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Despite its somewhat legendary status as one of the earliest female-fronted Dutch death metal bands Acrostichon remains a perennial underdog, and one of the scene's unsung heroes. Formed in Tilburg in 1989 the band around vocalist/bass guitarist Corinne van den Brand and guitarist Richard Schouten released only two albums, of which only “Engraved in Black” is mandatory. Both band and album would have made much more of an impact had this debut been released the way it was originally intended, and through a bigger label imprint. Unfortunately the record experienced delays relegating Acrostichon to obscurity in the process.

oldbandpicAcrostichon had the distinction of being one of the earliest Dutch death metal bands to have a frontwoman. They go as far back as by predating their Belgian/Dutch genre peers Pathology, who were fronted by a young Rachel Heyzer (later of Occult, Sinister and Infinited Hate), by a single year. Playing an elegant mix of death -, thrash – and doom metal “Engraved In Black” combines the best of all three genres. Above all Acrostichon specializes in crunchy riffing and pumping grooves. There isn’t much of a novelty factor to “Engraved In Black” besides its frontwoman. The idiosyncratic “Engraved In Black” remains one of Holland’s most underestimated debuts. It is considerably more ambitious and involving than some of the works of its more marketable peers. Ambiguous in its writing and beyond easily classification Acrostichon conjured an unmistakable dank and putrid atmosphere through relatively simple means.

Much like the Gorefest debut “Mindloss”, which in an ironic twist of fate Achrostichon lambasted for its archival nature, “Engraved In Black” for its majority consists of re-recorded demo songs, along with one new song written specifically for the session. “Engraved In Black” contains two songs from the 1989 “Epilogue” demo tape, one song from the 1990 “Prologue” demo tape, three songs from the “Acrostichon Live 1991” demo tape, and two songs from the “Lost Remembrance” demo tape from 1991. ‘Mentally Deficient’ and ‘Havoc’ both predate Acrostichon by several years, as they were re-recorded songs from United Brains, an earlier band of guitarist Richard Schouten. Next to these tracks from the band’s demo phase, ‘Zombies’ is an entirely new track detailing the band's love for horror cinema.

The usage of weeping melodies is one of the band’s considerable strengths. ‘Immolation Of the Agnostic’ fuses early death metal riffing with a clear nod to Black Sabbath’s self-titled anthem. ‘Walker Of Worlds’ sounds like a fusion of early Cathedral and Death. These melodies become especially strong when the band break into an unexpected blast part shortly after. ‘Dehumanized’ has a few moments of more throatier growling, and is more doom-oriented in construction. ‘Lost Remembrance’ is one of the most violent cuts of the record. ‘Zombies’, the sole new track on the album, is far more fluent in its transitions and possesses the widest dynamic range of all songs present. ‘Relics’ was named ‘Germinant Malefaction’ in an earlier incarnation. By and large “Engraved In Black” is a commendable cross-section of the band’s demo phase along with a new track.

One of Acrostichon’s most characterizing virtues was its unparallelled dynamic range, clever choices in song arrangements, and Corinne’s monstrous growl. Nobody in the Dutch death metal scene fused burly death metal, robust doom and pumping grooves as elegantly and convincing as they did. To top it all off the record exudes a sense of traditionalism in its thrash accelerations, and its nods to Black Sabbath. This happens most prominently in with the opening riff to ‘Immolation Of the Agnostic’, an obvious tribute to Black Sabbath’s legendary self-titled metal anthem. The majority of Acrostichon’s material sounds like early Death (“Leprosy”) and Incantation (“Onward to Golgotha”) with the occassional cavernous doom section. The vocals of Corinne van den Brand weren’t the deepest, or the most guttural - not even by 1993 standards - but her emotive delivery made them far better than the faceless grunters of the day.

