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Live Review: Fear Factory, Circles

4 June 2016 | 11:14 am | Samuel J. Fell

"It’s a short set, really, only an hour or so, but it’s an onslaught."

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I’m always surprised how small the Tivoli is. In my mind, walking up Costin Street, it’s almost palatial but then you walk through the front doors and veer left into the main room and it’s actually quite intimate, a good space to be able to stand back if you so desire but still be close to the band, still be a part of the action.

Tonight, this pays dividends. Fear Factory, the seminal industrial metal band out of Los Angeles, have no doubt played arenas the size of the Gabba but tonight’s set has more of a feel of one of their earlier shows perhaps, back in the early ‘90s, back when they would have played small clubs — the energy this creates tonight is huge; we’re right at frontman Burton C. Bell’s feet, it’s like we’ve been transported back in time.

Another reason for this is the setlist. The band have opened it up for fan input, and the fans have spoken — the set comprises a huge percentage of older material, only a smattering from 2015’s Genexus. But more on that shortly.

Full disclosure, I arrive too late to see openers Tria Mera. I hope they thrashed hard. I catch the majority of Circles’ set, and while frontman Perry Kakridas seems to be having trouble with his ear-piece early on (which results in his vocal being off-point), it comes right after a few songs and he locks in, his impressive range playing off the band’s solid chug and grind. They’re not my cup of tea, to be honest, but they know what they’re doing, and they do it well.

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Set break. The crew bustles to set up the stage for the headliners and the banner unfurls, covers the entire back wall. The guitar tech lashes out the opening chords of AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To The Top. I step outside for a smoke and people-watch. Metal gigs are good for that. So many good T-shirts.

Back inside via the bar, which is doing a brisk trade. Jack-and-Coke cans are soon sold out. Find a good spot, up near the mixing desk, good view through heads and lets begin. It’s a short set, really, only an hour or so, but it’s an onslaught — FF are truly one of the heaviest bands going around, they have been since their inception in the late ’80s. Drummer Mike Heller effortlessly creates a tsunami of sound and doesn’t let up from the get-go. It’s a brutal sound, weighs you down, tight as hell — these guys are one of the best hard bands of all time.

“What the fuck’s up, Brisbane?” Bell yells more than once. He seems a little disdainful of the audience at first, but he warms to us, particularly when choruses are yelled back at him. When we join in shouting “Fuck yeah,” at regular intervals. By the end, he’s one of us. Dina Cazares, meanwhile, owns the stage. His playing is as good now as it ever was, his guitar one of those immediately identifiable sounds. Bassist Tony Campos is his mirror, they swap sides, glare at the crowd, egg us on when stomping, clapping, yelling is needed. It’s a powerful set and the faithful down the front thrash and writhe about and the place heats up.

Demanufacture gets an airing, the crowd shooting the refrain back at the band. Edgecrusher, from ‘98’s Obsolete, a personal favourite. A slew of other tracks off Demanufacture, Obsolete and Digimortal. The middle of the set sees the band lay a few newer tracks on us and the energy does dip a little. ‘Genexus’ though, the newest record’s title track, is solid, almost as hard-charging as any of the older stuff.

Towards the end, Bell tells us they’ve been coming to Brisbane for a long time, the first time being in 1993. I like where this is going. He tells us they were touring their first album back then. I love where this is going. So does everyone else. They lay down a couple of tracks off the seminal Soul Of A New Machine. This is brutal as hell, hard as fuck, all four are in their element. We are too.

They finish up and it feels like it’s only been half an hour. The lights are on straight up, no encore, but that’s fine — ears, limbs and necks have been tested, the buzzing won’t lift for days. I’d not seen Fear Factory since their 2001 tour, and this was a fine re-introduction. They’re not one of those old-school bands who’ve morphed into the complete antithesis of themselves; they’ve just kept doing what they do best and gotten better, as was evidenced tonight. These guys have not lost it, of that there is no doubt.