Photo: Ian Jenkinson
November 2, 2023

A belligerent Friday night M1 motorway trek, ridiculously early doors and a queue that snakes around the block to get into Nottingham’s Rock City snakes around the block meaning that opening act Ghosts of Atlantis are playing their last song to a small but appreciative early evening crowd.

The empty space fills quickly for the quite brilliant Ignea. The Ukranian quintet have been causing a stir on the underground for a while and were picked up by a major label in 2022 for their latest album – Dreams Of Lands Unseen – which was delayed due to the war in their home country. It has been humbling to hear that despite the conflict, Ignea had no plans to stop filming videos and that their art was something that meant so much when faced with living in a war zone – something that most can only imagine. Mixing progressive, symphonic, electronic and folk elements, Ignea are about the cinematic. It is impossible to ignore the vocals of front woman Helle Bohdanova who switches from death growl to ethereal, siren-like singing as if there are two people on stage. The slam of the guitar on opener Dunes is breathtaking but the whole band is super tight and does not miss a single step. This is the very first visit to the UK for Ignea and they are clearly on a mission as they trip through quality cuts that in the main hang around their latest album but also showcase Leviathan from 2017’s full length Sign of Faith as well as the thrashy interludes of Bosorkun from split EP Bestia. It is impossible not to be mesmerised as Ignea not only deliver a unique experience but to see the members having such a blast. Based on this performance – Ignea has finally arrived and in devastastating style.

It is astonishing to still see the amount of vitriol aimed at Butcher Babies. It may be the lowest common denominator internet stuff that is spewed out but it is comforting that this Los Angeles crew takes no heed and continues to do what they do and with middle fingers aloft. Art is art and while Butcher Babies is in a different category musically to Ignea, there is no less of effort put into the live presentation which has always been full-on in terms of its visuals and commitment to their music; a brash mixture of metal, hardcore punk and industrial. Sadly, Butcher Babies are a ‘baby’ down with the news that co-vocalist Carla Harvey must sit out the tour due to having emergency surgery on her eye which leaves fellow vocalist Heidi Shepherd to carry the extra weight. The stage does look a little emptier without Harvey, but Shepherd does her best to fill it with constant movement and ably assisted by guitarist Henry Flury and the blur-on-legs that is bassist Ricky Bonazza backing up Shepherd who is on form with high kicking and windmilling from the front of the stage. A lot of the material is culled from latest albums Eye For An Eye/‘Til The World’s Blind and while it is mainly the aggressive songs, Shepherd does have a quality singing voice which is on display with the stunning Last December. With older cuts such as Monster’s Ball and Magnolia Blvd thrown in for good measure, it is a ‘Babies set albeit with a missing piece but the foursome certainly made the best of a difficult situation.

To say that Fear Factory’s 21st century career has been tumultuous is something of an understatement.  The 1990s had the Los Angeles foursome riding the crest of a wave of classic albums such as Demanufacture and Obsolete, but by the turn of the millennium the wheels fell off in spectacular style as Fear Factory became mired in lawsuits and an unceremonious merry-go-round of booting each other out of the band. Founder members Burton C Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares finally made up and released consistent material until another lawsuit delayed latest album Aggression Continuum which was to be Bell’s swansong leaving Cazares the sole original member and on the search for a new vocalist.

With no new recorded music (yet), Fear Factory’s first visit to the UK in eight years is a major deal, an underlining of the past and a brand new vocalist delivering a legacy while making his own mark. And the Nottingham faithful have turned out in their droves to witness the transition. With touring in other territories, it is not a secret as to how Milo Silvestro is handling vocal duties and around the venue there are whispers ranging from “he’s good” to the more disparaging “Bell clone” and “cover band.”. Cazares did have the chance to do something different – word is that 300 applicants auditioned and there was even talk of a female replacement but ultimately, while future new music is yet unheard, there is that considerable legacy to carry, and the right person was required to do that legacy justice.

As the band enter the stage and blast into Obsolete’s opener Shock, it is abundantly obvious that Cazares has chosen well. Heads turn, jaws drop and any existing doubt appears to evaporate with all eyes on Silvestro as he nails both sets of vocals pioneered by his predecessor. Edgecrusher follows and arms are aloft at the airing of another Obsolete classic which has both Cazares and Silvestro grinning from ear to ear. Cazares’ guitar work has always been impressive – those mechanised riffs sound ridiculously easy and when the man is not headanging, he is switching sides of the stage with bassist Javier Arriaga who is filling in for Tony Campos. Fear Factory blast through latter day albums with tracks Recharger, Dielectic, Disruptor and an awesome rendition of Mechanize highlight Powershifer before jumping back in time for Obsolete’s Freedom Or Fire which has drummer Peter Webber proving what a powerhouse he is with some stunning kick drum work. Descent slows things down with Silvestro taking on the crystal clear clean vocals before launching into divisive album Digi-Mortal album highlight Linchpin.

Understandably, there is focus on albums such as Obsolete and Demanufacture but the audience laps up the time travel through the Fear Factory discography. At the point of Archetype, Dino Cazares introduces it as the song that he would never play – mainly because it is former members taking a swipe at him but a good song is just that and the “open your eyes” refrain still raises hairs on the back of the neck. Martyr goes back to the first album with Silvestro handling the more death metal vocals with power and panache before heading into four from Demanufacture which has the crowd delirious, that title track and the  “I’ve got – no more – goddamn re-grets” has an audience punching the air as one but after two false starts, it is Replica that has the biggest cheer of the night, movement in the pit and keeping the security busy with crowdsurfers going over the barrier. Closing with something of a crowning glory of Resurrection – once more from Obsolete – and it feels like a complete set has been delivered, carefully curated to cover all of the historical bases while putting their new charge through the paces.

There is no doubt that Milo Silvestro is the right choice as vocalist for Fear Factory. The UK is new territory, there is a plenty to prove to the doubters and Silvestro has both the talent and the energy to pull it off. It does feel like Dino Cazares is mentoring as to being an band on the international stage, it is Cazares that does most of the talking and the sense of humour is still in tact when Dino airs his disappointment as to the crowd not calling him a “fat bastard” – cue the chant doing exactly that. Milo Silvestro does not yet own the stage – but that will come in time and for now proving that he is the right man for the job and doing the songs justice is the matter that needs to be in hand. Carrying the legacy is one thing and soon enough, Silvestro will get the chance to commit his voice on recorded work – it is then that his personality and front man for the band will begin to shine through.

As the Nottingham crowd file out into the October night and straight into the queue of Halloween costumes waiting to come into the Rock City, the chatter is that “Fear Factory is back.” The hardcore naysayers may never come around – just ask Sepultura – but that is just something that the band will have to live with. Based on tonight’s performance, there is a finally a new soul in the machine and that could mean that greatness is once more in the hands of Fear Factory – but only time will tell.