By David E. Gehlke
"I'm sorry for the red eyes — I was in the studio all night." So begins a groggy Dino Cazares of FEAR FACTORY connecting with BLABBERMOUTH.NET via Zoom at the non-rock star time of 9 a.m. Cazares, though, can be forgiven. The guitarist has the monolithic task of readying the band's still-unidentified lead singer for assuming Burton C. Bell's position, one Bell vacated in 2020 over long-standing issues with Cazares and an exhausting and pricey legal battle over the FEAR FACTORY name. So not only does Cazares have to introduce a new singer to the world, he, along with bassist Tony Campos and drummer Mike Heller, finally get to start the touring cycle next year behind 2021's "Aggression Continuum", an album that saw Bell complete his vocals as far back as 2017.
History suggests replacing an identifiable, if not highly influential vocalist of Bell's ilk is hit-or-miss. Cazares and the FEAR FACTORY organization have gone to great lengths to keep the man's identity a secret, hoping he'll be accepted by a fanbase and metal scene that will hold him accountable. Every vocal line may be under a heavy microscope when FEAR FACTORY finally takes the stage in February 2023 in support of STATIC-X, which explains why Cazares is not leaving anything to chance. And while FEAR FACTORY's new "Recoded" remix album was the reason behind this conversation, talk quickly shifted to the band's new frontman — and the possibilities ahead.
Blabbermouth: The "Aggression Continuum" album cycle has provided one roadblock after another. What will it be like to finally hit the road next year — and with a new singer?
Dino: "It's been a long time coming. It took me quite some time to find someone who was going to be able to fill those shoes. That's one of the reasons I've taken a long time and not just because of Covid and everybody doing their own thing. Tony Campos is also in STATIC-X, so he's been doing a lot of touring. In the meantime, I've been touring a lot with SOULFLY and the Cavalera brothers [Max and Igor] worldwide. Just getting the new singer situated, getting to know him and working with him and seeing how we gel — there are many things that go into this outside of him being talented. Like, how are we going to get along? Is he capable of filling those shoes? Those are the things we have to find out. It's taken some time. I'm also taking my time. I'm not trying to rush anything. I know there are going to be some challenges coming up. I want to make sure it's done right."
Blabbermouth: The singer switch in metal is tough. You either nail it like IRON MAIDEN with Bruce Dickinson, or you fail. Is that also going through your mind?
Dino: "It's not a lack of confidence in who I chose. It's more like sometimes you have to ease your fans into it. If I had replaced Burton right away and had someone out right away, there might have been a bigger backlash. Sometimes, you have to let things settle. You have to let things just work themselves out. We haven't rushed things. That's exactly how I've played it out."
Blabbermouth: How have you kept this under wraps in the Internet age?
Dino: "He just didn't tell anybody. [Laughs] Everybody involved hasn't said anything, which is good."
Blabbermouth: As simple as that?
Dino: "As simple as that. I know if I revealed his name, everyone would be on his case before hearing him. That was one of the things I wanted to take my time with as well."
Blabbermouth: Is he not allowed to tell his family?
Dino: "I believe he's told his family, but I don't think he's told his close friends. We've officially started pre-production [on the next FEAR FACTORY studio album]. We're demoing the new songs before we go into the real studio and really start tracking everything. There might be some more delays because we don't have a record company now. That was something that came along that I wasn't prepared for. Our Nuclear Blast contract ran out a couple of months ago. But since I've been putting it out there, we've had some really good offers from other record companies. I've been playing the field and seeing what's out there. We're going to be negotiating with some of these companies soon. That might take a little bit of time. There might be a delay in releasing new music because of that."
Blabbermouth: Has the new regime of Roadrunner thrown their hat into the mix?
Dino: "Actually, no. I was really surprised, but at the same time, not really."
Blabbermouth: Is there any thought of doing it independently?
Dino: "That is an option we have discussed, for sure, with my lawyers and team. We'll see how it goes."
Blabbermouth: It may not be a bad idea since you'll never get those first FEAR FACTORY records back from Roadrunner. You can at least own your records if you release them yourself.
Dino: "There was a thing that happened a few years ago where Roadrunner had to offer those records to the artist because they legally couldn't own the records forever. But what they were offering, they were offering way too high. In other words, they had to legally offer their catalog to the artists, like FEAR FACTORY. They offered to sell the records to us, but the offer was way too high. We couldn't afford them at the time, so we couldn't buy them. Legally they had to offer them, and after they offered them to us and we rejected them, they could own them forever. It's this weird, tricky thing they did. If I had that kind of money, I would have bought the catalog back. I believe nobody was able to afford it."
Blabbermouth: What a shame. There's so much potential with those first records.
Dino: "Ever since I came back into the band in 2010, all the records, 'Mechanize', 'The Industrialist', 'Genexus', 'Aggression Continuum' and now 'Recoded', they have been licensed and will come back to us."