“Engraved In Black” was recorded at R.S. 29 with death metal producer of the day Colin Richardson producing and Oscar Holleman engineering. As standard for the time the record comes with a crunchy guitar tone, thick oozing bass licks, and a commanding drum sound that was typical for the time. The earthy production is quite similar to that of Deicide’s self-titled debut, albeit that the tones are a lot murkier here. The handpainted artwork by Richard Schouten is often a point of contention but it fits the album wonderfully well. The album was released through French label imprint Modern Primitive in 1993 after close to a year of delays and setbacks. The record was re-released in 2013 on LP format with new (not necessarily improved) artwork and bonus demo material through Czech label imprint Doomentia Records

Had “Engraved In Black” been released in a timely manner and on a bigger label imprint its impact on the scene would have been significantly bigger. By the time Acrostichon released its debut Gorefest had released the positively enormous “False”, and was a year away from the divisive “Erase”. Sinister had released the stylistically similar but more demonic “Diabolical Summoning” the same year. That the record doesn commit itself to any specific subgenre is both its strength as its weakness. It doesn’t push itself quite as far as any of first two Dead Head albums, neither does it pigeonhole itself as purely death metal, and it is far too dynamic to be considered an early death/doom variant. “Engraved In Black” is all three at once, and its ambiguous nature probably explains why the record never found a wider audience, even within the death metal scene.


“Demanufacture”, the second Fear Factory album, is one that introduced a number of significant changes to the band’s formula. The rough edges that defined “Soul Of A New Machine” have been traded in for a pristine sound in both writing and production. Along with a new vocal style also comes a greater sense of accessibility and more reliance on groove. It was the debut for Belgian bass guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers, although he joined towards the completion of the recording sessions. His influence wouldn’t be truly felt until the successor to this album. “Demanufacture” was the album to introduce Fear Factory to a wider audience. It remains the band’s most widely publicized and its most enduring release. To this day it is the standard to which all things Fear Factory tend to be measured. Its legacy is one that even the band that wrote it wasn’t able to live up to.

Burton C. Bell abandons his perfunctory growls in favor of a harsh shout similar to Max Cavalera’s on the divisive “Chaos AD”. In 1993 the band parted ways with early bass guitarist Andrew Shives. Belgian lead guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers, who cut his teeth in local thrash metal mavens Cyclone and some years down the line with Liège-based outfit Asphyxia, would at a later stage supersede him. The latter outfit would later briefly become famous for lending out its drummer Da Cardoen temporarily to Belgian black metal unit Enthroned for the studio sessions of its second record. Olde Wolbers arrived at the tall end of the studio sessions, only having some minor input on the title track and ‘Pisschrist’, which has nothing to do with the famed 1987 Andres Serrano photograph, but instead is a spiritual reworking to the track of the same name from the then-unreleased “Concrete”/pre-“Soul Of A New Machine” sessions. The same rings true for ‘A Therapy For Pain’, which was a reworking of a song called ‘Echoes Of Innocence’. The opening riff of the original song was used as a synthesized motif in its new form. Dino Cazares played bass guitar during the “Demanufacture” recording, despite Christian Olde Wolbers being credited as bass guitarist in the production notes.

There’s a notable evolution in terms of composition and performance when compared and contrasted with “Soul Of A New Machine”. Each of the songs is written with a specific objective in mind, and the flow of the record is far better paced. Dino Cazares has found his definitive tone, and his rhythm-only staccato riffs form the backbone of each track. The mechanical riffs play in syncopation with the high-precision drumming, which occasionally almost sounds programmed due to the triggering. Where a good deal of the “Soul Of A New Machine” songs tended to meander aimlessly, each of these cuts don’t waste time in getting their intended point across. All the songs have been trimmed and honed into perfection making “Demanufacture” not only better paced but also more compact on the whole. What it lacks in grittiness it makes up in more focused songwriting, and a truly phenomenal production job that is hostile in its clinicness.

One of the other fundamental changes besides the more compact songwriting is the introduction of a cover song, and a ballad to conclude the album. “Obsolete” would be structured nearly identical as this record, and “Digimortal” would merely smooth out the production. In fact the drum production is often criticized for sounding too digital, although according to drummer Raymond Herrera this was mostly due to the triggering of his kit. The band’s sound has become more streamlined, with big choruses and emotive clean vocal parts. Fear Factory is still aggressive, but the music is clearly targeted at a groove metal audience instead of a death metal one. Seeing how Fear Factory was never very convincing as a death metal outfit this was perhaps a wise decision on their part. The piano melody that concludes ‘Zero Signal’ is a nice touch.

