetic organism, bring you a look back at one of the most unique and fully-realized records of the mid 90s whose DNA can still be found in today’s metallic landscape: Fear Factory‘s seminal 1995 album Demanufacture.
Fear Factory began their life as something closer to death metal with their 1992 release Soul of a New Machine. Harsh treble-heavy guitar tones, ugly-as-hell fuzzed-out bass, full-throat growls with occasional cleans and drumming that alternated between fast & precise and loose & chaotic were the whole of their sound: an organic blueprint of much of the Florida death metal scene combined with shades of industrial groove and alternative pop/rock catchiness.
Included in that blueprint were elements primed for expansion in later albums: the concept of man vs. machine, jackhammer rhythm patterns, echoed atmospheres, sound/film samples and nefarious synth lines that would all come to define FF’s sound.
Three years later, overcoming the dreaded sophomore slump by blasting it in the face, FF releases Demanufacture and embraces a significant shift in sound and style. Drums and guitars fire off staccato riff patterns like well-oiled machine guns. Vocals have been honed to a seething scrape like concrete on skin. Song backgrounds are awash with layers of squelching synths and cold atmospheres like a cyberpunk nightmare, and song structures have been tightened up and streamlined for maximum impact like a grenade to the chest. And yet, soaring melodic choruses meld everything together in a way that preserves their pop influences while strengthening the album’s intensity and conceptual cohesiveness.
Wearing its Terminator influences firmly on its sleeve, Demanufacture‘s lyrical concept centers around humanity’s uprising against a ruling machine class, and tracks like “H-K (Hunter-Killer)” and “Pisschrist” utilize samples taken directly from Terminator 2. Listen to the titular opening track, “Zero Signal” at 9:24 or “Flashpoint” at 31:57 in the video above and tell me it doesn’t sound like an artificially intelligent security system in a subterranean Skynet stronghold waking up and pointing its anti-personnel weaponry straight at your head.
At the time, Demanufacture was among the first to combine a full-on thrash/death metal-influenced attack with the cold, mechanical sounds and attitude of industrial. Contemporaries like Nine Inch Nails or Stabbing Westward utilized a more alternative/pop-oriented and radio-friendly approach with the format, incorporating somewhat similar sounds, but stopping far short of reaching the explosiveness that FF achieves. Even Godflesh, a massive stylistic influence on FF, never came close to the absolute “war of the machines” fury that Dino Cazares (guitars & bass on this album), Burton C. Bell (vocals) and Raymond Herrera (drums) managed to capture here.
By stripping away a few key trappings of its death metal influences and focusing on a punchy, binary approach to riffs on downtuned strings and only-what-you-need drumming, as well as avoiding the pitfalls of peers tweaking their sound to align with grunge or what would eventually become nu-metal, FF managed to carve out its own unique niche in the musical landscape of the time.
The DNA of Demanufacture (and its follow-up Obsolete) has become embedded in a lot of what we hear today. Listen to just about any djent song to hear echoes of that same DNA that FF helped pioneer: binary riffs in low tunings, harsh verses and melodic choruses (aka “good cop/bad cop” vocals), staccato guitar & drums in ultra-precise lockstep, film soundtrack-like atmospheres for complete listener immersion. Other bands like Threat Signal, Mnemic and Xerath also stood on the cold steel shoulders of Demanufacture and created their own unique takes on the formula.
Hearing this album for the first time (several years after its release) was a revelation for me, and it holds up remarkably well today. It was among my first and most memorable introductions to heavier stuff than what I was listening to at the time, and a mind-blower in terms of what was possible with both album storytelling and overall musicianship. It was an electromagnetic disturbance that burned a hole right through my listening habits. It was an unstoppable killing machine sent to my brain from a future realm in order to hunt down and destroy other bands. It was the molten vat of steel into which cheesy favorites and weaker offerings were consumed by fire. It was [another T2 reference here].
I strongly encourage you, all of you, to listen to Demanufacture for yourselves and enjoy the trip through its unique and groundbreaking sci-fi cyberpunk world. You need a vacation. Give yourself one with this 20 year-old classic. Hasta la vista, baby.
Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.