Rock fans have a thing about ‘technology’. Not all technology, mind – where would we be without electric guitars and amps – but keyboards and particularly sampling technology. Until well into the ’90s they just weren’t considered ‘rock’n’roll’ enough; somehow inauthentic by contrast to ‘manly’ and ‘organic’ Les Paul’s and Flying V’s. Certain artists were way ahead of the game of course – mostly progressive and new age acts like Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Oldfield- but hard rock and metal fans were slower to catch on. To this day, top names like Iron Maiden and Oasis keep the keyboard guy tucked away in the wings out of sight: fans of the former reacted with outrage to more overt use of synths on ‘Somewhere In Time’ (1986) and ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ (1988).
It was inevitable, though, that at some point certain forward-looking artists would find new ways to rock that took advantage of the newly-affordable sampling and sequencing technology that brought a new ambience to popular music through the ’80s and ’90s. So-called ‘Industrial’ metal acts like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails were amoung the first to win over the rock crowd, blending hard rock riffs with synthesised bleeps and beats inspired by the likes of Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Belgium’s Front 242. Interestingly, fans of the Mode were equally perturbed by the introduction of ‘live’ instrumentation on their ‘Violator’ (1990) and ‘Songs Of Faith and Devotion’ (1993) albums.
But I digress. One of the major players in ’90s metal took the whole man vs technology conceit and made it their calling card. neatly encapsulated by the sleeve illustration of a ribcage/barcode in cool blue tones, Fear Factory’s ‘Demanufacture’ album (1995) is one of the landmarks of forward-looking rock in that decade.
The music is emphatically ROCK, and clearly owes its inspiration to thrash metal and hardcore punk but the use of cold synth washes, samples and triggered drums give it an almost mechanical feel, whilst adding melody and harmony to rub up against the headbanging aggression. New Breed (below) incorporates some decidedly trancy sounds into what is basically a thrash/punk song, whilst ‘A Therapy For Pain’ is a dreamy, extended mood pice. The dichotomy extends to the vocal department, with singer Burton C. Bell affecting the contrasting clean/gruff vocal styles that would prove so influential in metal from then on. The conceptual nature of his lyrics took in weighty matters including cloning (‘Replica’), Religion (‘Zero Signal’ and ‘Pisschrist’) and the end of the world in a war between man and machine, inspired ‘The Terminator’ movie.
Rhys Fulber from Canadian industrial dance group Front Line Assembly had produced a number of remixes from FF’s debut LP, ‘Soul Of A New Machine’ and returned to mix this album too. The result is an album full of contrast and complexity. The production values mark it out as a ’90s album but the quality of the songwriting has stood the test of time admirably. They’ve not produced anything as front-to-back jaw-droppingly rocking since.