Nearly 30 years on from the ground-breaking death metal/industrial hybrid of Soul of A New Machine, US sci-fi metallers Fear Factory return with a new full-length, Aggression Continuum. The album arrives after legal disputes with ex-members, bankruptcies and other inner turmoil. Aggression Continuum features guitarist, songwriter, and co-founder Dino Cazares; drummer Mike Heller; and vocalist, lyricist, and co-founder Burton C. Bell. However, the latter’s very public departure from Fear Factory last year made plenty of headlines, including the frontman distancing himself from the GoFundMe campaign launched by Cazares in order to finance the LP’s completion.
During a busy press campaign to promote Aggression Continuum, the always outspoken Cazares chatted with Heavy Music HQ about the making of the album, controversy surrounding the GoFundMe campaign, his celebrity encounters while working in Hollywood as a teen, and plenty more.
Brendan Crabb: What was the outlook when making this record – to be essentially a continuation of what Fear Factory has done in the past? Or did you attempt to introduce some new elements into the mix?
Dino Cazares: Each record we try to improve ourselves; we try to improve the sound, we try to bring in new elements. Especially when I write the music, those are the things that I like to do. For instance, the nuances of these songs are what makes everything. When I write music, I like to write with two parts – you need tension, and then you need the release. You have to build up the tension with intense riffing and drumming, syncopated as one. It’s like you’re an industrial war machine fighting in a future war battlefield against the machines, or humans, depending on… Whatever side you’re on, humans or the machine side, it’s like you’re on the battlefield.
That’s the tension that I like to build up, and then the beautiful, melodic vocal part causes the release. It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel, (this) angelic hope that gives you confidence to keep going. Building the dynamics in the songs is very important.
The keyboards are the icing on the cake, because you can control the final outcome of where you want to take the song. It can intensify certain elements of the vocals, intros, outros, etc. That’s how I do it with the right team around me. It can be be amazing, and I was able to get the chance to improve on this record. I started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the extra improvements that I wanted to make on this record. Like getting Andy Sneap back to mix this album, getting Damien Rainaud to produce the album, getting Rhys Fulber on a couple of tracks, Mike Heller to re-record the drums. To me, the human element of the record was the drums, and that was part of the dynamic in the songs. So that’s the beauty of Fear Factory’s songwriting, the tension and the release.
I’ve been listening to the album for the past several days. Fear Factory’s music has always been influenced by films, but Aggression Continuum feels even more cinematic at times. Was that a key objective?
Yes, because we ended up using a guy called Igor Khoroshev. Actually, we had four different keyboard players on this record. One of the main guys was Igor Khoroshev, who was in a band called Yes. He brought his cinematic vibe to the songs like “Recode” and other parts of the record. This guy’s amazing, he’s a prodigy. And we also had a guy named Giuseppe Bassi based out of Italy, and he was great with these futuristic types of keyboards, electronic elements. And we also brought in Max Karon, who is my guitar tech (laughs), who happens to be a excellent keyboard player. He put his stamp on this album as well.
And then of course we got Rhys Fulber, who’s been working with the band since 1992. I was able to earn enough money to get him back on the record. It was only for a song or two, but at least I got him on the record. So I was very happy about that. The keyboards definitely added a whole new dynamic to the sound, and took it to another level.
Fear Factory has a distinctive sound, and the group’s early albums were groundbreaking and highly influential. Can you recognize a sentiment from some now, that while Fear Factory blazed a trail initially, fans shouldn’t expect the band to reinvent the wheel nowadays? Can you see some having the view that the group doesn’t need to experiment outside its established parameters?
Well, I have to disagree with them on that, if that’s what they think. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some comments where people do think that. But we try to experiment as much as we possibly can, on the records that I’ve been on. I try to take it to a new level where it’s a little more intense, a little faster, a little groovier. Like (1998’s) Obsolete‘s a much groovier record than (1995’s) Demanufacture, which was like a cold piece of steel hitting another piece of steel (laughs). It was sonically cold as hell. Whereas Obsolete was more organic and had a lot more feel to it. Because there are different elements that we do try to approach on each record.
And I think on this new record, it’s a mixture of all of it. It’s got intensity, it’s got songs like “Purity” and “Monolith” that have more groovier parts, it’s got more melodic vocals in it. I believe there’s a great balance on this record. I can’t wait for it to come out and for people to finally get it.
