The first Terminator movie was a major inspiration behind the man vs. machine themes of veteran industrial-metal band Fear Factory, but any similarity – even in name – between the new Terminator Genisys and the group’s ninth record, Genexus, is strictly coincidental. Actually, Fear Factory’s latest was far more influenced by one of vocalist Burton C. Bell’s other favorite films, Blade Runner.
“I was reading about Ray Kurzweil’s theory of ‘The Singularity,’ [the era when machines become sentient], and thinking about Blade Runner and the Rutger Hauer character Roy Batty,” Bell says. “[Director] Ridley Scott really touched upon empathy in that movie because the only ones who feel anything are the androids. The humans are totally disconnected. That got me thinking about what would happen to these machines when they developed empathy and started looking after one another.”
Like 2012’s The Industrialist – as well as Fear Factory’s landmark record, Demanufacture, which turned 20 this year – Genexus is a full-fledged concept album (with graphic novel to follow). But for all of Bell’s sci-fi lyrics, the themes are universal: war, climate change, religion and mortality all play into the story. And musically, Genexus is as recognizable and satisfying for fans as a good movie sequel. The staccato guitars, double-bass beats, ambient segues and mix of harsh and melodic vocals on new songs like “Soul Hacker” and “Protomech,” which can be streamed below, bring to mind a fusion of Demanufacture and 1998’s Obsolete. But Fear Factory have also made some changes, replacing the drum programming of The Industrialist with a new real drummer, Mike Heller, and using samples and keyboards (courtesy of co-producer Rhys Fulber) in an even more cinematic way than in the past.
The widescreen future world that Bell and co-songwriter, guitarist and studio bassist Dino Cazares dreamed up for Genexus is one that seems particularly relevant in 2015. At least in the movie theaters, it has been the year of A.I., with highly buzzed films from Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ex Machina to Chappie and, of course, Terminator Genisys taking on the subject. As he has been for the last 26 years since Fear Factory’s formation, Bell was happy to dive in, as well, when we talked to him before the band’s current European tour.
Have you always been a big science fiction fan?
Absolutely. As a kid, I used to watch the original Star Trek, and the stories by [its creator] Gene Roddenberry got me interested in the genre. I read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein when I was eight years old and it blew my mind. I got into Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. Then I read George Orwell’s 1984 when I was in ninth grade for an English project. As a young punk rocker rebelling against society and mass culture I really connected with it. I saw The Terminator around the same time and I loved it. I thought, “Could this actually happen?” It was such a wild concept that the technology man invented would rebel against him. Then I got into Philip K. Dick, whose book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the inspiration for Blade Runner. All that stuff molded my creativity and personality. And when we formed Fear Factory I just felt like metal and machines went together really well.