Fear Factory singer Burton C. Bell's new band, Ascension of the Watchers, are a dream come true — literally.
The musical vibe, artwork and title for the band's full-length debut all stemmed from a dream Bell had in 2000. In it, he was traveling over vast expanses of land and came to a clearing, where he saw a burning tree. The branches were silhouetted against the bright sky and Bell was struck with a sense of peace and awe. Then, he realized someone was behind him, but when he turned around, he woke up.
Unable to shake the dream from his mind, the singer discussed the imagery with a friend, who is an expert in dream analysis, and she told him that he had experienced a numinosum, a term famous psychologist Carl Jung used to refer to a mystical or religious experience that occurs outside oneself.
"That dream has stayed with me and inspired me, and I think the creation of this record has been truly a dream experience for me," Bell said. "I've always felt my dreams are pretty much reality. I wake up exhausted because they're so intense."
With roots in spirituality and surreal dreams, it's no surprise that Ascension of the Watchers' Numinosum, which comes out February 19, isn't a blazing metal album. Rather, the songs are melancholy and atmospheric, resembling '80s and '90s goth-rock bands such as the Mission UK, Swans, Fields of the Nephilim and Pornography-era Cure.
"I've never really considered myself a metal guy," Bell admitted. "Yeah, I've been in a metal-industrial band, but the music I've always listened to has been much different, which is maybe why the vocals I did with Fear Factory were different than those of other metal singers. But I definitely wanted to do something much different this time. The music is completely personal, and it lets me try techniques I haven't previously had the chance to explore. We used to always say we were expanding the boundaries in Fear Factory. Well, now I'm really stepping out of the boundaries."
If it sounds like Bell is pushing Ascension pretty hard, it's because he's got a lot on the line. Sure, the album is one of the priorities of Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen's new label, 13th Planet Records. Yeah, Bell really wants to establish himself as something other than Fear Factory's singer. But there are other, more important things on Bell's mind, including his mental well-being — and maybe even his immortal soul.
"Basically, these are my songs of repentance for God to hear and forgive me so I can get to heaven," he explained. "To me, these are my true confessions. I don't go to church, so I can't confess that way, but in the past I hurt a lot of people, and for that I'm truly sorry."
Bell started writing his new confessional songs in 2002 after he walked out on Fear Factory following a fight with ex-guitarist Dino Cazares (Divine Heresy, Brujeria). Stressed out and on the verge of a breakdown, he left Los Angeles and traveled to Pennsylvania to work with former FF touring keyboardist John Bechdel. The two named the group "The Watchers" after angels who breed with men in the "Book of Enoch," a story from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which some believe predate the Bible. Later, a cease-and-desist order from a Chicago band called "The Watchers" prompted the extension of the group's name. In 2003, Bell and Bechdel recorded a demo and started shopping it around but were unable to drum up any label interest. So, Bell released the EP Iconoclast on his own, and started selling the disc on his Web site in 2005.
The next year, he recruited Still Life Decay guitarist Edu Mussi, and the band embarked on a short East Coast tour. Its big break came after Bechdel — who had worked with Jourgensen since the band's 2006 album, Rio Grande Blood — told Bell that the Ministry mainman was launching 13th Planet. Intrigued, Bell called Jourgensen and wound up offering his services to Ministry's The Last Sucker, which came out last year.
"Ministry was one of my favorite bands of all time," Bell said. "So I said, 'Al, lemme be on your record. I work cheap.' And he said, 'OK, come on down to Texas.' While I was down there working on the record, we started talking about 13th Planet, and that's how it all came together. We developed a real mutual respect for each other."
First, Bell leant vocals to The Last Sucker tracks "End of Days Pt. 1" and "End of Days Pt. 2." Then, Jourgensen started producing tracks for Numinosum, which features re-recorded versions of the five songs from Iconoclast, six new songs and a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence."