Blabbermouth: You take care of the legal issues surrounding the name, then Burton leaves, you find a new singer, but now you have to find a record company again. Is it frustrating?
Dino: "No, because it's really making me feel good knowing how much I'm worth. It actually feels complimenting to see what's out there and see what other labels are willing to offer for this new version. In that way, it's very gratifying to see."
Blabbermouth: Back to the new singer: Burton had his struggles every now and then in the live setting with his clean vocals. How is the new guy handling them?
Dino: "What is funny is that when I was auditioning singers, a lot of people had really good singing voices but had really bad heavy voices. It was really hard to find someone who did the combination well. You can tell when somebody is struggling, whether it's clean or heavy vocals. I wanted to ensure I found a guy who is comfortable doing both. I definitely found that guy. I don't believe there will be any issues, but I know every singer has some sort of issue when touring that many years doing that kind of vocal style and not necessarily taking care of your voice. That is one of the major things — taking care of your voice while you are on the road. You have to warm up, warm down, no drinking, no smoking — things like that. If you're one of those guys who is not going to take care of his voice, there will be many issues. When you're doing that style, of course, you'll have some issues, especially when you're touring months and months out of the year."
Blabbermouth: How did the idea for "Recoded" come about?
Dino: "We haven't done a remix album in 25 years. It was a matter of Burt being out of the band, I just released 'Aggression Continuum', we still had this downtime because of Covid, so I decided, 'Hey, we have some downtime, so let's start on remixes.' At first, it was going to be three or four tracks, but it started coming out really good. [Longtime FEAR FACTORY producer] Rhys [Fulber] worked on a couple of songs right away. Then I got Zardonic involved and I thought it was going really well. I talked to Monte Conner, my A&R guy at Nuclear Blast. I said, 'Look, I think this deserves to be a full album.' So we kept going. I reached out to other guys: Rob GEE, Dualized and BLUSH_RESPONSE. There's a synth wave band called TURBOSLASH and this guy based out of Toronto, Tyrant Of Death. All these guys are amazing. I've been following their work for a few years now. Of course, everyone knows Rhys. He's like our fifth member. I just reached out to all these guys and boom. It became its own thing. It's amazing. The record company let me do it and here we are with 'Recoded'."
Blabbermouth: Do you envision Rhys still being involved in future FEAR FACTORY albums?
Dino: "For sure. When I was out of the band from 2003 to 2009, I know he did very minimal work with FEAR FACTORY. For some reason, they didn't bother to use him. When I came back in 2010 and released 'Mechanize', I was like, 'I got to bring the team back. I need to get [engineer] Greg Reely back on board.' That's exactly what I did when I came back and 'Mechanize' was born. Rhys is always going to be involved with the band one way or the other if he's programming or producing."
Blabbermouth: Do you recall what the reactions were to your first two remix albums, "Fear Is The Mindkiller" and "Remanufacture"?
Dino: "People were saying, 'What the hell is this death metal band doing with these techno remixes? Then you have the melodic vocals? What the fuck is that? That doesn't belong in death metal.' We have heard it all. That was also before the Internet. People were saying it to our face. [Laughs] It wasn't like anybody could hide behind their keyboard and say that kind of stuff. A lot of journalists would ask us about it, too. We didn't let that stop us. We wanted to create this path for everyone else to be a part of."
Blabbermouth: You're directly supporting STATIC-X next year. What's the set looking like?
Dino: "We have exactly 50 minutes. There will be a couple of new songs from the record, probably 'Recode' and 'Disruptor'. We'll go with some of the classics, 'Shock', 'Edgecrusher', 'Demanufacture', 'Self Bias Resistor', 'Replica', 'What Will Become?', 'Linchpin', stuff from 'Genexus', probably 'Dielectric'. Of course, 'Mechanize', 'Powershifter'. We're probably doing at least two songs from each record and squeezing them all in. Of course, I like headlining because you can do an hour and a half or two hours and get into the deeper cuts. A song like 'Resurrection' needs to be played live. Those songs have to get cut when you're the support band because they're over six minutes long. You can instead play two songs in that range."
Blabbermouth: You previously talked about doing an "Obsolete" anniversary tour. Is that on the agenda for 2023 since it will be 25 years since its release?
Dino: "Of course. One hundred percent. It's funny: When we released 'Demanufacture', everyone thought it was computer-made. Back then, Pro Tools and a lot of the recording software we have now weren't available. It was really expensive or in the early development stages. We couldn't afford to use it. It was pretty much all one hundred percent live. We got so much backlash from that, so when we did 'Obsolete', we went organic. That's why you see on the album covers two different colors. 'Demanufacture' had this cold, steel-blue look. Then when you get to 'Obsolete', it was more earthy looking with the browns. Those album covers also played a significant role in the idea and sounds of the records."