Do you feel like the finished album is a fitting swansong for Burton’s era fronting the band?
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s a fitting album for him to leave (on). It’s a great album for him to leave on. And I think the greatness happened, partially after he quit. Because I was able to go back in the studio and add new elements that would take it to the next level.
Many fans criticized the GoFundMe campaign, and Burton even referred to it as a “scam”. Were you annoyed at people questioning your integrity with respect to how the money would be spent?
Yeah, but that just seems to be life, that just seems to be how it is (laughs) in the music industry and in the public forum of what we call social media, now that everybody’s addicted to giving their opinions. And that’s okay, that is okay. Sure, I may get frustrated at times and I want to answer these questions. Because fans want to know – they want to know the answers to these questions, because they don’t have all the inside information.
So yeah, that does bother me at times, but I do not mind having to explain myself. And the only reason why I did have to explain myself was because Burt went out there and slandered the whole GoFundMe campaign, said it was a scam, and then fans started asking a lot of questions. But we had a successful campaign, raised more than $25,000, we were able to move on and I was able to make some improvements. I believe that the majority of people knew what my intentions were, and now that they’re hearing the tracks, they’re starting to realize that it was true.
Burton sings on the album and wrote lyrics for it, and is even in Australia at the moment where he’s making a few public appearances. But then he’s not in the promo photos for the new album, for instance, and has officially left. Do you think there could be somewhat of a disconnect for fans with regard to this album, given that he’s on the record but isn’t in the band any more?
I think that through social media everybody finally figured it out and I think they were able to get through it. But it is a very unique situation. I can’t think of any band or band member that has gone through anything like that. Burton leaving the band can be devastating for the legacy of this band, for sure. But I have no doubt in myself, and I think fans know my track record and they know the records that I’ve done. They know the type of music that I play. They know that Fear Factory’s in my heart, and I have the best interests in continuing this legacy as best as anybody could do it, if not better than anybody else could do it.
I think the fans finally get that and understand that. Sure, you may have a few stragglers here and there who are not happy that Burt’s gone. But it wasn’t my decision, it was his decision. There are doubters who are doubting me – some people are foaming at the mouth for me to fail. There’s even some media that are doubting me, and there’s been plenty of fans that have been doubting me. I love that everybody’s feels that way, and you know why? Because the comeback is going to be greater. In other words, the next album is going to be fucking amazing.
Everybody doubting me, everybody hating me, everybody questioning me, everybody wanting to talk shit about me on the internet – go for it. Because that’s what motivates me to do even better, and to prove everybody wrong. But you know what, that’s kind of how I feel on every record that I do. I always feel like I have something to prove. And it’s probably a good thing, because those feelings are probably what pushes me to do even better. I think surviving this, and being able to move forward, is success. Because with every successful story comes some hardship, or failure. But in the long run, Burton’s made his decision, and that’s what he’s got to live with.
I’m not going to ask about the identity of the new Fear Factory vocalist, as you’ve said you will be making the announcement at the appropriate time. But did you get really fed up with every second fan on social media asking, “hey, why not get Howard Jones?” (laughs)
(Laughs) Well, I love Howard Jones.
Who doesn’t? (Laughs) But it still must have been a little frustrating, given you clearly outlined early on that it wasn’t going to be him.
We do have have other stuff that we’ve done, like we did the Jamey Jasta tour in 2018, with a bunch of other musicians. We did a tour across Europe, and it was amazing. I love Howard Jones, but he’s got his own things going on. Howard Jones has a career, he has his bands, he has things going on. I want to give somebody else a shot; kind of an unknown, or a semi-unknown, or someone who’s been in a smaller band, and give them a shot. There’s so much talent out there, and I’ve seen a lot of talent come through my emails and video submissions that people submitted.
But you have to narrow it down to a handful of people, and then you want to make the decision. Unfortunately with COVID, some of the singers couldn’t get to me as they’re further away. So when certain restrictions are lifted within the next month or two, I’ll be able to spend time with these singers. Because the only thing that’s left is basically just chemistry; seeing if we get along with the people. And then I’ll be able to make a decision. I’m not in any rush, because we’re not even going to tour until next year. The main focus at the moment is getting this record out. Like you said earlier, this is a weird and unique situation, and I’m dealing with it as best as I can.