"Not only is Al one of my musical heroes, I've enjoyed his mixing and producing abilities throughout his history," Bell said. "So, to be there with Al sitting in the back of the room saying, 'Try this,' or, 'Try that,' was amazing. I learned a lot from that guy. I was living at his house while we were recording, and I got to feel like part of the family."
So what does all this Ascension of the Watchers stuff mean for Fear Factory?
"Fear Factory is on hiatus," explained Bell. "As far as I know, it's not over. I just wanted to work on some other stuff. I've been part of Fear Factory since its inception, and 17 years later I need to do something else for a while. And Fear Factory doesn't have a record deal, so there's no contractual obligation to move forward with that, so right now it's all about the Watchers."
The rest of the week's metal news:
Louisiana sludge-metallers Soilent Green's forthcoming record has been titled Inevitable Collapse of the Presence of Conviction, according to frontman Ben Falgoust. The record is set to hit stores April 15. ... After a lengthy search, Cattle Decapitation have finally found themselves a permanent drummer in ex-Sleep Terror kitman David McGraw. The band plans to start writing material for its next record in February. ... Strapping Young Lad mastermind Devin Townsend has been enlisted to handle mixing duties for Terror Syndrome's still-untitled debut LP. The band features Ryan Van Poederooyen, who pummels the skins for the Devin Townsend Band. The record will feature several guest appearances, from the likes of Townsend, Testament's Alex Skolnick and Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle fame. The set should feature a dozen tracks, including "Stupidity for All," "Rusty Trombone" and "One Crime Closer to Hell." ...
Ben Marlin, bassist for San Diego death-metallers Disgorge, passed away Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. According to the band, Marlin died of a stroke. "We are going to miss him so much, and may he live on in all our hearts forever," the band said in a statement. "Ben, thank you for all your years of friendship and brutality." ... Chicago doom-metal outfit Lair of the Minotaur will issue their next album, War Metal Battle Master, in March via Southern Lord. The offering will contain eight tracks, including "When the Ice Giants Slayed All," "Slaughter the Bestial Legion" and "Assassins of the Cursed Mist." ... Arson Anthem — the band featuring former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo on guitar, Hank Williams III on drums and Eyehategod's Mike Williams on vocals — has revealed the track list for its forthcoming debut, which hits stores February 19. The yet-untitled disc will boast eight cuts, including "Doomed Morale," "Cops Shoot Coke" and "Sri Lankan Medication." ...
Seattle thrash metallers Toxic Holocaust have inked a deal with Relapse Records and will soon begin work on their first outing for the label, which should be in stores this summer. ... Converge frontman Jacob Bannon's solo album, Wear Your Wounds, is just about finished and will be in stores before year's end, according to his label, Deathwish Inc. The LP will be preceded by a six-minute EP titled The Blood of Thine Enemies. ... Light This City will use the majority of this month to write new material for the follow-up to 2006's Facing the Thousand. The band hopes to have it finished in time for release this fall. ...
From a Second Story Window plan to hit the studio January 16 to begin tracking their third LP, Conversations. So far, the band has written 11 tracks, and they "could not have came out better," the dudes said in a statement. "We have worked on [the material] for about a year now, in between tours and whenever we had time to write in our practice space. These songs were written with the intent of letting them come out naturally and not trying to write something to fit in a certain style of music. There will be lots of people who may be turned off by this record due to what they think we are supposed to sound like, but if you are a true lover of music, we have no doubt you will enjoy it." No word yet on when the record will be released for public consumption. ... There will be a new face behind the microphone at Bury Your Dead's forthcoming gigs: former Cassius singer Myke Terry, who was named this week as the band's newest addition. The band is currently working on its next record, which its claimed in a statement is "the best thing we have ever done collectively as a band." ... Pittsburgh grinders Circle of Dead Children will enter the studio next month to record their next record, which will see a release late this year through Willowtip. No additional information on the effort has been revealed.