The cover song, a first for Fear Factory at this point, is one by UK noise rock band Head Of David. While it is a nice change of pace from the constant battering of the original material, it doesn’t help selling Bell’s cringeworthy clean vocals, although these are significantly more tolerable here than on the rest of the album. ‘A Therapy For Pain’, the band’s first atmospheric ballad, does away with most metal components outside of the bass guitar and drums, next to showcasing Bell’s limitations as a singer. Some of his softer chants are quite emotive and enjoyable, but his strained cleans are flat out terrible. ‘A Therapy For Pain’ ends with an extended ambient electronic section that is highly atmospheric. It is unfortunate that the band never explored this avenue further until fairly late in its career. As before all music was written by rhythm guitarist Dino Cazares and drummer Raymond Herrera, with Burton C. Bell writing all lyrics.

Two singles were released to help push the album, the signature track ‘Replica’ and the Head Of David cover ‘Dog Day Sunrise’. Promos videos were shot for ‘Replica’ and ‘Dog Day Sunrise’. Additionally, the song ‘Zero Signal’ was featured on the “Mortal Kombat” movie soundtrack along with other notable metal bands such as Napalm Death and Type O Negative. The music video for ‘Replica’ was an unlockable in the game “Test Drive 5”, and controversial racing game “Carmageddon” (itself inspired heavily by the 1970s Roger Corman exploitation romp “Death Race 2000”, directed by Paul Bartel) featured three Fear Factory songs with ‘Demanufacture’, ‘Zero Signal’ (minus the piano outro) and ‘Body Hammer’. An instrumental version of the titletrack was also featured in the game “Messiah”. The album was the subject of a re-mix by various techno/dance DJs in the form of “Remanufacture – Cloning Technology”. The remix album was more of a labor of love on the band’s part, as they had toyed with the idea earlier in their career, and “Remanufacture” is of little importance to the main part of the band’s discography. To date, it was the only album to receive such treatment. In fact there was so much remix material that part of it was released with the “Hatefiles” compilation during the band’s original breakup, that also led to the release of the canned “Concrete” sessions.

Similarly as with its debut “Soul Of A New Machine” Fear Factory initially worked with producer Colin Richardson. Originally slated to be recorded at an undisclosed studio location in Chicago the band reconvened at Bearsville Studios in Bearsville, New York when the booked facility wasn’t up to the required specifications for the sessions. During the sessions the band got noise complaints from the engineers of famed arena rockers Bon Jovi who were cutting their “These Days” album in one of the studio’s other rooms. Supposedly the loudness of the “Demanufacture” sessions was so severe that it was bleeding into Bon Jovi’s recordings. Producer Colin Richardson initially mixed “Demanufacture” but his guitar-centric mix was found to be unsatisfactory. Greg Reely, and Rhys Fulber were brought in to remix the entire album sessions amping up the electronic and synthetic elements in the process. Greg Reely and Rhys Fulber created the electronic sequences with additional input from Reynor Diego.


While the artwork of the previous album already tied into the man vs machine subject, the Dave McKean artwork that was commissioned for this outing is nothing short of fantastic. Symbolically representing man’s reliance on technology a human ribcage and spinal column are merged with a strip of barcode. Both have become inseparatable, and intrinsically linked with each other. Man’s reliance on technology will be his undoing. It is a powerful image that fits flawlessly with this being a concept album about man’s struggle against a machine-controlled government. That various atmospheric cues were taken from James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” to introduce one or two songs fits the concept of the record rather well, and works wonders with the pristine but never sterile production. Aside from that there’s another reference to the Terminator mythos with the track ‘H-K (Hunter-Killer)’, which takes its name from the family of robotic aerial - and ground combat vehicles seen in the movie franchise.

“Demanufacture” is the key release of Fear Factory’s then-nascent career, and the standard to which all of the band’s later releases are measured. Its impact on the scene is undeniable, and its legacy is one that even the band that wrote it wasn’t able to live up to. The album spawned an entire subgenre, and a legion’s worth of imitators and copycats on both sides of the Atlantic. That the band made its one defining trait, Cazares’ rhythm-only staccato riffing, the center of its creative well is as much of a benefit as it is a detriment. All the songs are lively exercises filled to the brim with hunger and gusto, but the anemic riffing takes its toll especially towards the second half of the album. The limited riff palette in term forces Herrera, arguably the most talented member, into lukewarm patterns far below his skill – and technique level. Burton C. Bell’s clean singing, and some of the forced vocal lines that occur, would be better fitted for a more tranquil project. Despite all these reservations and critiques, it stands to reason that “Demanufacture” is considered a modern/groove metal classic for all the right reasons.