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Metal Legacy: Metal Demanufacture

Historic Metal Albums: Fear Factory – Demanufacture*

The machine is now alive.

Alternating clean and harsh vocals are commonplace in Heavy Metal today, but Fear Factory pioneered the technique on their “Soul of a New Machine” debut. They then perfected the hybrid vocal method on their sophomore album, and in the process, created one of Metal’s great masterpieces: “Demanufacture.” This album didn’t just reprogram the rules of the game, it rewired the console entirely. 

Metal historians credit F.F. as the first to extensively mix melodic and growled vocals in the same songs.** A mere gimmick doesn’t make greatness, however, no matter how well executed. Singer Burton C. Bell was applying this innovative vocal attack over top-notch, forward-thinking Cyberpunk Metal tunes. Fear Factory warned of mechanization subjugating humanity, while paradoxically utilizing staticky samples, industrial effects, and supporting synth tracks behind machine-like rhythm guitars and double-bass drums. Their music is like a chrome-plated, post-apocalyptic urban mosh pit of blood, sinew, and Industrial Metal alloys. A Pop Punk musician I knew heard Fear Factory’s “Obsolete” album and sought me out for answers: “Is that a real drummer? That’s gotta be a drum machine!”***

But I reiterate: impressive feats of musicianship, innovative vocal techniques, and socially-conscious lyrics aren’t what earns venerability. Esteem and long-lasting respectability are achieved with great songs. And track-for-track “Demanufacture” is more consistently reliable than most bands’s “greatest hits” compilations. There are few musical moments from any band or artist of any genre or any era that can rival the climactic bliss of the closing minutes of “Zero Signal” and “Pisschrist.” Add to these blasters like “Replica,” the title track, “Self-Bias Resistor,” the ode to brutality in “New Breed,” and the haunting closer, “A Therapy For Pain,” and you have a digital magnum opus.

In 2016, I got a press pass to cover them doing the 20th anniversary tribute tour, where they played the full “Demanufacture” album, start to finish. Guitarist Dino Cazares and I shared a fleeting moment during the show, with him chuckling at the guy in the photo pit who knew every single song lyric. 

This show was late in the tour. Burton’s voice was so shot that he could barely speak in between songs – – but when the music kicked back in, he stepped up and delivered the vocals with every bit of fire and power they required.**** The man left everything he had on the stage. It’s no accident that Geezer Butler recruited Burton to be the singer on his GZR band’s first album. Fear Factory are the stuff of legend, but Burton C. Bell is truly one of the all-time Metal greats. Bar none. His roar could lead any uprising to bloody triumph – – even against an army of machines, but his clean voice is equal, melodic with an edge of tempered steel. For further evidence, dig his post-F.F. band, Ascension of the Watchers. 

Fear Factory suffered their ups and down in the decades that followed their colossal sophomore release, personnel coming and going and returning, sound rejiggering, a hiatus, an ugly 2020 press feud between Cazares and Bell, but there’s still a metric tonne of fantastic heavy music to be found across their entire catalog. Some dark beauty, some max brutality, much of it made of their patented hybrid of the two elements. In early 2023, Fear Factory introduced vocalist Milo Silvestro, ushering in a new era. Let’s hope it brings a Dickinson/Iron Maiden or LaTorre/Queensryche renaissance for the band. From their existing catalogue, I strongly recommend “Genexus,” “Machanize,” “The Industrialist,” and “Obsolete” – – and even the “Remanufacture” remix album – – but “Demanufacture” is their pinnacle. Honestly, it may be the best album released by anyone in the 1990s. Think about that.  

Where is your savior now? 


Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel, as a journalist with and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.

*Metal Legacy will periodically spotlight highly influential, impactful Heavy Metal albums. Some choices will be obvious, some will not. 

**Ian Gillan from Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, John Gallagher from Raven, King Diamond from Mercyful Fate  – – and his solo career, Neil Turbin from Anthrax, Schmier Fink from Destruction, your cousin from Satan’s Crabs during their one-and-only 1983 show at the bowling alley in Newark. . . Yes, other singers have been blending harsh and clean styles for decades. We’re talking about Burton C. Bell combining these two particular vocal strategies.  

***The “Demanufacture” liner notes listed Raymond Herrera as “Maximum Effective Pulse Generator,” which is a perfect description of what he did behind the drumkit.

****“Dry Lung Vocal Martyr” indeed.

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