Coming into the evening, it was plainly clear that the Demanufacture Tour was Fear Factory’s night. That’s why people were there, that’s who the paying customers wanted to see. There was to be a celebration of one of the great, truly shaping albums in metal’s history, and all other concerns were secondary.
And yet, as Soilwork took the stage on a sold out night deep in the heart of Manhattan and faced up to a waving sea of industrial-hungry appetites, the winds shifted. The Swedish metal band, veteran of a thousand shows and no stranger to the headline stage, were not inclined to acquiesce the evening quietly. Led by the battle-tested confidence of vocalist Bjorn Strid and buoyed by the infectious enthusiasm of guitarist Sylvain Coudret and bassist Markus Wilbom, the band smashed forcefully through some of their best work.
Led by the title single of their new album, the band launched into one crowd favorite after another, using their limited time to blast a firehose worth of power-driven heavy metal into the ear canal of every participant. Soilwork continued their celebration of the ten (now eleven) year anniversary of “Stabbing the Drama,” by again drawing heavily on that record, beginning with the measured march of “Nerve.”
Where the set really took off is in the middle, beginning with a tight but appropriately heavy “The Crestfallen,” forever a people pleaser with its immediate blast of rhythmic power, a surefire guarantee when the bodies in the mosh pit need proper motivation. This continued, band members slamming along with the energetic crowd, through “Follow the Hollow” and culminated with one of Soilwork’s many masterpieces, “The Living Infinite I.” Suddenly, the temperature in the venue had increased as bodies slammed wholly into one another, arms flailed and voices raised in riotous celebration. Soilwork may not be the headline of this tour, but their performance is both professional and engaging, some of their best work in years.
Still, the biggest reception of the evening was reserved for the reason we all had gathered – Fear Factory promised to play their seminal album “Demanufacture” in its entirety.
Worth mentioning – the first and only real non-sequitur of the evening was seeing Fear Factory introduced in person by Dennis Haskins, most commonly recognized as Mr. Belding from “Saved By the Bell.” Evidently, he is a friend of Fear Factory and longtime fan. Turns out, he’s also familiar with profanity and how to use it. Moving on.
Fear Factory fans for years have come to anticipate “Demanufacture” having a certain presence in a live setting. “Replica” is a prerequisite of any Fear Factory performance. This show would be different – the album would not just have a presence, it would BE the presence. While “Obsolete” sold more copies, it is this cardinal effort from the band’s early days that has always captured the imagination of the fans and critics alike. Normally, the ‘play a full album’ concert gimmick can be a dicey scenario, as it’s often fair to say that the crowd would rather see pieces of the entire catalogue when balanced against a single effort. “Demanufacture,” by contrast has many deep cuts on it that have been secret favorites of fans, but rarely see the light of day. Eleven songs over fifty-five minutes. The stage was set. The introductions were made.
Emerging in a stark blue light, Burton C Bell, Dino Cazares and company wasted no time, churning out the title track before the audience was done cheering with anticipation. The pulse of the concert was set – this was to be no mere recitation of an album. This was a celebration breathing fiery life into a classic. Each band member, even those who weren’t present when the album was originally recorded, threw their whole being into the experience, selling each measure with intent and aplomb.
The classics of “Demanufacture” are known commodities, so it was truly the album cuts that were revered most by the fans. “Zero Signal” was a thunderous blast of industrial impatience, each measure crisp, each rifled riff timed perfectly. Fans near and far could be heard exclaiming to their friends “When will we ever see this song again?” as Fear Factory pounded out the infectious snare of “New Breed,” and later the sinister menace of an excellent “H-K (Hunter-Killer).”
And then it happened. “Body Hammer.” One of the great industrial riffs of all time, taken off the shelf and given back to the masses, a series of punctuated industrial explosions that caused smiles on some, furious head-banging by others, and both for many. The only disappointment in hearing this and the other cuts was the crushing realization that some of these may be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
There was a break in the action following the conclusion of the album, but the night wasn’t nearly over. There was a second, albeit understandably shorter, set to get to.
As ever, the crowd reached deep for the first song in the second set, “Shock,” complete with arms pumping, bodies flying and pulses racing. “Shock” has become of the one of the great live songs of all time, fully indoctrinated in the hall of fame along with “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “For Those About to Rock.” It is the only song I can recall seeing that each time it is played, the most pit looks like staged mosh pit, fit for the big screen. Naturally, with no interest in allowing the momentum to recede, Bell simply asked “Can you feel it?” before the timeless crunch of “Edgecrusher” started punching fans in the mouth.
There was more after. “Archetype” made an appearance, “Dielectric” and a handful of other new songs were played, but the crowd, roused into a ninety minute frenzy and stuffed into an overheated sold-out venue, was beginning to tire. The band played on, never showing any sign of exhaustion, singularly interested in delivering the best live experience.
There was one more moment of kinesis, as the crowd chanted along with the final song of the evening, “Maryr.” It was a celebration not just of the band and of a great show, but of the experience we all realized we had just had together. Cheers went up. Horns went up. Hands were clapped. Tired thanks, both directed at and from the stage, were said. We walked out into a cold Manhattan night, appreciative.