A younger vocalist like Todd La Torre has been able to rejuvenate Queensrÿche’s shows and perform those songs as well as his predecessor Geoff Tate ever did. No disrespect to Burton, who is a pivotal vocalist in metal history, but in recent years he hasn’t been able to do songs like “Linchpin” justice within the live environment. Do you feel that a younger, hungry vocalist could breathe some new life into Fear Factory’s classics?
Oh, definitely. I want someone who’s hungry and wants to be there, and not look at this as a burden. Sometimes that’s how… Burton having to deal with singing these songs was like a burden for him because he just couldn’t hit those notes. It’s sad to say, but that’s what it was. I’m not trying to disrespect him in any way. That’s just the honest truth, everybody knows that. Anybody can see it on YouTube – it’s not like I’m making something up. It was difficult, and it seemed like a big burden on him to do that. I can see where that could really destroy somebody’s confidence being on-stage.
But yeah, bringing in somebody new, someone who’s very talented, wants to be there, someone who’s hungry, and is excited to be out there could definitely breathe a new life into the band, for sure. I want to be out there, too. I’m still hungry. Trust me, I’m still hungry – look at me (laughs). I still want to be out there. I still want to meet the fans, travel the world and go to faraway places and say hi.
Changing topics, there are reports that you’ve been working on an autobiography. Can you give us any update there?
Yes, I totally am. Obviously I’ve been telling some of the stories (in interviews) that are going to be in my autobiography. Maybe I shouldn’t tell so many any more and save them for that (laughs). I have some really funny stories of stuff that’s happened to me over the years, since I was in my early teens. Living in Los Angeles, I happened to be there at the right time for these experiences to happen. I was young and moved to Hollywood, working in the heart of Hollywood, next to all the movie studios and all the television shows they filmed, and recording studios. I got to meet rock stars, movie stars, soap opera stars, TV stars. I got to meet a lot of people when I was like 17, 18, 19 years old. I got to meet a lot of people, and it was really cool that I have these experiences.
On that note, during a recent episode of Doc Coyle’s The Ex-Man podcast, you told a story about an encounter you had with Diff’rent Strokes actress Dana Plato. The story has since been picked up by a number of metal news sites and blogs. Is it an odd feeling to know that you can tell a story like that in an interview and it will inevitably end up being news fodder?
(Laughs) That was kinda weird, but I am used to it – you’ve got to remember, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I understand that certain things are going to make headlines. But yeah, that experience really happened to me, and a lot of people are talking a lot of crap about it, because unfortunately she died of a drug overdose and I guess she was fired from the show for doing drugs and stuff like that. But I didn’t know at the time, that at the time that I met her that she was on drugs. It didn’t seem like it. I was probably barely 19, and she was probably 20, 21. It was a really cool experience, and it just happened to be a story, or a moment, that I talked about.
But like I said, I was right at the heart of where they filmed all the television shows. I was working at a sandwich shop, and people came in there for lunch. People came in there after work, to have a beer and unwind. We sold beer, wine and sandwiches, and we had the big television screens inside the place, so you could watch sports. Being in Hollywood, we had all sorts of actors, stars and up-and-coming stars who would walk in during lunch break or after work to have a beer. I was surprised a little bit in the beginning, the amount of people that I got to meet. But in the end it became the norm, it was just so common.
And remember, there was a recording studio there, so I got to meet all the rock stars like Dave Mustaine, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot and Dokken, and every band that was in the ’80s at the time that came through there, I got to meet. And also, right near where I was working, there was also the Hollywood Palladium. They would have all these big concerts there. All the bands played there – Metallica, Accept, Slayer, Venom, Exodus. All these bands that I was loving in 1985, I actually got to go see for free, because a lot of the crew guys that worked for these bands or worked for the Palladium would come across the street and get food. And I would trade them food for tickets, or passes. So I got to go backstage, I got to meet all these people, I got to go to these concerts. It was just an experience that’s probably unbelievable, that people just don’t believe me (laughs). I do have some pictures from a long time ago, when I was a kid. But yeah, for some people, it’s probably unfathomable for them.
Any famous last words?
I want to say thank you to all the fans that helped out with the GoFundMe campaign to get this record out in the way that it should be heard. Because I demand a certain level of quality. I want to say thank you to all the fans that helped us out over the past 30 years, and to the people who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign.
(interview published June 17, 2021)